The Players Championship – which starts Thursday – is often considered the “fifth major” and boasts a bigger purse than any other PGA tournament. For the past 33 years, The Players has been held at TPC Sawgrass, best known for its 17th hole – a 137-yard par 3 whose pin resides on a roughly 70-foot wide island surrounded by penalty-inducing water.
The huge purse ensures the best of the best turn out every year. Just like every golf tourney with a superstar field, there’s always great debate on who to bet on heading into The Players.
Heading into the weekend, if you like anybody other than Spieth or Rory McIlroy, you’ll get at least 20-1. But putting money down on a lot of names is akin to tossing it in the lake that surrounds the 17th green.
Let’s run down some essential facts and figures that will help us separate the wheat from the chaff for the “fifth major”.
The first thing to note is that the strong field makes repeat success hard to come by. No golfer has ever won The Players in back-to-back years, which is bad news for Martin Kaymer, who outlasted Jim Furyk by one stroke in 2014. (Sergio Garcia finished two back, while Spieth and Justin Rose were three off the pace last year.)
That said, some players seem to have a knack for Sawgrass. Four golfers have won The Players twice, including Tiger Woods (2001 and 2013); Sergio Garcia has finished in the top-ten in each of the last two editions (the only player to do so); and Martin Laird finished top-five in two of the last three.
While picking a golfer that has played well at Sawgrass in the past is a decent play, picking the golfer who is playing the best golf right now may be a better one.
In last week’s match play tournament at Harding Park, McIlroy beat Furyk in one semifinal and knocked off Gary Woodland in the championship match. Woodland advanced to the final by handling Danny Willett 3 & 2 in the other semi. Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, John Senden, and Tommy Fleetwood also reached the quarterfinals.
Two weeks ago at the Zurich Classic in Louisiana, Masters runner-up Justin Rose bested Cameron Tringale, Boo Weekley, Jason Day, and Jim Herman. Rose shot six under or better in three of four rounds to earn the title.
At the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island (the first tournament after The Masters), Furyk got by Kevin Kisner in a playoff. Troy Merritt, Brendon Todd, and Matt Kuchar were also in the top-five and Oosthuizen tied for seventh.
Where does that leave us? Who should we bet on? There are a number of solid choices.
Furyk at 33-1 seems like a bargain; he’s both experienced and playing well right at the moment. It is also hard to argue with the value Oosthuizen provides at 150-1, given his recent results.
If you want someone with past success at the tourney, consider Kuchar (45-1) who is consistently playing well and won The Players in 2012, or Garcia at 34-1.
While he didn’t start the season well, Rose (20-1) is also hot heading into the weekend.
Lastly, of course, there’s Tiger. Despite his recent struggles, sportsbooks and bettors alike continue to see him as a threat to break through on any given week. He’s at 38-1.
Whomever you decided to take – if anyone – cross your fingers he makes it safely on the island in four straight days.
(Photo credit: Craig ONeal (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)