For those who missed it, please check out the Players Championship Preview and Betting Strategies for the types of golfers you should look to target.
With that in mind, here’s who I like this week for the 2020 Players Championship (with odds courtesy of MyBookie.ag):
Pre-Tournament Futures (with Top 10 Prop Odds)
Justin Thomas – 14/1 (+170): Where we last left off in the tournament preview column I asked the question of how would the PGA Tour set up TPC Sawgrass this year. Would it play more like a firm and fast March tournament or would it play like 2019. From all indications between video of the golf course on Golf Channel to quotes about how TPC Sawgrass might now play the easiest of all the golf courses on the Florida swing, I’m inclined to think the type of leaderboard we saw in 2019 will be the norm going forward. As long as the weather cooperates, the overseeding and softening of TPC Sawgrass should lead gamblers to gravitate towards longer tee-to-green all-stars who excel on fast overseeded bermuda green surfaces.
Between the new golf course conditions and what looks to be a very favorable weather forecast, I’m comfortable backing Justin Thomas at 14/1. If this were the typical firm, fast and windy TPC Sawgrass I don’t think I’d be anywhere near him this week. But with the teeth taken out of the golf course that will better enable him to play a more robotic style of golf where his natural elite ball-striking talent can take over. In prior years when the golf course played firm and fast, a lot of control was taken out of the golfer’s hands because it was so difficult to keep the ball in the fairway and not running out into the rough or a hazard. But the overseed provides a nice soft landing zone for the players, and that should allow Justin Thomas to stand comfortably over this tee shot, pick his line and execute with full confidence his intended target is where the ball will stop.
Some may point to last year’s lackluster T35 finish at the new TPC Sawgrass as reasons to doubt him. But they may have forgotten that he was only two weeks removed from a wrist injury that ended up plaguing him for most of 2019. We didn’t get to see peak Justin Thomas play this golf course. Fully healthy and in great form, I think he stands a great chance to add Players Champion to his already fantastic resume.
Bryson DeChambeau – 22/1 (+220): Is third time a charm for my pick of Bryson in the picks column? I backed him at the WGC Mexico Championship and he let a back nine two shot lead over Patrick Reed slip through his fingers. I backed him again last week at Bay Hill and while he got out of the gates slow he managed to put together a T4 finish. And here I am once again backing him at the Players Championship. Like Justin Thomas, if this were a traditional TPC Sawgrass set up I don’t think I’d be anywhere near him due to his mercurial nature when things don’t go his way on the golf course, which is what a standard Pete Dye track normally does to a player. But the current golf course set up takes a lot of the unknown variables away and makes the tournament become a test of execution.
I was skeptical of Bryson bulking up to chase distance, but I was wrong. It’s working. He’s become the longest and most efficient player on the PGA Tour off the tee. It’s such a huge advantage over the field knowing that you’re going to have a significant edge off the tee in both length and proximity to the fairway, and when he’s striking his irons and putting as well as he has been it leads to the recent results he’s had. If that keeps up, a win is coming very soon. This could be the week.
Patrick Cantlay – 28/1 (+270): Golf fans haven’t seen Patrick Cantlay since the Genesis Invitational, as he took a few weeks off to correct a deviated septum. Cantlay is fully recovered and ready to go, and his game perfectly suits the new TPC Sawgrass set-up given how efficient and consistent he is tee-to-green.
The fortunes for Patrick Cantlay this week will come down to how well he putts, which is something he’s struggled with in his last two tournaments. Cantlay lost a combined 1.4 strokes on the greens at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Genesis Invitational, two golf courses that featured poa annua greens. Some of his better putting performances in his career have come on both bermuda and overseeded bermuda putting surfaces, such as a place like TPC Summerlin. The overseeded greens roll more like bentgrass than bermuda, and he owns a win at Muirfield Village and showed great at Augusta National last year. Cantlay missed the cut at the revised TPC Sawgrass setup last year, but there’s generally a lot of turnover of names at the top of the leaderboard year after year. He fits the prototype of a player who should excel under the new turf conditions at the golf course, and could be in line for another landmark victory.
