Whilst the racing world focuses on Cheltenham this week 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 with the 17th hole with its famous island green, so often playing a huge part.
The Host venue is one of the most iconic courses played on the PGA Tour and it is the jewel in the crown of the tracks designed by Pete Dye who sadly passed away earlier this year.
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 in Cheltenham week, a ‘horses for courses’ venue, where we regularly see a winner who has gained a bank of several years of experience on the track and who arrives here in strong form.
This last point is highlighted by the fact that the worst finish here of the last nine winners in their previous start to this event was 22nd.
World number one Rory McIlroy understandably starts as a warm favourite and having finished inside the top five on every start on the PGA Tour this season he will no doubt be thereabouts again come Sunday.
With no player ever defending the title here and with Rory never having defended a trophy on either the European or PGA Tours though I am happy to pass him by and instead at twice the odds I prefer the chances of Justin Thomas.
While several leading names including Rory were playing at last weeks Arnold Palmer Invitational and/or in the previous weeks Honda Classic, Thomas has had his feet up since a sixth-place finish at the WGC Mexico three weeks ago.
Normally this could be seen as a negative as a warm-up on Bermuda greens in Florida you would think would be of benefit, however with both events having been played under brutally tough conditions, I like the fact that JT will arrive here fresh.
This will be Thomas’ sixth start in the event and with a best placed finish of third to his name he fits the profile of previous winners perfectly and at 14/1 he strikes me as the best bet of the week.
The two others who appeal to me at the top end of the market are Bryson Dechambeau and Hideki Matsuyama. Both arrive here in strong form with ‘The Scientist’ having posted three straight top-five finishes, while the Japanese star posted back to back top-six finishes prior to stalling slightly in the tough conditions at Bay Hill.
The one slight concern to me with Bryson is his lack of course experience however he has taken to TPC Sawgrass well enough in his two starts here, finishing 20th last year and he also finished fourth at the Pete Dye designed Hilton Head in 2016.
Matsuyama meanwhile has posted two top tens here in six visits and in an event that has a history of seeing bigger names return to the winners’ enclosure after a lengthy absence he again fits the profile of past winners perfectly.
To wrap things up I shall add two further players, at bigger e/w odds with Paddy paying ten places e/w.
The first of these is Daniel Berger. Berger is another who arrives here in really strong form on the back of three straight top-ten finishes. A Florida native Berger has performed solidly here on his previous visits including finishing ninth in 2016.
Finally, I will take a roll of the dice on Sepp Straka at a massive 300/1 price. Straka, a ‘ball-striking’ machine, is at his best on courses, which require solid iron play, which is certainly the case this week.
The Austrian posted his third top-four finish on tour in January at the American Express and the significance of this result is that two of the four rounds were played on the Pete Dye designed Stadium Course, which bears big similarities to this weeks track.
Straka will surely come into this week buoyed by the two bogey-free rounds he posted on that course of 65 and 66 on his way to fourth place, and I fancy his chances of making the frame here at huge odds.
Justin Thomas @ 14/1