THE PLAYERS Championship First-Round Leader Picks: Viktor Hovland, Jason Day & Justin Suh Have Value at TPC Sawgrass
Via Michael Reaves/Getty Images. Pictured: Viktor Hovland of Norway waves after making birdie on the 16th green during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Golf Course on March 04, 2023 in Orlando, Florida.
THE PLAYERS Championship has arrived. As one of the season’s premier events, it’ll be sure to deliver some exciting golf. TPC Sawgrass (Stadium) is a course with a lot of water that offers plenty of risk/reward holes. It rarely disappoints in giving golf fans an incredible viewing experience over the course of four rounds.
Consistency throughout the week is crucial, as the golf course asks for patience and strategic golf. However, a fast start is always welcome, so let’s discuss who may be best suited to get out of the gates with a round-one lead.
In the past six editions of the tournament, there have been 14 first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the 14, nine have come from the morning wave, and five have come from the afternoon wave.
Last year, we saw the weather play a major role in the outcome of the tournament, with almost half the field playing at a major disadvantage with little chance to win. At the moment, it looks like the morning should have steady wind of 9-16 MPH, with gusts of 16-20 MPH.
The afternoon isn’t drastically different and will have winds of 13-16 MPH with steady gusts of 17-19 MPH. It doesn’t seem as if there’s an extreme weather advantage to one side or the other.
THE PLAYERS Championship First-Round-Leader Picks
Viktor Hovland +4500 (DraftKings)
First-Round Tee Time: 12:34 p.m. Local Time
Viktor Hovland has undeniable talent. Despite his ceiling as what I believe is a top-five player on TOUR, he’s yet to show that he can finish the job while in contention at a marquee event. I’ve taken the outright win chance on him this week, as I believe in the end the talent will outweigh the question marks, but the first-round-leader market feels like a safer spot to place your money on the 25-year-old.
Hovland’s ball striking of late has been fantastic. In his past three starts, he’s gained 5.3, 6.0 and 10.0 strokes ball striking, respectively. He’s been gradually rounding into form, and I believe he will peak at THE PLAYERS Championship.
Pick: Viktor Hovland FRL
Jason Day +4500 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 12:23 p.m. Local Time
Day’s fantastic season thus far seems to be culminating at the perfect time for him to return to his former place among the PGA TOUR’s elite with a PLAYERS Championship victory. His consistency this season is something we haven’t seen in about five years, and his health concerns also seem to be all but over for the time being.
Two things make Jason Day great when he’s clicking on all cylinders: his putting and driving, both of which have returned with a vengeance. He’s second on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Putting this season, trailing only Max Homa, and he has gained strokes off the tee in every start of his 2023 season. Day is hitting a ton of fairways and ranks seventh in the field in Good Drives Gained, which will be crucial at TPC Sawgrass where trouble lurks at every turn.
A strong PLAYERS week for Day starts with a fast start on Thursday.
Pick: Jason Day FRL
Justin Suh +11000 (DraftKings)
First-Round Tee Time: 1:51 p.m. Local Time
Justin Suh is a talented player who seems to at last be showing glimpses of what made him such a highly touted prospect after graduating from USC. He leads the field in Good Drives Gained in his last 24 rounds, and his lack of distance off the tee shouldn’t hurt him at TPC Sawgrass, which isn’t an overly long golf course.
I’ve bet the outright on Suh at 200-1, and as the week has gone on I’ve grown to like him more and more at this course. He enters the week with strong Florida form and confidence with the flat stick. I’ve also bet a top 20 on him at +600.
Pick: Justin Suh FRL
Brandon Wu +15000 (DraftKings)
First-Round Tee Time: 1:51 p.m. Local Time
Brandon Wu’s recent Florida form and strong iron play makes him a strong candidate to start fast at this week’s PLAYERS Championship. The last time we saw the Stanford product, he finished in 14th place at The Honda Classic and gained 9.9 strokes ball striking, including 7.6 on approach.
Wu finished second at Pebble Beach earlier this year, showing his ability to score on shorter tracks, and is in good form at the moment. At long odds, he can get in the mix early at TPC Sawgrass.
Pick: Brandon Wu FRL
David Lipsky +16000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 11:50 a.m. Local Time
Last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, David Lipsky caught fire with his irons. He gained 5.3 strokes on approach but was held back in the end by his inability to keep up with the big hitters off the tee, losing 5.1 strokes to the field.
At Bay Hill, lack of distance is a major detriment, but that won’t be the case this week at TPC Sawgrass. Lipsky gained 5.5 strokes to the field in Fairways Gained, so he still had total control over his golf ball. The 34-year-old has gained strokes in five consecutive events in Opportunities Gained, so if he can get the putter rolling, he should get off to a hot start.
Pick: David Lipsky FRL
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