THE PLAYERS Championship Expert Picks & Updated Odds: Bet Max Homa, Collin Morikawa & Will Zalatoris at TPC Sawgrass
Pictured: Max Homa. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Click arrow to expand THE PLAYER Championship odds via PointsBet
|Si Woo Kim||+5000|
|Min Woo Lee||+17500|
|Byeong Hun An||+35000|
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — I’m going to start out this predictions column with a not-so-bold one for this week’s PLAYERS Championship: The final-round leaderboard is going to be packed with a bunch of big-name players.
There’s your sizzling hot take.
For years, we asked “what will the professional golf landscape look like once Tiger Woods isn’t playing?” While I still won’t write off Woods for when he does return (presumably at next month’s Masters), what was once one dominant presence within the game has morphed into a generation with 15-20 legit superstars, each of whom is capable of contending on any given week, as we’ve witnessed at the PGA TOUR’s designated events.
Of course, that doesn’t mean a guy from somewhere below the uppermost echelon can’t beat ‘em all. As we witnessed at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, on any given Sunday, a Kurt Kitayama can defeat a bunch of Scottie Schefflers and Rory McIlroys.
Before we get into the picks for THE PLAYERS, here are 10 thoughts as we enter the biggest tourney of the year so far.
- With seemingly all of the game’s best players showing some semblance of strong form, it can be a bit intimidating to stare at the entire odds board and make a few picks. OK, maybe that’s just a me problem. In any case, like in most decision-making, starting the process of elimination and whittling it down from there should be a weekly exercise, but that might be even more helpful for this one.
- As you start your own research for the week, here’s one tip: Don’t fall in love with the data from last year’s edition of this event. That one lasted five days and included all four seasons, with more starts and stops than rush hour traffic. Look at the numbers, sure, but keep in mind how many different variables existed.
- Don’t come at me with your fifth-major stuff. I’ve been writing about this topic for the past 20 years, and my opinion has never wavered. There are only four major championships, but being the best of the other ones certainly isn’t a bad thing. I love this event. I love what it represents. I love that the players treat it with reverence and importance. It’s just not a major, that’s all.
- It’s right around this time of year that I’m usually reminded of the line so often uttered by Woods and repeated by others: “I’m trying to get my game to peak four times per year.” That line alone should quash any fifth-major talk, but I’m writing about it here more because — even though it feels like we’ve witnessed a lot of golf already — the meat of the season hasn’t even happened. We often want to criticize elite players who haven’t played their best over the first two-and-a-half months of the year, but if they’re trying to peak for weeks that haven’t happened yet, they really shouldn’t be too ripe for criticism.
- Speaking of which, it’s difficult to criticize Jon Rahm, who already owns three victories this year and raced out to the first-round lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational before a pair of weekend 76s left him in a share of 39th. I’d never doubt the No. 1-ranked player’s ability to contend, but there might be reason to believe that Bermuda greens are kryptonite for this Superman — at least the type of grainy Bermuda found on Florida courses. Of Rahm’s 10 career PGA TOUR wins, none have come east of Columbus, Ohio.
- How weird is it going to be that the defending champion won’t be playing this week? In a word … very. One year ago, Cameron Smith was celebrated for outlasting both his fellow competitors and the weather. Now playing for LIV Golf, expect Smith’s absence to become a major subplot to the early-week headlines, especially since he still lives just a few minutes down the road.
- Well, since we’re on the topic, you probably won’t hear much discussion on any of this week’s broadcasts about the tournament’s record score, both aggregate and in relation to par. That would be a 24-under 264 posted in 1994 by some guy named … Greg Norman.
- Here’s your early-week weather forecast: High temperatures in the low-70s with about a one-club breeze gusting to 20 mph or more throughout the tournament. There’s also a chance of rain on the weekend. Compared to last year, that sounds downright idyllic.
- Over the past couple of decades, few tournaments have as eclectic a winner’s list as this one — from big hitters (Phil Mickelson) to short-knockers (Fred Funk), old dudes (K.J. Choi) to young guys (Si Woo Kim), superstars (Tiger Woods) to first-time PGA TOUR winners (Tim Clark). There’s been a common bond, though, over the past three editions of this event. They’ve each been won by superstars, as Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Cameron Smith have captured a title that is so often unpredictable.
- Maybe those past three champions offer a clue, but I still believe this is the toughest tournament of the year to prognosticate. For years, this event has featured the best field in golf. With LIV players — defending champion included — no longer eligible, that honor will probably go to one of the major championships, whether reflected in the OWGR strength of field or not. Even without the LIV guys, this one doesn’t get any easier to handicap.
