Players predictions: Expert picks to win and sleepers to watch at the Players Championship
The Players Championship kicks off on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, and while there’s no Tiger Woods in the field, there’s plenty of other firepower in what will be golf’s biggest event of the season thus far. Here’s our staff’s picks to win and sleepers to watch at the Players.
Players Championship picks to win
Sean Zak: Jon Rahm’s worst performance in the last FIVE months was a T17 at Riviera. The guy contended at Sawgrass last year. He’s the easiest bet to win. Yes, Rory included.
Josh Sens: Rory McIlroy. Forget about his hiccups on Sunday at Bay Hill. That was a brutal day for almost everyone. The World No. 1 is in fine form. I’ll take him to become the first repeat champion at Sawgrass since, well, ever.
Zephyr Melton: Sungjae Im. Yes, it might be ambitious to pick a guy who only recorded his first PGA Tour win two weeks ago, but Im is legit. The 21-year-old has missed just one cut on the season and leads the FedEx Cup standings after his third-place performance at Bay Hill last week. Plus it wouldn’t be the first time a 21-year-old Korean-born player won at TPC Sawgrass (Si Woo Kim, anyone?), and Im is much more polished than Kim was at this age.
Nick Piastowski: Patrick Reed. Give me a hot player, a hot putter and a hot personality. Like everyone else, Reed was chewed up by Bay Hill on Saturday, firing an eight-over 80, yet he still finished T15. He won two weeks ago at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, and he is also No. 2 on the PGA Tour this season in putts per round (27.70). And, of course, Captain America relishes the stage, and this is certainly one.
James Colgan: Rahm has been flat-out dominant for six months. He’s seemingly forgotten how to finish outside the top 10 in 2020 (four in five appearances). His strokes gained average is third on Tour, behind only Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton (with Hatton’s stats inflated from playing fewer rounds). And in theory, he’s learned a thing or two about dealing with pressure since his Sunday stumble at last year’s Players. He’s still only 25 years old and in the very early stages of his career. The time feels right for a coming-of-age win.
Dylan Dethier: Patrick Cantlay. He’s going to fairway-and-green this place to death. Can work it both ways, can hit it hard, stays pretty level and we haven’t seen him in a month, so people will be sleeping on him even more than usual. The main lesson about picking players at TPC Sawgrass is that there’s no real rhyme or reason to who will perform well here, but Cantlay definitely feels like he’ll be in the mix come Sunday.
Luke Kerr-Dineen: Webb Simpson isn’t the sexiest pick in the world, but it’s certainly the most sensible. He’s in the midst of the best stretch of his career, and he has a good history here. It’s no secret why: His accurate and consistent ball-striking are tailor-made for a course like Sawgrass. With the way he’s rolling the putter, there’s no better value pick at 30/1.
Josh Berhow: Luke is right. In Webb’s last three starts at Sawgrass he’s won and finished T16 twice. He’s accurate enough off the tee where he’ll find fairways and then cash in with his ball-striking and putting. He’s also on a major heater right now so let’s keep it rolling with him.
Players Championship sleepers to watch
Sens: Kevin Na. At a course that favors length less than a lot of regular Tour stops, I’ll take a chance on a grinder like Na. He’s got three top 10s at Sawgrass, including that crazily gutty showing when he he was fighting the driver yips and still finished 7th. The course is bound to be baked-out, fast, like Bay Hill was this past week, and Na made the cut there. With oddsmakers listing him at 100-to-1, I’d say he’s worth a shot.
Zak: Joel Dahmen might not consider himself a top 20 player in the world, but he’s been playing like one for the last month and a half. Between Riviera and (last week’s version of) Bay Hill, the guy has played well at tough courses. Decent chance he finds his way into the top 10 again this week.
Melton: Scottie Scheffler. True to his personality, Scheffler has flown under the radar this season, but he’s the early leader for Rookie of the Year. The 23-year-old rarely misses cuts — just two on the season — and has four top 10s on the year. He’s also fifth on Tour in birdie average. If he can keep the big numbers off the scorecard, he’ll be on the first couple pages of the leaderboard come Sunday.
Piastowski: Harris English. He’s been steady over the past month — T16 in Phoenix, T17 at the Honda (where he shared the first-round lead) and T9 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I also like that he’s fifth on the PGA Tour this season in greens in regulation at just over 73 percent — anytime you can give yourself multiple looks at birdie it’s a good thing, especially at Sawgrass.
Colgan: Collin Morikawa. There might be no safer bet among the first-timers at Sawgrass. In the last three years, winners at the Players have ended the week with an average strokes gained: tee-to-green of 11.26. (That’s almost three strokes higher than the average strokes gained: tee-to-green of the winner at the Arnold Palmer Invitational over the same time period.) Morikawa ranks eighth on Tour in that category in 2020, and in the top 20 in strokes gained: total. Add in his composure to finish T9 among the carnage at Bay Hill last weekend and you’ve got a recipe for a breakout week.
Dethier: Viktor Hovland. He’s obviously become a well-known figure in golf circles, but Hovland’s odds (150-to-1) still reflect serious sleeper status. He’s not a great chipper but does everything else pretty well, one thing in particular: he’s an elite driver of the golf ball. The rough is going to be gnarly and a guy who can find the fairway is probably going to win this thing.
Kerr-Dineen: Harris English’s career is undergoing a quiet resurgence. The two-time PGA Tour winner in 2013 has five top 10s in his last 11 starts, and has gone T16, T17 and T9 in his last three. It’s the kind of form you get from players who are ready to win, so why not this week?
Berhow: Max Homa has had a nice little run here with three top 10s and nothing worse than a T24 (last week) in his past five starts, but he’s never played a tournament round at TPC Sawgrass, which gives me slight pause. Therefore I’m going with Brian Harman, who either plays very good or very bad at TPC Sawgrass. Here’s hoping it’s the former.