A year on from when, like the rest of the sporting world, professional golf ground to a halt, the PGA Tour returns to TPC Sawgrass this week for its flagship event, The Players Championship where Paddy is paying 10 places.
One of the most iconic courses played on tour all year the Pete Dye design has provided us with more than its fair share of drama over the years, particularly on the signature hole the par three 17th with its famous island green.
Looking back at recent winners here the thing that strikes me most is that experience and past form is the key to unlocking the track. It is, undoubtedly a ‘horses for courses’ venue, where we regularly see a winner who has gained a bank of several years of experience and who arrives 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 Dustin Johnson understandably starts as favourite and having produced his best-ever effort at Sawgrass of fifth in 2019, it may be that he can finally master this quirky layout. Johnson appears to have gone off the boil slightly in his last two outings though and with TPC Sawgrass clearly not being a track, which he has enjoyed that much over the years, I am happy to pass him by at the prices.
Just behind him in the market sits Rory McIlroy – the 2019 winner. McIlroy arrives in Jacksonville on a winless run of more than 12 months and with a theme recently of sloppy mistakes at crucial times, Rory has never successfully defended a trophy on either the European or PGA Tours.
Instead, I will turn to Justin Thomas.
Thomas has had a tough time of things off the course lately. Firstly, he was rightly condemned for the use of inappropriate language in Hawaii in January, while more recently his grandfather who he was very close to has sadly passed away.
Last time out though after starting poorly at the WGC, he battled his way through the field to finish 15th and tellingly he was ranked second in approach play for the week, an area that will be key here.
Thomas will be making his sixth start in this event this week and with a best place finish of third to his name he fits the profile of previous winners perfectly and I am happy to jump onboard.
The two others who appeal to me at the top end of the market are Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama. Both arrive here in strong form, with Spieth in particular looking very close to a return to the winners enclosure having posted four straight top 15 finishes.
Matsuyama was quietly impressive on the way to 18th place at Bay Hill on Sunday.
The Japanese star has posted two top 10’s in six visits and in an event that has a history of seeing bigger names triumph after a lengthy absence he again fits the profile of past winners perfectly.
This last factor means Spieth who is winless since the Open in 2017 also fits the profile nicely and with a fourth-place finish here on his resume, he has the requisite course form.
Heading further down the market and another who makes plenty of each way appeal is Sergio Garcia.
The Spaniard is a standing dish here having posted a win and three further top 10’s in his last dozen appearances. In solid form and with a win already under his belt on the PGA Tour this season, and with the incentive of a Ryder Cup place to play for, I can see a big performance.
Finally in an event where Paddy are paying to 10 each-way places I will throw some change at Jhonattan [Jonny] Vegas. Third here on the last playing and second last time out a fortnight ago makes the three time PGA Tour winner a good live outsider and he makes plenty of each-way appeal at a huge price.
We’ll also be paying out on EIGHT places at the US Masters in April.
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