Xander Schauffele – 28/1 (+270): Xander is stuck in neutral, posting solid but unspectacular finishes since his final round collapse at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Every week there seems to be a different problem. At his T23 finish at the Genesis, he was great off the tee and with his irons but struggled putting. At his T14 finish at WGC Mexico he was outstanding with his approach shots but struggled off the tee, and once again with his putting. At last week’s T24 finish at Bay Hill, Schauffele struggled tee-to-green but out of nowhere gained 5.7 shots on the field on the greens for the tournament. The only area that’s consistently dogged him is his scrambling, which has been average to mediocre at best.
If there are positives to take away it’s that, other than scrambling, he’s shown a high level of competency off-the-tee, with his irons and putting at some point over the last three tournaments. I expect a regression to the mean both tee-to-green and with Schauffele’s putting at TPC Sawgrass this week. Schauffele should bounce back with his ball striking after a poor performance at Bay Hill. And while I would love to see him gain 5.7 strokes on the greens once again, I’m a realistic man and think that number will come down. But I have confidence he can still post at least an above average performance on the overseeded putting surfaces, and if that’s the case he’ll be in the mix for the win. I like the price, I like the player, and as long as he’s in the mix on Sunday he’s a live dog to win the tournament.
Brooks Koepka – 40/1 (+350): I’m not going to put lipstick on the pig with Brooks – he’s been bad. Really, really bad. While he hasn’t posted a negative performance tee-to-green for a tournament in 2020, he’s not putting up numbers you’d expect from the caliber of player he is. And his putting? Oof.
Brooks did about what I expected him to do last week at Bay Hill. My position on Brooks last week was he’d do enough to make the cut and then use the weekend to try and get ready for the Players Championship, a tournament I feel would mean something to him if he won. Brooks was god awful on Saturday, shooting an abysmal 81 and was dreadful in every statistical category on the day. But on Sunday he played great. Brooks gained 2.58 strokes tee-to-green and gained 1.48 on the greens in his final round 71, one of the best rounds on the day and one of his best rounds all season.
That’s what I wanted to see out of him ahead of a prestigious, career defining event like the Players Championship is. And I think he needed to have that happen too to build back some confidence that the elite form is still there. I think he’s ready to go to get back towards the top of the leaderboard and go for the win. Brooks is traditionally known as a driving specialist but he’s proven he can contend and win on any golf course set up you throw at him. I love his 40/1 price this week to silence a lot of his critics and add Players Champion to his resume.
Others to Consider (with Top 20 Prop Odds):
- Gary Woodland – 50/1 (+220): Woodland historically doesn’t have a great track record at TPC Sawgrass, but he finished a respectable T30 finish last year and posted the best ball striking statistics he’s ever had there. The new golf course set up may have aided to that. Woodland also comes into this tournament gaining over 15 shots on the field tee-to-green in his last two tournaments. He hasn’t lost strokes on the greens overall in his last three tournaments and if he can continue to ride the momentum there he could be in the mix for the win.
- Justin Rose – 60/1 (+250): Like Koepka, Rose has been really bad. But he recently ditched his Honma clubs in favor of a mixed bag primarily composed of his reliable TaylorMade clubs. After this change, while he missed the cut at Bay Hill he posted his best Strokes Gained-Tee-to-Green metric since last year’s U.S. Open. If he can fix the putter and the ball-striking is back to the levels we expect from him, a turnaround could be in quick order. 60/1 is a bargain for Rose if he’s close to returning to top form.
- Shane Lowry – 80/1 (+330): Lowry doesn’t have a great track record at TPC Sawgrass but does have a T3 finish at Harbour Town on his resume – a fellow overseeded Pete Dye golf course. Lowry also comes into the event off two decent ball-striking performances at WGC Mexico and the Honda Classic. With the golf course set up, the PGA Tour is trying to encourage a big name player to win, so anyone looking for a long shot needs to take someone who’s proven to beat an elite field in his career. That fits the bill for Shane Lowry.
Other Props and Matchups
Rickie Fowler Top 10 – +330: We finally got some signs of life from Rickie Fowler last week at Bay Hill. Fowler gained over a stroke tee-to-green last week, which was his best ball-striking performance since Kapalua. Given his good track record at both TPC Sawgrass and fellow overseeded golf courses like Augusta National and TPC Scottsdale, I think he can wind up in the Top 10 by the end of weekend and like his +330 odds to do so.
