The Players Championship preview and predictions

Rory McIlroy hits a tee shot at Bay Hill.
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Ricky Dimon

Golf· 1 year ago

Show Bio

Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

Starting with March, the five biggest golf tournaments take place over the next five months—one in each month. It begins with The Players Championship, the most important event outside of the four majors. Tiger Woods is absent due to a bad back, but every member of the top 10 is ready to for these festivities as they fine-tune their games for the Masters next month. Fasten your seatbelts for what should be another wild week in Florida, highlighted by what will inevitably be drama on the famous island hole. And be sure to follow our daily expert picks throughout The Players Championship.

The Players Championship

Where: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Course: TPC Sawgrass
Prize money: $15 million ($2.7 million to the winner)
Defending champion: Rory McIlroy
Top players in the field (by world ranking): Rory McIlroy (1), Jon Rahm (2), Brooks Koepka (3), Justin Thomas (4), Dustin Johnson (5), Patrick Cantlay (6), Webb Simpson (7), Patrick Reed (8), Adam Scott (9), Tommy Fleetwood (10)

Odds

Rory McIlroy +650
Jon Rahm +1200
Justin Thomas +1600
Bryson DeChambeau +2000
Dustin Johnson +2500
Tommy Fleetwood +2500
Patrick Cantlay +2500

Course conditions

Dating back to last year, The Players Championship moved from May to March on the calendar (the PGA Championship moved from August to May, resulting in a furious stretch from Match (the Players), to April (the Masters), to May (the PGA), to June (the U.S. Open), and finally to July (the British Open). In these new conditions, the Players is playing longer. The ball did not roll as far amidst a lusher course in 2019 and did not fly through the air as fast. While exquisite ball-striking and pinpoint accuracy remain paramount, length has become more important. It is no surprise that Rory McIlroy triumphed last season, as he excels in both of those aspects of the game. Another bomber could lift the trophy in 2020—perhaps McIlroy again or maybe Dustin Johnson if he can somehow put together four days of accurate driving.

Best bets

Bryson DeChambeau (+2000) – McIlroy is the favorite for obvious reasons, but a +650 number is just not good value under almost any circumstances in golf. It is simply too hard to win golf tournaments these days, especially in fields that are so strong. You can find better value in the fourth favorite, Dechambeau, who comes in at +2000. The 26-year-old American has turned in three consecutive top-five performances (Riviera, WGC-Mexico, and Bay Hill). He hit the weight room during the offseason and is hitting the ball much farther as a result. So far it is paying off, and it could pay off in a big way this week.

Sungjae Im (+2800) – Im was one of our top picks for last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. The 21-year-old South Korean could not quite go back-to-back after winning the Honda Classic, but he certainly did not disappoint. Im, who is up to No. 25 in the official world golf rankings, finished in a tie for third. A first and a third so far on this Florida swing? Not bad! Im missed the cut at the 2019 Players, but only by one shot.

Webb Simpson (+2800) – In six 2020 tournaments (this golf year officially began in 2019), Simpson has produced five top-10 performances and has not yet missed a cut. That includes a victory at the Phoenix Open. Moreover, the 34-year-old American won The Players Championship in 2017 and was a solid T16 last season. He has finished in the top 16 in each of his three most recent Players appearances.

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