Players Championship 2021
A very entertaining tournament, with the winner unclear until the very last putt. Bryson DeChambeau overcame some early waywardness to ultimately prove successful, dishing out a couple of audacious crowd pleasing drives along the way. Lee Westwood pushing him so close, showed once again that there is more than one way to play this game. It was great to see Jordan Spieth’s revival is very much a real thing, and though plenty of luck was involved in his excellent Saturday showing, he is cutting a far more confident figure in contention now.
From a personal perspective, Rory McIlroy once again promised more than he delivered. His ‘third ball eagle’ on his 6th hole on Sunday pretty much summing up his year to date. Brilliance mixed with too many mistakes. I did feel when he hit his first drive on that hole, that he seemed quite happy with it. Making a ‘real’ eagle there may very well have been the launch pad for a title assault. If’s but’s or maybe’s, but all told it was very disappointing he didn’t return us a place dividend given he only needed a Sunday 74 to ensure that. With Chris Kirk delivering a Top 20 at 9/2, a McIlroy place would have meant a profitable week. As it is Sunday’s are still not affording us much in the way of good fortune.
Of other slight irritation was the performance of Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who I didn’t find a place for in the staking plan, and the non appearance of Louis Oosthuizen. It was a performance from Bez that I was hoping for the week before. When taking on Oosty at short prices, it is always a possibility that he will skip off early. Both were a week too late for our Top South African bet at the WGC. Bezuidenhout’s Sunday display also saw his Players price cut from 125/1 to 66/1, which is annoying as I would certainly have been backing him at that.
The unofficial Fifth Major comes to us in the shape of The Players Championship, and an event not really like any other on Tour. It is very hard to pinpoint exactly what type of player is favoured by this unusual Pete Dye design. TPC Sawgrass is a very stern examination, and some players quite simply do not take to it. No two consecutive holes are played in the same direction, which adds further difficulty when the wind gets up, as players get no sense of consistency. The iconic island 17th green is known far beyond immediate golfing circles, and can ensure the drama and title destination goes right down to the wire.
A Par 72 playing under 7200 yards, it isn’t long by today’s standards, and though length will always be of benefit, this is a layout which can be conquered by any type of player. Once you are on your A Game. That is the critical factor when looking for a likely winner. Every facet of your game is challenged here, and shots you may get away with elsewhere will be punished more penally at TPC Sawgrass.
I don’t feel that previously consistently good course form is too important this week. Those that have it certainly have to be respected, it’s just I wouldn’t be ruling someone out for having a few off days around here. That’s normal! It is just rare to play well here year on year. More important is that they have at some stage shown that they can golf their ball around here, and that they arrive at or very near the peak of their powers.
Players of Interest:
Typically the event which offers up the strongest field of the year, with more strength in depth than any of the majors, and a market which is predictably competitive.
Head of it is world number one Dustin Johnson, but the fact he is over twice the price that he started for a few events this season already doesn’t have me rushing to back him. Though he has improved on this layout the last few years, it hasn’t been a happy hunting ground overall for the big man. I feel it is a bit too fiddly for him, and off the back of a couple of below par efforts at two of his favourite venues I can let him run here.
With last year being cancelled before the first round was complete, 2019 winner Rory McIlroy arrives as the defending champion. The move from May to March was clearly a help to the Northern Irishman, with the course taking on a softer nature, and that is likely to be the case once again this year. One would be forgiven for thinking that the longer hitters will begin to dominate here in that scenario, but it must be remembered that none other than Jim Furyk pushed Rory hardest two years ago. I would rather see a greater sample size of the March Players before becoming too dogmatic. All that aside, I didn’t like Rory’s approach play or his defeatist attitude in the post tournament interview at Bay Hill. Sawgrass isn’t the place for either.
I backed Bryson DeChambeau here last year at 20/1, when he arrived in pretty much similar form that he is now. He was out early, and promised plenty when racing to the turn in 4 under par. I obviously feel it is a course that suits his game, but at the 14/1 on offer this time around in such a stacked field, I don’t compelled to go to war with him again.
One who I simply can’t let go, is a player who really does tick all the boxes for what you want around here, PATRICK CANTLAY. Ultimately disappointing when we were on board at The Genesis, disappointing is a word rarely used in the same sentence as Cantlay at the moment. I won’t hark on too much about how consistently excellent he has been these past few months, as I’ve gone through that a few times recently, but it’s that run of 6 Top 20’s on the trot which includes a win, a runner up and third place finish, that for me really highlights Cantlay as the most likely winner here this week. It would be rude to call a player of his ability a Steady Eddie, but it’s a label I like for him. He does everything well, without being visibly spectacular in any area, and that is what Sawgrass demands. In winning here in 2014 Martin Kaymer opened up with a superb 63. He suggested that he didn’t do anything brilliantly, just hit fairways, hit greens and dropped a few putts. That is what you get from Patrick, and if the flat stick does behave this week, I feel he is the man they all have to beat.
