PGA Tour Picks: The Players Championship Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 5/8/2013
Before I take a look at this week's Players Championship -- and don't call it the "fifth major" because that's simply a marketing ploy and not something players believe -- I have to look back at last week's Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte.
I want to say that I used to be a golf journalist. I want that made clear because I am being 100 percent honest when I tell you I had no idea who Derek Ernst was. Ernst, a 22-year-old rookie ranked No. 1,207 in the world, was the fourth alternate for the Wells Fargo but beat fellow unknown David Lynn on the first hole of a playoff. It's not like this Ernst guy, who was headed to a Web.com Tour event when he got the call that he was in the Wells Fargo, beat a weak field. Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood, to name two, were in contention. The win changes Ernst's life, giving him a two-year exemption and a spot in this year's PGA Championship and next year's Masters, to name a few benefits. And he's also now in this week's field.
Obviously, I didn't pick Derek Ernst to win or have a Top-10 finish last week. I liked Webb Simpson, who lived practically on the course. He never broke 70 and was T32. On the Top-10 finishes I obviously liked Simpson. I did hit on Rory McIlroy at -125 but just missed on Sergio Garcia at +225. Head-to-head I hit on Lucas Glover (-115) over Hunter Mahan.
So now we head to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, home of the famous island 17th hole, outside of Jacksonville for the Players Championship. It's the PGA Tour's flagship event, so that's why they tout it as a fifth major. Only one player has ever birdied No. 17 in all four rounds of the Players, by the way: Paul Azinger in 1987. Most players think it's a gimmick, but it obviously plays well on TV and to the fans in person.
Recent success at Sawgrass isn't a necessity to win. The past three winners -- Matt Kuchar, K.J. Choi and Tim Clark -- had combined for one Top-10 finish in 23 starts at the tournament before their victory (it was Clark's T9 in 2009). There has never been a repeat champion -- so forget Kuchar -- and only five guys have won this event multiple times. Tiger Woods isn't one of them; his lone win came in 2001. What is important is that players are familiar with the course. Seven of the last eight winners had a minimum of seven appearances at the tournament.
Overall, the field features each of the Top 30 in this week’s world rankings and 38 of the top 40. Still, some very good European players often skip this to go back overseas before the U.S. Open. Last year, Kuchar shot a final-round 2-under 70 to finish at 13-under 275 and edge Ben Curtis and Rickie Fowler by two shots. That earned Kuchar a $1.71 million check, the largest single winner's prize on the PGA Tour. According to the PGA Tour, the field averaged 72.466 per round in 2012 after two years of averaging par or better at TPC Sawgrass. The 72-hole record is 264 by Greg Norman in 1994.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: The Players Championship Favorites
Clearly Tiger is going to be favored in every tournament he enters this year, and he's at 7/1 at Bovada. Woods does have the third-best career round average in this tournament at 71.44 and has that one win and four Top-10s in 15 visits. He was T40 a year ago after withdrawing the previous two years.
Adam Scott won this in 2004 and is the 16/1 second-favorite with McIlroy. Scott hasn't had a Top-10 finish since 2007, however. Scott also has never played here as the Masters champion. McIlroy, it might surprise you to know, leads the PGA Tour in all-around. He's definitely getting close to form after last week's T10. This event bedevils him, though, as McIlroy has missed all three cuts.
Rounding out the Top 5 are Luke Donald at 18/1 and Phil Mickelson at 22/1. Donald finished sixth a year ago, his second straight Top-10 finish. He was co-runner-up in 2005. Mickelson won here in 2007 but hasn't been in the Top 10 since. He's only been in the Top 20 once. Lefty doesn't like Pete Dye courses.
PGA Tour Picks: The Players Championship Predictions
There are some great 17th hole props at Bovada -- too many for me to list. I would take the prop that there will be a hole in one at the tournament at -120 as there have been 24 at Sawgrass. However, there hasn't been one on No. 17 since 2002.
On the Top-10 only props (you can also choose Top 5 or Top 20), I like Tiger (-180), Scott (+135), Donald (+175) and as a major long shot, David Toms (+900). Head-to-head, I like Tiger (-165) over McIlroy (+125), Scott (-115) over McIlroy (-115) and literally every betting option over Mickelson (not kidding -- he just doesn't like the course much).
Americans used to dominate this event, but Kuchar's win last year was the first for a USA player since Lefty's in 2007. Bo Van Pelt is an interesting choice at 40/1. He's all or nothing here. In eight trips he has five missed cuts and three Top-10s. Sergio is tempting at 28/1. The 2008 champion has missed the cut just twice in 14 starts at Sawgrass. He's the leading money winner at this event.
But I think it's karma that Donald's last victory came in the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship. Now he adds the PGA Tour's version to his resume. He's overdue here.
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