2020 PLAYERS Championship Betting Notebook: Benny An Learns How to Putt, One Reason to Fade Rory

Credit:

Juan Luis Díaz/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images. Pictured: Byeong Hun An

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – On the eve of this week’s Players Championship, let’s get to some news and notes from here at TPC Sawgrass…

Rory McIlroy offered a pretty good standup routine in his Tuesday press conference this week.

On his crucial putts down the stretch at last year’s event: “I like big putts and I cannot lie.”

On his first Players start: “[I] missed the cut and ended up getting kicked out of bars in Jax Beach for having a fake ID. So I’ve come a long way.”

On posting some impressive Peloton numbers: “That was me. But I think the bike was a little juiced.”

On Pete Dye-designed golf courses: “They’re like beer when you’re younger. You sort of don’t like it, but then you think it’s cool to drink it and then you sort of acquire a taste for it.”

Considering neither Dave Chappelle nor Jerry Seinfeld has ever won a professional golf tournament, none of this should matter much when it comes to handicapping the world No. 1’s chances at successfully defending this week.

And yet, maybe it does. If nothing else, cracking jokes proves that Rory is comfortable and confident heading into this one. He’s not only solidified his place as the best interview in the game, he’s also the most honest player. If he wasn’t comfortable or confident, I don’t think he’d be able to hide it and I don’t think he’d be as loose in the interview room.

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We’re getting pretty deep into player psychology here in order to figure out how McIlroy will play, but he’s one guy who’s fairly easy to read when things are going right or aren’t.

If you’re seeking a reason to fade Rory this week instead, I’ll offer that side, as well.

My friend Justin Ray of the 15th Club tweeted this stat: Not only has no player ever won The Players in back-to-back years, the defending champion hasn’t finished in the top-10 since Adam Scott in 2005.

I don’t know if that’s more causation or coincidence, but it certainly offers hope if you’re skipping over the tournament favorite on your betting card this week.

I received a tip Tuesday night that Byeong Hun An is working with a new putting guru this week.

My initial reaction is probably the same as anyone else who’s been paying attention to his recent play: Hey, couldn’t hurt.

So far this season, An ranks 14th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green, fourth in strokes gained around the green and a whopping 216th in strokes gained putting. He is the prototypical case of not needing to putt great, as simply putting average would greatly increase his chances of success.

Whether his new guru can be a long-term solution or just a quick fix, there’s little doubt he can help An’s putting numbers. Sometimes just a new set of eyes can do the trick. The downside seems minimal, while the upside could be massive.


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Jason Day WD’d from his pre-tournament press conference Wednesday, which feels very on-brand.

I’d suggest he stays off social media for a day or two. Reality is always more veracious than suspicion, of course, and the reality here is that since 2013, Day has withdrawn from six tournaments in 147 starts: Two in 2014, two in 2016, one last year and one last week.

There exists a definitive correlation between those latter two WDs. Last year, he bailed from Bay Hill with back stiffness after six holes; the next week, he finished T-8 at The Players. This time, he again bailed from Bay Hill with similar back stiffness. Keep an eye on the situation, but as of the time I’m writing this, less than 24 hours before his opening-round tee time, he’s still in the field. I know a lot of bettors will automatically write off Day based on his questionable status, but if he does tee it up, don’t be surprised to see a little déjà vu from last year.


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Patrick Reed has a win, a second and a third in his last eight starts and he’s ranked eighth in the world.

Entering this week’s event, though, he remains +3600, in 15th on the oddsmakers’ boards. On Wednesday, Reed was asked if he ever looks at his pre-tournament odds and, if so, they can provide a little extra internal motivation.

“I honestly don’t pay any attention to the gambling or any kind of odds,” he said. “When you start playing, all those odds go out the window.”

Well, that didn’t take long. I’ve already started hearing the question: If Augusta National doesn’t allow patrons at next month’s Masters, does that favor any player specifically?

Forget the fact that we should be more worried about a virus that would eliminate the ability to have fans on-course than which players might benefit from such a scenario, that question is the very definition of putting the cart before the caddie.

Augusta National has issued a memo conveying that the club is monitoring the situation and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said this week that he’s put together a task force to do the same. With other sporting events already being canceled or played in front of no crowds, it’s not hard to see golf’s biggest tournaments falling in line with this strategy.

As for how the coronavirus might impact this week’s event, the answer is not much, though players are certainly aware and taking precautions. “I love to fist pump and high five the kids, but it might be the one week where we don’t do it,” said Jon Rahm. “I love also to sign autographs, I might restrain from that a little bit, too. Not from selfish reasons, I just feel like it might be the best thing for everybody.”

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