The Players Championship Betting, DFS Guide: Target the Ball-Strikers

The Players Championship Betting, DFS Guide: Target the Ball-Strikers article feature image
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Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Players Championship is often called the “fifth major,” and what it lacks in prestige compared to the actual majors it makes up for in field strength. Put simply, if you want to watch all of the best golfers in the world — not just the guys at the tiptop but all the way through the field — this event at TPC Sawgrass is your nirvana. Any player in the field can win this whole thing, and we saw Si Woo Kim take it down last season at very high odds. Can a longshot grab the title again, or will one of the studs come out victorious?


The Course

TPC Sawgrass represents one of toughest mental tests on tour. At 7,189 yards, the par-72 course has a way of neutralizing golfers’ strengths while exploiting their weaknesses. The Pete Dye design forces a player to maintain focus at all times.

Historically, bombers haven’t been able to overpower Sawgrass. A mixture of right and left doglegs, along with difficult rough looming off the fairway, limits what the golfers can do off the tee. We see this aspect in the results of a player such as Dustin Johnson, who is still looking for his first top-10 at this tournament after nine starts.

On the flip side, shorter hitters and/or strong iron players have found plenty of success at Sawgrass. Guys such as Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar and K.J. Choi aren’t the longest hitters but were able to keep the ball in position off the tee then attack with their approach game.

I’ll be looking for guys who are strong with the approach game this week. I’m also looking for players outside of the bombers who are good at scoring on par-5s. At Sawgrass, three of the par-5s are reachable for most of the field, so I’ll also look for players who’ve been able to play well on shorter par-5s without having to bomb it 325 yards. These are the holes where players can take advantage of the course. The four par-5s and the 300-yard par-4 12th are the only holes on the course that play under par. — Joshua Perry

Using the FantasyLabs Trends tool, we can back-test a variety of metrics to see what types of players do well at TPC Sawgrass. The baseline golfer has historically produced a tough -1.56 DraftKings Plus/Minus. From there, I looked at how golfers in the top-20 percentile of each metric have historically fared at this course. Here’s the data …

There’s definitely a premium on ball-strikers, although the most predictive metrics have been recent form. As Josh mentioned, this is a tough course that will test all aspects of a player’s game. If a guy isn’t sharp, this is going to be a hard place to get back on track. — Bryan Mears


The Field

Top to bottom, this is the strongest field in golf. Now that Brooks Koepka is healthy, we have everyone inside the top 50 in the world playing this week for the first time in 2018.

This tournament surpasses the majors in field strength on the back end. With no amateurs, club pros or open qualifying, there is no one without a tour card playing Sawgrass. Anyone in this field is capable of winning, as we saw last year when Si Woo Kim cashed after going off at 750-1.

At the top of the board, we have the usual names, but not at their usual prices. Sawgrass is more unpredictable than the normal tour stop, so Bovada punted on picking a true favorite. Instead, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Justin Thomas all opened at co-favorites at +1400. Dustin Johnson was right behind them at +1600, while Rickie Fowler opened at +2000.


The Favorites

Betting analysis: Of the elite players at the top of the board, Day and Fowler are the only ones who have won this tournament. With Day coming off the victory at Quail Hollow on Sunday and Fowler finishing as the runner-up at the Masters, they’ll probably be popular bets.

I tend to stay clear of the top of the board at this tournament. It’s not the easiest to project, so I tend to load up on value further down in the odds.

Of the guys near the top, I like Justin Rose and Stenson at +2800. Both are solid from tee to green and don’t really need to bomb the ball off the tee to be successful. Stenson has won here before, but Rose has had his struggles at Sawgrass. I tend to lean more on recent form, though, for the Players, and Rose has been one of the more consistent players over the past six months. — Joshua Perry

DFS spin: Spieth ($11,100 on DraftKings) is interesting because he has historically struggled at the Players, missing three of four cuts over his past four appearances:

That said, if you’re a noncourse-history believer, then you likely don’t care — especially when you look at his metrics. Spieth’s LT -3.2 average adjusted strokes on par-4s is the best mark in the field by 0.9 strokes, and his 62.3% LT SC ranks inside the top 15 this week. Further, Spieth’s recent form looks even better with his 67.6 Rec Adj Rd Score, 76.4% Rec GIR and 74.3% Rec SC. Over the past six weeks, nobody has averaged more birdies per tournament than Spieth (21). — Justin Bailey

Listen to the FantasyLabs crew break down the tournament in this week’s Flex podcast.