With that in mind, let’s get to the picks.
Outright Winner (Short Odds)
One player to win the tournament.
Max Homa +2200
When I first started researching and studying the board for this week’s event, Homa was the first name that struck me as a strong outright. I then veered, in order, to Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, before finally landing on Homa once again.
All of which is to say that the toughest tournament of the year to predict won’t be any easier this week.
Back to Homa. He’s a guy I’ve felt was more feel-good story than impending superstar for too long and I’ll readily admit I was wrong. Sure, he’s great on social media and loves jumping on friends’ podcasts, but Homa has proven to be a stone-cold closer down the stretch, with a half-dozen wins to his credit.
Colt Knost, commentator for CBS Sports and SiriusXM, has played a lot of golf with Homa and believes he’ll be the No. 1-ranked player in the world before the end of 2024. Plenty of bettors have already played Homa for this year’s U.S. Open in his home state of California and for good reason.
But TPC Sawgrass, where he finished T-13 last year, should be similarly perfect for his game. Fresh off a final round during which his iron play led the field at Bay Hill, but a cold putter led him to just an even-par 72, Homa should have the right form to get off to a hot start and stay there throughout the weekend. This is an event where I suggest limiting your pre-tourney outrights and using more bankroll on post-R1/R2/R3 live bets, but Homa is a guy I’ll want early, just in case that number gets a little shorter before Thursday.
Pick: Max Homa Outright
Outright Winner (Long odds)
One player to win the tournament
Sepp Straka (+15000)
Just when you’d thought the favorites had pushed you away from playing bigger odds at these designated events, a long shot pulls you back in. After the first three elevated tournaments were won by Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rahm again, Kurt Kitayama gave newfound optimism to all those hoping to cash a lottery ticket against the best fields.
On the heels of Anirban Lahiri hanging with Cameron Smith for most of last year’s four rounds, it’s not out of the realm of possibility this week, either. I’ll have a nibble on Straka, who’s already won a Florida event in tough scoring conditions (Honda Classic) and nearly won against an elite field (FedEx St. Jude Championship).
Much like Kitayama, Straka is a high-ceiling/low-floor player, as evidenced by his three top 10s and seven results outside the top 40 in 11 starts this season. If I’m buying a lottery ticket, though, that’s exactly what I’m looking for, as opposed to a safe play who has a better chance of finishing T-29 or whatever.
Straka owns better win equity than a lot of other players with shorter triple-digit numbers next to their names.
Pick: Sepp Straka Outright
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
With some major pools also including multiple picks for this week’s event, I’ll offer up an extended list of options for this one.
Collin Morikawa (+2500)
It might not have been the biggest piece to the predictive puzzle over the past couple of years, but it shouldn’t be considered a complete coincidence that each of the past two winners skipped the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
More than a few players once again compared that event to a U.S. Open and it can be surmised that there are better ways to prep for a big tournament than getting your butt kicked for four straight days.
Of course, the option to skip Bay Hill wasn’t readily available last week, but there’s reason to believe a guy who was able to rest and practice over the weekend might have a little bit of an upper hand. None of this is to suggest Morikawa was somehow happy about missing the cut, though it might’ve been an easier pill to swallow than in other such scenarios.
It’s also worth noting Morikawa gained strokes with his irons for a 10th consecutive measured event last week and has done so in 17 of his past 18 events. I like him for OADs, but especially like him for bigger one-off pools — either just for this event or those that include this one and the majors.
With some big names playing well last week, it’ll be tough for your fellow poolsters to overlook recency biases and take a guy who missed the cut.
Will Zalatoris (+2500)
I’m convinced big things are coming soon for Will Zalatoris. While my favorite outright for the Arnold Palmer Invitation finished a lackluster T53, I still think he’s ready to pop very soon.
Perhaps his health still isn’t 100%, as he alluded to a few weeks ago, but I do think the combo of injury, recent performance and previous strong results at the majors will limit his OAD use at this one, making him a nice target in bigger pools.
Viktor Hovland (+2500)
Good news for Viktor Hovland: His much-discussed poor wedge play around the greens might not look much better, but the numbers show massive improvement.
Better news for Hovland: There isn’t much about this week’s event that suggests wedge play will determine the winner. Last year, only four players in the eventual top 21 on the leaderboard averaged more than a half-stroke gained per round around the greens. There’s plenty of reason to like Hovland when this part of the game isn’t likely to be a major factor.