Winners here will usually have a bank of Sawgrass experience under their belt, and our man has now served his apprenticeship after 3 appearances. He threatened to buck the trend in 2017 when he set out in the final round with serious aspirations of becoming a debut winner. A 77 put paid to those dreams, but a year later he was back in the heel of the hunt come payday. He was never going to beat Webb Simpson, but a relatively poor Sunday 71 in easy conditions once again disguised what a good week Cantlay had produced. If a missed cut in 2019 worried some, he rebounded with an opening 67 last year, before the abandonment. Quite simply I see Cantlay as as close as it gets to the ideal player for this week’s test, and at 22/1 I feel he is quite a bit overpriced.
The withdrawal from the WGC is of no real concern given that is likely just a 48 hour problem, and may indeed prove beneficial as he now arrives fresher than most. This tee to green machine may not excite the crowds the way a boisterous Bryson does, but repetitive fairways and greens is the way to get it done around here. That will do me. .
I have often alluded to how I prefer to get with JUSTIN THOMAS when he is off the back of a display where he has really found his range from the fairways. Truth is his approach play this term has been very good, it’s the driver that has been misbehaving, and an intermittently poor putter. Having left Poa greens behind, I would expect his putting prowess to revert to what is typically a brilliant best, and driver is optional on many holes here. Henrik Stenson had a once superb record around here, and he rarely bothered with the big dog. If JT can just put it in play off the tee, he will be in line for a title assault.
In a similar run as Cantlay of top end finishes in the best of fields, Thomas has 9 Top 20 finishes in his last 10 outings on the PGA Tour. The one aberration was a missed cut at The Genesis, but that came at a difficult time for him. He had been embroiled in a racial slur controversy when 3rd at the Tournament of Champions, and prior to his final round at the Phoenix Open he received news that his much loved grandfather had passed away. I suggested JT would take awhile to get over those events, and his missed cut backed that up. A very poor opening at the WGC suggested he may still be struggling, but after going 4 over par for his opening 6 holes, he rebounded very strongly to ultimately finish in 15th place. His approach play there was stellar, bettered and only just, by winner Collin Morikawa. A week off to try and fix the miss off the tee, a course which does not demand driver, and rare quotes of 20/1 on him and Justin Thomas can’t be let go this week. Third here in 2016, which included a Sunday 65, he has proved he has what it takes to tame this test when he is on his game. That display from the fairways at The Concession very much suggests to me that peak JT is very close.
There won’t be many occasions where the 20/1 carrot is dangled on Thomas and given his fit for this week’s layout, it would be rude to refuse it here. It is no surprise that he speaks highly of it, a venue which his laser like wedge play can be given license to thrill. He rates an excellent bet in my opinion.
Jon Rahm has been pretty ho hum of late, and his implosion on the back 9 here in 2019 did warn of the perils of his fiery temper and impatience on a dangerous layout such as this. He’s not for me.
Viktor Hovland unsurprisingly hit the wall at the weekend just gone, and he may benefit from a week off/out of contention at this stage.
Webb Simpson was very much on my short list, but at the same price as Cantlay and just two points bigger than JT, I couldn’t make a valid case for backing him.
In truth there are many you could make a case for here, such a stacked field will invariably mean inflated prices attached to players you traditionally expect to be much shorter week on week. But Sawgrass is a law unto itself, and I don’t want to get too heavily involved at the head of the market. With the extended places on offer though, I am keen to get a few bigger priced contenders on board.
First of those at a massive 500/1 is JASON DUFNER. Sawgrass is a course that rewards experience, not just of the layout itself, but also those of a more senior year tend to thrive here. Look at Jim Furyk two years ago. At his best Dufner was one of the best tee to green operators in the world, and even in recent years that part of his game has stood up reasonably well. The putter has just got worse, if that was possible! Last week he was once again very good from the fairways, especially on Sunday, where opening with a double and closing with a bogey cost him quite a few positions. The remaining 16 holes he played in par in very tricky conditions. He also putted better last week, and secured his best back to back finishes of 2021. There have certainly been signs that Dufner may be turning a corner.
Now he arrives at a venue where he produced one of his best performances of the last few years, when finishing 5th in 2018. That also came off the back of a pair of improved efforts such as he comes in off this time. He also putted very well that week, and if he once again sees a few drop on these greens this week, the massive prices on offer suddenly seem very appealing indeed. That wasn’t a flash in the pan in 2018 either, he was 6th here in 2011 and all told has made 7 of the last 9 weekends here. That is a vastly superior record to most in the field. At the price he is certainly worth a few pounds.