Hideki Matsuyama Top 20 – +135: It was the same old story for Hideki at Bay Hill. Fantastic tee-to-green, an abomination on the greens. Last week he burned me when I backed him on a Top 10 prop, but his continued dominance with his ball striking has be optimistic about his chances. I’ll scale back the expectations, however, to a Top 20 finish at plus odds as a little insurance the putter drags him down the leaderboard farther than where it should be.
Rafa Cabrera Bello Top 20 – +500: Bello was a huge disappointment for me last week at Bay Hill. He had a pretty good ball-striking day on Thursday but was awful on the greens, and then he was flat out bad all around on Friday to post one of the highest scores of the tournament. While his best results at TPC Sawgrass came before the overseeding (where with it in 2019 he was terrible), it’s too small of a sample size to rule him incapable of playing well on an overseeded surface. Before last week he had posted very solid ball-striking and putting numbers, and at 5/1 I’ll hope he can bounce back in both departments on a golf course that theoretically suits his strengths.
Russell Henley Top 20 – +800: Henley is likely to be a statistical darling touted by “experts” this week given he solid history at TPC Sawgrass, on overseeded bermuda golf courses, his recent form, his play on less-than-driver golf courses, etc. So myself and the rest of the masses might be throwing capital into the abyss with him. But given all these positive metrics pointing his way, 8/1 for a Top 20 finish is too tempting for me to pass up, even with the risk he’ll wind up being the chalky sleeper who posts a 78 on Thursday and bombs out immediately.
Tommy Fleetwood -125 over Dustin Johnson: Fleetwood struggled last week at Bay Hill off the heels of letting a win slip away at the Honda Classic, but given his pedigree, his recent form, and his past form at both TPC Sawgrass and other overseeded golf courses he’s a player I think will bounce back.
As for Dustin Johnson, while the new overseed at TPC Sawgrass helped him post his best finish at the Players Championship last year, I’m pretty concerned with the state of his game at the moment. Dustin Johnson has struggled with his ball striking since coming back from injury, and given how poor he was down in Mexico (a place he dominates) I don’t have full faith he can have a repeat solid finish at this year’s Players Championship. He’s someone I’m worried may miss the cut, while I expect Fleetwood to have a safer floor. I’ll back Fleetwood head-to-head against DJ.
Alternatively, if you have reservations about Tommy Fleetwood or he left a bad taste in your mouth from last week, you can also take Bryson DeChambeau at -130 over Dustin Johnson.
Jason Day +1.5 Strokes over Matthew Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick is getting a lot of love this week as an underpriced sleeper, but I think people are getting a little too carried away based on how well he played at Bay Hill. Other than that he’s been pretty pedestrian and doesn’t have a good track record at TPC Sawgrass on either its standard or overseeded setup (albeit a small sample size on overseed). It’s odd because the skill sets he has as a player should lead to good results at TPC Sawgrass. He also has the reputation as an awesome putter, and while that may be true on the European Tour it hasn’t exactly translated as well whenever he’s come over to play the PGA Tour. I think he’s a little overrated this week. If Fitzpatrick comes out and plays really well, I’ll gladly eat crow because I like him as a player. But I have a hard time picturing his name in a group of contenders on the leaderboard this weekend.
As for Day, I’m just not all that concerned about his “back injury” that forced him to withdraw from Bay Hill. In fact, he did the exact same thing last year at Bay Hill before showing up to TPC Sawgrass and posted a T8 finish. His ball striking numbers (as ugly as they can be sometimes) are about where they were this time last year heading into the Players as well. One way or the other he just gets it done there.
Typically MyBookie.ag will offer its matchup props with underdog players getting strokes for the tournament, but as of now those have not been posted. When those are released, I’d rather take Jason Day getting 1.5 strokes on Matthew Fitzpatrick for the tournament, which would be priced somewhere around -125 or -130. But even so, Jason Day right now is priced at +110 straight up against Fitzpatrick, and I like that just as much. I’d rather back the player at plus odds who’s proven to get it done at TPC Sawgrass over a player getting a little bit too much public love this week.