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Scott Shapiro's Players Championship preview

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March 10th, 2020

The score was significantly lower than anticipated, given the brutal conditions in Orlando last weekend, but it felt good to nail 50-1 shot Tyrrell Hatton as my top choice in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The Englishman hung on late, with a final-round 74, to capture his first PGA Tour victory. Hopefully I can keep things going this week at the Players Championship.

The Players is played at TPC Sawgrass, which, like the other courses on the Florida swing, has lots of water. The Ponte Vedra Beach venue also has a number of tricky bunkers, but is easier than what the golfers have encountered the last couple of weeks. Expect a lot of birdies on par 5s and a winning score somewhere in the mid-teens.

A loaded field is set to tee off Thursday morning, led by defending champion and No. 1-ranked player in the world Rory McIlroy. McIlroy has been on quite a tear, even though he didn't come through on Sundays the last couple of weeks. He is just the second player since 2000 with a streak of seven or more top five finishes on Tour. The other was Tiger Woods, who had an amazing 11. McIlroy is the most likely winner, but once again his price is far too short to bet.

I will lean on two golfers in the second tier of the betting market this week.

Odds to win The Players Championship

GolferThe Players Championship Odds
Rory McIlroy
+650
Jon Rahm
+1200
Justin Thomas
+1400
Bryson DeChambeau
+2000
Tommy Fleetwood
+2200

Webb Simpson (+2500)

The 34-year-old North Carolina native has only played three times in 2020, but he finished in the top three in two of those events, including a win in February at the Phoenix Open. The 2012 U.S. Open champ was surprisingly awful from tee to green when last seen at the WGC-Mexico Championship, but he comes in well rested and has shown an affinity for this course, with three top 16 finishes in a row and a dominating victory in 2018.

Simpson fits TPC Sawgrass well, because he is accurate off the tee, solid around the green, has an elite approach, makes a lot of birdies, putts extremely well on Bermuda greens, and plays well at Pete Dye-designed courses. He is my top choice this week.

Patrick Cantlay (+2500)

The former UCLA star had a breakout season in 2019. He won the Memorial, finished ninth at the Masters, came in third at the PGA Championship, finished second at the BMW, and as one of the best players on Tour, evidenced by his $6.1 million in earnings.

Like Simpson, Cantlay has only played three times this season, but he has not finished worse than 17th in his starts at the Tournament of Champions, Pebble Beach, and the Genesis Open.

The 27-year-old missed the cut just twice last year, with one of those at this event, but prior to that, he had a pair of top 25 finishes in his other two tries at the Players. Despite the poor performance at TPC Sawgrass in 2019, I am willing to go back to Cantlay this week, because he fits the course so well.

He ranks in the top 10 in the field in greens in regulation and birdies or better gained over the last 24 rounds and has an elite approach game. If he can make a few putts, he has a great chance to find the winner's circle in Florida this week.


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