The racing world focuses on Cheltenham this week, but the eyes of the golfing world will be on the ‘so called’ fifth major, The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
TPC has produced some outstanding finishes over the years, like Rickie Fowler’s five-under par blitz over the last four holes in 2015, on his way to victory. At the heart of this finish is the 17th hole with its famous island green, the nemesis of so many players over the years. No doubt come Sunday evening it will once again have seen its share of joy and heartache.
This year we have the added twist that after being played in May for 12 years, the event returns to its once traditional slot of March. This could lead to tougher conditions for the players, particularly as 20mph+winds are forecast.
So, lets take a look at some of the leading contenders.
Looking back at recent winners here the thing that strikes me most is that experience and past form is the key to unlocking TPC Sawgrass.
It is, appropriately enough for Cheltenham week, a ‘horses for courses’ venue and only Si Woo Kim has bucked this trend over recent years.
All of this leads me firstly to Sergio Garcia. With the exception of Sergio’s moment (or moments) of madness on the greens in Saudi Arabia last month, which resulted in his disqualification, he has started 2019 in really solid form.
Sergio loves TPC Sawgrass and if conditions are tough this will play into his hands.
He’s won here and has four other top 10 finishes to his name. The Spaniard warmed up nicely with a ninth-place finish at the Honda Classic two weeks ago and it is hard not to see him contending this week. Paddy’s paying a staggering 10 places.
The former Masters Champion Garcia looks great each-way value.
Of the other leading contenders Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose are yet to really perform at Sawgrass relative to their talents, Tiger was forced to withdraw from Bay Hill with a neck problem and who knows if Jason Day will even show up?
Francesco Molinari comes here with the hot hand after his Arnold Palmer Invitational win on Sunday night – and could go in again. Everything went right for him on the final day at Bay Hill and there could be some hangover from that victory.
This leaves us with Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Fowler and Brooks Koepka to consider from the top of the market. All of them – and Rory in particular – should go well.
For a field of this depth I want some each-way juice in my picks.
So I’m sticking with my Spanish theme and going for Rafa Cabrera-Bello at 50/1.
Rafa performed very nicely at Bay Hill last week to finish third and has been placed 17th and fourth at Sawgrass for the past two years. He looks primed for another really strong week.
International players have a great record at Sawgrass in general and have won four of the last 10 events and I want to have Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama on my side at 33/1 especially with those 10 places.
Matsuyama has been ‘Mr Consistent’ so far this season, with no missed cuts to his name. His putter stopped him from really contending at Bay Hill last week, but I feel there is something really big coming from Hideki soon.
Sandy Lyle was the last ‘British’ winner of this event – way back in 1987. However, Scots, English and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington have filled the runners-up spot and been placed many times in this event and Tomyy Fleetwood was right in the mix in Orlando last week. Sawgrass is tailor-made for his ball striking skills and he proved it when finishing seventh to Webb Simpson last year. He can get competitive again at 28/1.
As former Major champions both know how to win big events, both have found solid form of late and both have played well here before. I expect them to give us a good run for our money at big prices.