The Mid-tier

Betting analysis: It’s weird to see Tiger Woods come in here, but he may finally be priced at a bettable number. Woods is available at +3500 this week, and given his history here (wins in 2001 and 2013), along with recent form on less-than-driver courses (a second-place finish at the Valspar), this is a week in which bettors should take a hard look at him.

I have a season prop on Tiger getting a win, so my first bet will turn to another player at +3500: Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard has missed a couple of cuts recently, but Sawgrass has been good to Sergio. He’s finished in the top three four times since 2007, including a win in 2008. Garcia has missed three straight cuts since the Masters, but before that stretch he’d been playing pretty well with three straight top-16 finishes. I think a return to some friendly surroundings could get him back on track.

Two other guys I’m targeting in this range are Tommy Fleetwood (+5500) and Marc Leishman (+6500). Fleetwood missed the cut on a course I thought he should have played well at last week, but I’m going to fire one more time because he’s been so strong from tee to green. Leishman is flying under the radar this week, but he had a top-10 finish at Augusta, so he’s got his game in good shape for these elite fields.

I’ll also be looking at top-five for both of them at +1100 and +1300, respectively. — Joshua Perry

DFS spin: It’s possible Jon Rahm ($9,300 DraftKings) could potentially go underowned this week (13%-16% projected ownership) considering he missed the cut in his first appearance at the Players last season. Rahm hasn’t played a PGA event since the Masters, but he is coming off a win at the Open de Espana a few weeks ago. Overall, Rahm is in excellent recent form with a 68.1 Recent Adj Rd Score while hitting an absurd 77.8% of GIR. Further, his Recent Eagles (2.0), -5.5 average adjusted strokes on par-4s, and -12 average adjusted strokes on par-5s are all field-bests. Aside from his recent form, Rahm is one of the best par-4 and par-5 scorers on tour overall, as evidenced by his -2.0 and -5.4 average adjusted strokes over the past 75 weeks. — Justin Bailey

Read more DFS analysis in this week’s PGA Breakdown.


The Longshots

Betting analysis: I’ll be peppering a few guys here who check a couple of boxes I’m looking for and hope they find some success this week.

Tyrrell Hatton and Webb Simpson are two I like in this range at 100-1. Both are solid drivers but not necessarily that long. They should be able to keep the ball in play and set up their approach game and putting.

Branden Grace and Ryan Moore also fit that same mold at 120-1 and 130-1, respectively. Moore is in good form for someone in this betting range, with three top-10s in his past seven tournaments.

I’m also be taking one shot way down the board on Russell Knox at 300-1. His recent form isn’t great, but he’s been in the top 16 three times on shorter courses this year (Sony Open, Pebble Beach and Valspar). He’s made the cut three of four times at Sawgrass, and his best results tend to come at tournaments that don’t require a long driver. — Joshua Perry

DFS spin: Patrick Cantlay ($7,500 DraftKings) owns the eighth-best LT Adj Rd Score (68.5), but he’s priced as the No. 30 golfer. Cantlay’s recent form doesn’t look great with a MC at the Masters, but he did muster a seventh-place finish at The Heritage. Overall, Cantlay isn’t the best scrambler, but he’s accurate off the tee, and he can hit GIR (69.2% long-term). At the very least, Cantlay is an excellent cut-maker, as he’s missed just 4% of cuts in his past 25 tournaments. Further, the 26-year-old has 1.8% odds to win, and he’s historically crushed salary-based expectations with a +17.62 Plus/Minus when he’s boasted comparable odds: — Justin Bailey

Pictured above: Justin Rose