So I guess we can cool our jets a little bit on wondering if Jordan Spieth has passed Rory McIlroy as the best player in the world. McIlroy reminded everyone who the world's top-ranked player was last week at the World Golf Championship-Match Play event by beating Gary Woodland in the finals, never trailing once in the match.
I think I liked the new round-robin pool play format -- previously only a single No. 1 overall seed had won the event (Tiger three times). In beating Jason Dufner, Brandt Snedeker, Billy Horschel, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Jim Furyk and Gary Woodland, McIlroy trailed for only 26 holes -- 16 of those were against Horschel, whom he beat in 20 holes. I actually picked Horschel to win that pool. McIlroy became the youngest winner of the WGC-Match Play and joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers in the modern era with 10 PGA Tour wins by age 26 (McIlroy turned that age on Monday). McIlroy actually had planned to fly to Vegas for the big fight on Saturday night, but his match ended too late.
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Want proof that match play is a different beast? Over the first three rounds of pool play, Spieth made the most birdies in the field with 18. He didn't make it to Saturday. Over those same three rounds, Woodland made the most bogeys in the field with 12 yet reached the finals. The better-seeded player won 59 of the 112 matches overall.
As noted, I didn't even have McIlroy advancing to the weekend. I did get him at -260 for his win Wednesday over No. 56 Dufner. My overall winner was Henrik Stenson, who didn't advance out of pool play with losses to John Senden and Bill Haas. Senden won that group as the No. 65 seed. I did recommend a European winning the event at +135. I didn't look at every pool but did get Louis Oosthuizen at +250 in Group 4, upsetting Bubba Watson. Ditto Paul Casey at +185 in Group 9 over favored Adam Scott.
So now it's on to the big-money Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass outside of Jacksonville and its famous island No. 17 hole. It's a star-studded field and might be the last time you see some big-name Europeans until the Memorial Tournament in early June. Phil Mickelson is playing after skipping the Match Play. So is Tiger, who wasn't eligible to play last week and hasn't competed since a pretty nice effort at the Masters. He's newly single, with he and skier Lindsay Vonn announcing their breakup on Sunday. A total of 49 of the world's Top 50 are set to tee it up. The featured groups for the first two days have to be Tiger, Scott and defending champion Martin Kaymer, and McIlroy, Spieth and Jason Day.
Last year's Players was fantastic theater. Kaymer held off Jim Furyk by a shot for the win, holing a 30-foot par putt on the 17th (he was lucky his drive didn't go into the water) and then up-and-down on No. 18 from just off the green. He closed with a 1-under 71 while Furyk shot a 66. Spieth was in the final group Sunday with Kaymer but struggled with a 74. The only player who has won the Masters, as Spieth did in April, and the Players the same year was Tiger in 2001. No golfer has ever repeated at the Players. Kaymer was the first 54-hole leader to win the tournament since 2006. If there is a tie after 72 holes, there is a three-hole playoff on Nos. 16-18.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: The Players Championship Favorites
Spieth and McIlroy are the co-7/1 favorites at Bovada. I'll tell you right now I don't like any of the four guys in this tournament to do much who made it to Sunday last week as that's a lot of golf to play and then you have to go across country. So take out McIlroy, Woodland, Jim Furyk and Danny Willett to win. As noted above, Spieth was in the final group here last year before sliding to T4. Spieth did play well last week, he just was knocked out in group play by Lee Westwood, whom I mentioned scared me in that regard. Maybe those extra two days off will help.
Justin Rose is next at 18/1 . He also failed to make the weekend last week. Rose won the tournament before that in New Orleans and was T2 at the Masters. However, he usually doesn't play well here with five missed cuts in 11 attempts. His T4 last year was a personal best. Stenson and Furyk round out the favorites at 20/1. Stenson won here in 2009 and was T5 two years ago. This is basically Furyk's home course and he had that runner-up finish in 2014, his third top-five finish at TPC Sawgrass since 2006.
If you are wondering, Woods is 28/1 and Mickelson 40/1.
PGA Tour Picks: The Players Championship Expert Betting Predictions
On finishing positions, I like Tiger "over" 19.5, McIlroy over 6.5, Spieth "under" 7.5, Furyk under 18.5, Day under 20.5, Sergio Garcia under 23.5 and Mickelson under 23.5. I like Spieth for a Top 10 (-15), Stenson for a Top 20 (-110), Day for a Top 20 (+220), Matt Kuchar for a Top 20 (+165) and Mickelson for a Top 20 (+165). I might -- might -- take a shot on McIlroy missing the cut at +500. Tiger to miss is +185. Tempting. I am taking Lefty to make the cut at -350. Ditto Westwood at -350.
Head-to-head, go with Spieth at -105 over McIlroy, Stenson at -105 over Rose, Dustin Johnson at -110 over Furyk (-120), Westwood at -110 over Scott (-120), Mickelson (-120) over Bubba Watson (-110), Kuchar (-175) over Woods (+135) and Webb Simpson (-125) over Marc Leishman (-105).
On the highest-placed finisher, take Spieth (+185) over McIlroy (+175), Rose (+550), Stenson (+600) and Day (+750). I like Westwood as the top Englishman at 4/1. Go with a European to win at +200. I want the field at -275 against McIlroy, Spieth, Rose and Stenson.
Sergio is tempting to win at 33/1 as he usually plays well here and won in 2008. But my value pick is Westwood at 40/1. He looked very good in knocking out Spieth last week in the Match Play and five Top-10s here, including in three of his past four starts.
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