PGA Tour Picks: The Players Championship Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 5/7/2014
At least I was familiar with the guy who was the latest unlikely winner on the PGA Tour this season. That would be J.B. Holmes, who took the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte last week for his first Tour win since 2008 and jumped from No. 242 to 68th in the world.
He nearly gave it away with two bogeys on his final two holes, including No. 18 on Sunday. However, he drained a 3-foot bogey putt to avoid a playoff with Jim Furyk, who finished a shot back after a stellar final-round 65. Why did Holmes win? One reason certainly his mammoth length off the tee as he led the field in driving distance (333.9), nearly 17 yards longer than No. 2 Gary Woodland. Maybe Holmes can win this week's big-money Players Championship. He now has played 10 consecutive sub-par rounds, equaling the longest stretch of his career. Holmes, who had brain surgery in 2011, has been Top 20 in four of seven Players Championship starts.
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Needless to say, I didn't recommend or even think about Holmes last week. I went with Rory McIlroy, and he finished T8 despite a second-round 76. The good news is I got McIlroy at -150 for a Top-10 finish as well as him head-to-head at -175 over Phil Mickelson (+135). As has been the case since about February, I recommended any "against Mickelson" prop you could find. He finished T11 after a final-round 76. He is without a Top 10 yet this year, which is a first entering May since Lefty turned pro (he entered June 1992 without one but then did turn pro at the U.S. Open).
I also hit on Rory Sabbatini at 2/1 as the top South African at the Wells Fargo, Justin Rose beat out my choice of McIlroy as the top European, and I nailed Webb Simpson (-115) over Hunter Mahan (-115). A bit disappointed in Simpson overall. I considered putting some money down on him at 40/1 to win as Quail Hollow is the guy's home course, but his 2014 struggles continued with a T38.
So now it's on to the "fifth major" and the richest purse on Tour at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass outside Jacksonville. Of course, defending champion Tiger Woods remains sidelined, and Jason Day had to pull out with his thumb injury, but most everyone else is there (46 of Top 50). There will be 16 first-time participants, including world No. 7 Jordan Spieth.
Four players -- Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar -- can become No. 1 in the world this week. Each would with a victory and could with a very high finish. Scott has had a couple of previous chances this year but failed. With Woods likely out until the British Open at the earliest, it's going to happen fairly soon even if it doesn't this week. Watson makes his first start since the Masters. He doesn't play well at this course with a best finish of T37. Only Woods (2001) has won the Masters and Players in the same year.
Two of the last six Players Championships have gone to a playoff, and there's been a change in that regard. It used to be a sudden-death format beginning at the island green par-3 17th. Now it's a three-hole playoff from No. 16-18. If you are looking for a trend on recent winners, no one ranked lower than 40th in the world has won this tournament since it was moved to May in 2007 (lowest being No. 40 Tim Clark in 2010).
PGA Tour Golf Odds: Players Championship Favorites
McIlroy is the 12/1 favorite at Bovada . He still hasn't won this year anywhere in the world but has largely been a Top-10 machine. TPC Sawgrass doesn't seem to suit McIlroy, however. He had an eighth last year but missed the cut in his three previous visits.
Scott is 14/1 to win his second Players : he did in 2004. Maybe the fact this is the 10th anniversary year of that is good karma, and he has made no secret of wanting the No. 1 ranking. If he doesn't get it this week, we probably don't see Scott play again for a few more weeks. That could be extra motivation. He was T20 in this tournament the past two years.
Kuchar is 18/1, and the biggest win of his career remains the 2012 Players. He also is playing perhaps better than anyone right now with four straight Top-5 finishes, including a win at Hilton Head in his last start. If only he hadn't won that -- too hard to win consecutive tournaments.
Sergio Garcia (20/1), Rose, Luke Donald and Mickelson (all 22/1) round out the favorites. Garcia was dueling Tiger on Sunday last year, tied teeing off on No. 17, before Sergio started hitting balls into the water and finishing T8. He won this tournament in 2008 and was second in '07. This is Garcia's first Tour start since a missed cut at the Masters, where I liked him. I'll just say I don't like Lefty again this week. His putter is broken, figuratively. The 2007 Players champ visited putting guru Dave Stockton on Monday. I think Mickelson is too focused on the U.S. Open, honestly.
PGA Tour Picks: 2014 Players Championship Predictions
On the Top-10 props, I'd roll with McIlroy (+125), Scott (+135), Kuchar (+165) and Garcia (+200). I believe the winner comes from that quartet. I like Kuchar at +125 in a trio against Mickelson (+188) and Spieth (+220). Like Furyk, who considers this his home course, in a trio at +150 against Zach Johnson (+175) and Charl Schwartzel (+200).
Head-to-head go with 2009 winner Stenson (-140) over Lee Westwood (+110), Furyk (-130) over Johnson (even), Spieth (-105) over Mickelson (-125) and Spieth (-130) over Watson (even) but Garcia (-165) over Spieth (+125). Kuchar is my top American choice at 11/1, Jonas Blixt at +450 as the top Swede over Stenson (-138). Scott at +300 to lead the "rest of the world" and McIlroy at +250 /2 as top player from Great Britain & Ireland. Take Donald at +225 as the top Englishman.
I'm going to try something different this week and not pick an individual winner since that's clearly not working. I'm taking the three chances to win prop on McIlroy, Scott or Garcia at +450.
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