Sungjae Im (+2800)
I’ve said it and written it in recent weeks and months, but I’m going to continue saying it and writing it until it isn’t true anymore: In a world where so much information and statistical analysis is available, it’s difficult to find players who are truly undervalued in the marketplace on a regular basis.
However, I believe Im should be priced closer to guys like Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. He’s just that talented.
Expect it to happen with another win or two, which won’t be long. For now, he similarly makes for an under-the-radar OAD selection with so many other big names in the mix.
Tom Kim (+3500)
We’re barely into Players Championship week, but I’ve already heard plenty of whispers about Kim being a favorite play here. What we’ve learned over the past year is that when he’s on his game, he’s a mercurial performer who can ride a momentum wave for entire rounds.
When he’s not, though, he can often look fairly ordinary, as he has in finishes of 34th, 45th and 50th in his past three starts. There’s reason to believe TPC Sawgrass should suit him, but there is obviously more risk here than some of the other listed plays. Having a caddie on the bag who’s won this before should help, as we saw with Tim Tucker on Kitayama’s bag last week.
Keegan Bradley (+6500)
Currently playing some of the best golf of his life, Bradley has finished top-20 in three of his past four starts, including a T-10 at Bay Hill last week. Four straight finishes inside the top-30 at TPC Sawgrass should have us similarly interested. I’ll potentially sprinkle a little outright here and really like him for DFS lineups, but I think he specifically offers a nice contrarian option for pools.
Sahith Theegala (+8000)
I’ll admit my Sahith Theegala partisanship has gotten a bit overblown during the past year, but despite still searching for his initial career PGA Tour victory, I continue to believe he’s a superstar in the making — the type of player whose first win could certainly come on a stage this big.
I’m still a bit concerned that his stats don’t pop off the page, but his strokes gained numbers with the irons, wedges and putter have all improved over the past month. He was outside the top-half on the PGA Tour in each of those categories not long ago, but is now top-50 in all of them.
One player to finish in the top five
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay
I could preach something here about splitting your usual top-five bankroll and putting half of it on each of these guys, hoping to hit them both, but really, this is more about indecision than strategy.
Inexplicably, they’ve each failed to make the cut in their previous three Players Championship starts. Xander Schauffele finished runner-up in his tourney debut five years ago, while Patrick Cantlay has never been better than T-22. And yet, they’re both too talented to continue making this weekend off a regular thing.
I love how Cantlay finished at the Arnold Palmer Invitation and I hated how Schauffele did, but I can still see either — or both — contending for this title. I’ll be indecisive and make a top-five hedge play here, but, you know, in a sorta-decisive way.
One player to finish in the top 10
I don’t know if the comeback will be fully complete for the former world No. 1 until he gets back in the winner’s circle for the first time in five years, but I do know his game is much improved over the past couple of lackluster years.
He’s now posted top-10s in four straight starts and top-25s in eight of his past nine. A former winner here, I expect him to be a popular outright play at 40/1 and I’ll have some of that, too, in addition to playing him in DFS and OADs. He might wind up being fairly chalky in those formats, but there’s great reason to be bullish right now. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
One player to finish in the top 20
Death, taxes and me listing Keith Mitchell in a preview. Yeah, I’m getting a bit repetitive, but it’s not like he’s given us any reason to jump off the bandwagon.
I want to point out a few stats for a guy who leads the PGA Tour in total driving — and what that really means. Mitchell ranks 15th in driving distance this season at 312.1 yards, ahead of noted big bangers such as Dean Burmester (before he left for LIV), Taylor Pendrith and Trey Mullinax. He also ranks 11th in driving accuracy, hitting 67.74% of fairways, a better number than Zach Johnson, David Lipsky and Chez Reavie. For comparison’s sake, Burmester, Pendrith and Mullinax hit 57.79%, 55.05% and 44.70% of their fairways, respectively, while Johnson, Lipsky and Reavie average 292.5, 291.1 and 287.2 yards.
All of that means he hits fairways some 20% more than the other big hitters and averages 20-25 more yards than the other accurate hitters. That’s a massive advantage over both the long players and the precise players and it helps explain why he’s enjoyed so much success this year — and why it should continue this week.
One player to finish in the top 30
True story: After Kuchar won this event in 2012, breaking a lengthy string of close calls, I asked him the following in his post-round press conference. “Over the last couple years, you played so consistently, but you haven’t won a tournament since 2010. How frustrating is …”
I couldn’t even get out the final part of my question before he replied, “yeah, you can suck it, big guy. You had to point that out. Yeah, thanks a lot.”
