Ponte Vedra, FL
The first big golf event of the year begins on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass. Known for many years as the “5th major” (before it really felt that way) The Players Championship has grown in prestige. Even the quirky 17th hole, which in some ways may have held this tournament back, is now accepted as something approaching the stature of the 12th hole at Amen corner (at least for the newcomers to this sport).
The long term stats suggest that distance off the tee is not a key factor this week. The winner of this event is usually one of the leaders in greens hit in regulation and has shown to be able to handle the bermuda grass greens. Unusually, a review of the final leaderboards over the past five years (the 2020 version cancelled due to Covid-19) does not reveal any particular player trends. In fact, the only players who seem to pop up semi-consistently, are Justin Thomas, Jason Day and Brian Harman – he of the 110/1 odds.
There is a long list of top players who are trending at the moment and a longer list of players who appear on the verge of something greater in their career. Here is how I see things going down this weekend.
Who should win? – Collin Morikawa (14/1)
The best iron player on Tour has shown an ability to contend and win the biggest events. Morikawa plays and carries himself like someone who fully expects to win regardless of the field or the status of the event.
Who could win? – Justin Thomas (14/1), Viktor Hovland (20/1), Sam Burns (45/1)
This list could also easily include players such as Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele. In short, Scheffler has to be tuckered out having won twice in the past three weeks, Cantlay has not shown yet that he can contend in the bigger events (especially on greens that are not bentgrass), Rory is still a player who can win anytime but lately seems to fade on Sunday and Xander will definitely get there someday soon and I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing him win a clutch of majors in the next few years.
But for now, the three aforementioned players are ones to consider this week. Thomas is an exceptionally strong and strong-willed player who can win anywhere and anytime his putter is at least medium-hot. Hovland is a stud who doesn’t look like he should be the best player in the world, but is getting awfully close. Sam Burns is a lot like Cantlay in that he has not shown up on the bigger stages, and with his long odds could also be considered a long shot, but there is one key difference – he loves Bermuda grass greens.
Longer shots to consider – Will Zalatoris (45/1), Matthew Fitzpatrick (40/1), Brian Harman (110/1)
Zalatoris could easily be someone in the “could win” category, but as good as he has been tee-to-green, he has struggled with the flatstick from 5 feet and in. He is another in that long list of young studs who will be contending in majors for the next 15 to 20 years. Fitzpatrick is a top-10 machine that does not get a lot of press. A consistent winner in parts of the world other than the US, he is usually just off the main page of the leaderboard but is someone who will eventually break through. Harman is a guy that occasionally shows up in big events. He may not win, but could be a smart top-10 or 20 selection.
Who will win? – Jon Rahm (11/1)
Rahm has been a little quiet lately but he loves to compete on tougher tracks. His all round game featuring power, precision and finesse should put him in a good position to get back to the winners circle this weekend.