RICHY WERENSKI will be absolutely bouncing after his 4th place finish at Bay Hill. Not only that, but playing with and bettering Rory McIlroy on Sunday, will have been a massive feather in his cap. I’m not a huge fan of using momentum as a reason for anything, but I do feel Werenski’s tail will most certainly be up here. His performance there, though better than even he might have hoped for, wasn’t totally out of kilter with how he has been playing of late. He had made his last 4 cuts, finishing just outside the top 20 at both The Phoenix Open and American Express, and he played better than his finishing position in the main at The Genesis when a Saturday 76 took the gloss off things.
For one of his starting prices his two appearances to date here have gone very well. 23rd on debut in 2018, and 43rd in 2019, they are very fair returns for your first two looks around here. With that bank of experience under his belt, having become a PGA Tour winner in the interim, and coming in off the back of last week’s superb display, he is far from a no hoper here. Only one of his 8 rounds here have been over par, and his approach play to these small greens was particularly good in 2018. Again, at the prices on offer he has plenty of upside.
CHRIS KIRK did us a favour with a Top 20 finish last week, and given his overall consistency of late, and the way his game is trending I feel he warrants including in the outright staking plan here. He has now made 7 of his last 8 cuts, which includes a runner up spot at The Sony and 4 other Top 20s. He has been quietly going about his business in a very effective manner. Playing on a medical exemption, he knows how close he was to tossing his career away, and he is very much a man on a mission at the moment. His tee to green game was once again excellent, and had a few more putts dropped, I doubt we would be seeing anything like 125/1 here this week. He too has a credible record around here, and though I don’t rate course form too highly this week, it is certainly encouraging he has made 7 of his last 8 weekends here also. He is playing some excellent stuff at the moment, and for some reason the market seems to keep ignoring him. I am happy to keep backing him while it continues to do so.
One more relative long shot for me this week comes in the shape of Argentine, EMILIANO GRILLO. You could maybe label him a second division Patrick Cantlay, someone who should also enjoy the test presented this week. Among the best on Tour tee to green the past couple of seasons, Grillo traditionally struggles on the greens. In that regard it is interesting to note that in his last 3 appearances here he has gained strokes on the field on the greens. Putting is fickle by nature, and merely having positive memories of past performances on particular greens can give a different mindset for the week. Given the shape of Grillo’s long game, if he once again performs above his average with the flatstick, he will give us a run for our money. He brings the all important decent recent form to the table, and at 125/1 I feel he is worthy of inclusion.
Jason Day was the 7th player who I alluded to potentially including in yesterday’s email. He was a general 45/1 at the time, and being 60s on the machine, I was hoping a couple of firms might nudge him out to 50/1. The 45/1 was very much borderline being a bet. As it is he has gone the other way, and I have left him be.
6 outright bets, which is more than we will probably have any other week this year, but such are the place terms and prices we are playing at, it certainly isn’t an excessive amount.
Top Continental European:
For me the best bet of the week is SERGIO GARCIA here at 8/1. (The 8/1 is available with one firm only, and if all are trying to avail of it, it likely won’t last long so I will settle at 15/2)
I’ll begin with the head of this market, which I feel is ripe for taking on. Jon Rahm simply hasn’t convinced of late. Not since the new clubs went in the bag. Prince among the problems has been the new putter, and though I am sure he will iron out those issues sooner rather than later, at a short price I wouldn’t want such worries. Another little niggle is how his approach play at The Concession was well below it’s best. Often a few poor putting rounds can then lead to a player trying too hard to get too close to the pin. More pressure is placed on the approach play due to a misbehaving putter, and a lowly 32nd there was the result.
I suggested steering clear of Viktor Hovland last week due to potential fatigue, and the way he played the weekend suggested that was very much a factor. Sawgrass demands concentration at every turn, and I am not sure he will be quite at the required peak this week to launch a serious assault.
Sergio simply loves it here. He has not missed a year since his debut, has made 17 from 18 cuts, and that one weekend off was 17 years ago! On a course such as Sawgrass, that is a serious achievement. He is a past winner here in 2008, and also runner up in both 2007 and 2015. He clearly relishes the challenge that it presents, and even when arriving here in no sort of form, he has performed well. This year the sulky Spaniard has shown plenty, albeit with a couple of poor rounds thrown in. A brace of 67s two weeks ago at The Concession suggested his best is not far from the surface, and where better to draw that out than his beloved Sawgrass. He putted like a blind man there, taking away from what was a pretty sublime tee to green performance. Back on greens where he has had plenty of success in the past, and even an average performance with the putter will likely see him in the thick of things come Sunday evening. His consistency around here is a massive factor in this sub market, where so many of his compatriots have more questions than him to answer.