I’ve always had a good relationship with Kuchar, who’s a way better dude than his public reputation might suggest — and yes, he said that with a smile on his face.
Anyway, he’s now played (and finished) this event 16 times and has been top-30 in half of those, while posting a pair of top-30s in five starts this year, all of which makes this a nice place to play him. Experience matters on this course and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the leaderboard for a few rounds.
One player to finish in the top 40
Brandon Wu and Dylan Wu
If there’s one hard and fast rule to sports betting, it’s probably that you should know who the hell you’re betting on before you bet them. For the uninitiated, a quick primer on the Wu clan, who are not related: Brandon, 26, is a Stanford University product who won the 2020 KFT Championship, only to have his PGA Tour privileges delayed due to COVID-19. Dylan, also 26, attended Northwestern and similarly won on the KFT last year to clinch his card.
In 13 starts this season, Brandon has already posted six top-40 finishes, while Dylan has accomplished that in three of his past five. Each is top-50 in driving accuracy and their games should both be suited for this track.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
If you only watched Rory McIlroy last week — if you followed him for 72 holes and never peeked at a leaderboard — you’d probably come away thinking he had his C-minus stuff.
It was as if he couldn’t get out of his own way, his proverbial two steps forward always followed by one step back. Granted, some context toward his performance in relation to the field certainly helps as he gained strokes in every major category. We can take this entire observation — both the analytics and the eye test — and come up with two conclusions: Either there’s still a little something missing from his game, or finishing runner-up without anything close to his A-game just proves there’s plenty of room for improvement. I’ll ride with the latter this week on a course where he owns a win and three other career top-10 finishes.
A medium-priced option for DFS lineups
Congrats to Rickie Fowler, who earns this week’s award for “wait a minute, how short are his odds?!?!” Needless to say, I won’t be having an outright on him, even at the site of his greatest win back in 2015.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have investments elsewhere, though, as he makes for an intriguing play in OADs, matchups and especially DFS, where he’s very affordable (+5000).
A lower-priced option for DFS lineups
Aaron Rai and David Lipsky
I’ve grouped these two Zurich Classic partners together in the past because they own similar journeys and games. A pair of guys who hit plenty of fairways and greens, I like the idea of stacking them in a lineup with other F&G types, hoping they can thrive while the big hitters are constantly trying to work themselves out of trouble. If you’re looking for a player comp not in skillset, but in global experience, Kurt Kitayama isn’t a bad one.
A bonus pick here: Whether it was a recent caddie change (to James Edmondson) or the PGA Tour’s move to the East Coast (and Bermuda greens), Davis Riley’s game has started to show glimpses of the solid trajectory it was on last year, with a T-29 at the Honda and a T-8 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
This falls in line with his runner-up finish at the Valspar a year ago and there’s reason to believe that, here in the early part of his career, he might only find success on the most familiar terrain. Fresh off his best putting performance since last year’s Mexico Open, I think Riley makes for a smart play off last week’s momentum.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
There’s nothing worse than sweating a few FRL wagers at decent prices, only to have Jon Rahm go full chalkboard and take the honors, like he did last week. My podcast partner, Ben Everill, prefers taking a superstar for FRL each week because there’s always a little discount compared with the outright price, but I just can’t bring myself to do that for what is a single-round shootout.
Instead, I’ll look here to McCarthy, who owns a reputation as one of the game’s best putters and has improved his ball-striking recently. His three results at this event have been between 41st and 60th, but he’s broken par in all three opening rounds. Let’s hope those irons remain warm and that putter gets extra hot on Thursday.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Adam Hadwin (+15000)
I know, I know. I already warned you to either ignore last year’s results or take them with a grain of salt, which means Adam Hadwin’s ninth-place finish — his first top-25 in seven Players Championship starts — shouldn’t be overestimated.
That said, I like how his overall game has looked recently, even after missing the cut on the number at Bay Hill, as he’s gained strokes off the tee in five of his past six starts and with his irons in four of them. Just as important, I think this is a nice range to target some fades. If you can find Hadwin against Kevin Kisner, Will Gordon, Lanto Griffin and/or Russell Knox — each of whom is similarly listed at 150/1 — those should make for smart head-to-head plays.
Also Receiving Votes
Other players who should provide value
Scottie Scheffler (+1200), Tommy Fleetwood (+5000), Russell Henley (+8000), Harris English (+9000), Brian Harman (+10000), Ben Griffin (+20000), Ryan Fox (+20000), Adam Schenk (+30000), Matt Wallace (+40000)
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