Francesco Molinari also has an excellent record around here, but one can’t forget how poor he was last week, and that is a worry for me. Alex Noren was worth a second look, but all told it’s not a market where too many of the contenders are affording me much in the way of worry. As such I have taken the each way option on the very solid conveyance around here of Sergio Grarcia to a larger than normal stake.
Another sub section where I feel the head of the market can be taken on, which offers some value further down. Joint favourites here are Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood. Hatton has yet to show much of an aptitude for this week’s test, and though he will no doubt improve that record in time, last week’s inconsistent display didn’t overly suggest that will happen this week. Fleetwood would worry me more but looks short enough at 7/2.
Paul Casey has missed 5 of his last 7 weekends here, and that isn’t what you want in a 9/2 shot. Lee Westwood may not have won last week, but I would have little doubt he will have celebrated as if he did. He’ll be lucky to pass the intoxication test!
Like Garcia, IAN POULTER is a regular on weekends at Sawgrass. He has made 12 of his last 14 cuts here, and has gone very close on a couple of occasions. His most recent runner up spot was in 2017, and he backed that up with an 11th place finish in 2018. Ryder Cup years typically see Poulter raise his game, and at what must be one his favorite stateside venues, this is as good a place as any to remind Padraig Harringto that he is alive and kicking. He warmed up nicely for this with a solid display last week at Bay Hill, finishing just one shot behind Hatton, and at 12/1 here in what I perceive to be a weak enough section, he is definitely worthy of support.
First Round Leader:
Not a market I generally get involved in, unless I like one at a bigger price, but the 40/1 on offer here on PATRICK CANTLAY has enticed me in. In his last 9 rounds on Tour, we have seen a 61 and a 62 from Cantlay. He led after the first day at Pebble Beach, and on a course that sets up perfectly for his super tee to green game, if he has a hot putter Thursday he could well do so again here. A 66 was enough for a share on the lead on Thursday in 2018 and he had been 7th after 18 holes the previous year on debut. Last year saw an opening 67, which resulted in a share of 5th. So we have one of the best players in the field, operating at a seriously high level, with a recent penchant for very low scoring who has been inside the top 7 in 3 of his 4 previous first rounds here. At 40/1 I am in.
Top 20 Finish:
I had initially come down on the side of not getting involved in this market this week. Principal reason being the place terms are so generous, especially if you can get top price with ten places. There seems more value there than here, hence the 6 outright selections. But I do feel it is once again worth going to the well with the revitalised CHRIS KIRK here.
4 Top 20 Finishes in his last 5 outings, 3 in his last 6 here, and odds of 9/2 on a player who’s attitude is exactly where you want it to be for these types of bets looks well worth availing of once again. He’s treating this exemption on Tour as a bonus, he is taking nothing for granted, and working his socks off to ensure that he keeps his place amongst the worlds best in these fields. He will give us a right good run for our money here.
That is all for me this week. I did want to get Jason Day on side, but Top Australian is a strong section here and I have decided to leave him go there too.
1.5pts ew Justin Thomas 20/1 (⅕ odds 9 places, WH) *Recommended Monday. Still available. All 18/1 with 8+ places are also fine.
1.5pts ew Patrick Cantlay 20/1 (⅕ odds 10 places, PP/BFSB) *Recommended Monday. Plenty of 20/1 available to 8/9/10 places. All fine.
.3pt ew Chris Kirk 125/1 (⅕ odds 9 places, WH) *125/1 8 places with 365/888/Betway
.3pt ew Emiliano Grillo 125/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, 365/888)
.3pt ew Richy Werenski 200/1 (⅕ odds 9 places, WH) *200/1 8 places 365 – 7 places 888/Unibet
.3pt ew Jason Dufner 500/1 (⅕ odds 10 places, PP/BFSB/Boyles) *Recommended Monday. Still 500/1 to 8 places with 365. 400/1 to 10 places with Boyles.
Top Continental European:
3.5pts ew Sergio Garcia 15/2 (¼ odds 3 places, PP/BFSB/Skybet/888/Betfred/Boyles/Betway) *8/1 currently available with 365. 13/2 upwards acceptable.
1.6pts ew Ian Poulter 12/1 (⅕ odds 3 places, WH/PP/BFSB/365/888/Betfred)
First Round Leader:
.5pt ew Patrick Cantlay 40/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, PP/BFSB) *40/1 to 7 places with Betfred/Unibet Top 20 Finish:
4pts Chris Kirk 9/2 (WH/365/PP/BFSB/Skybet/Betway/888) *Currently 5/1 with Unibet
Running Totals 2021:
A cracking event in store, there is sure to be many thrills and spills.