It’s time for our 2021 Players Championship picks and betting preview. This year, we are at TPC Sawgrass. This is one of the premier events on the calendar and boasts one of the best fields of the year on one of the most famous courses they play.
It was a relatively disappointing week last week as we lost the matchup bet and Norlander faded over the weekend and neither outright seven scared the lead. We did hit all three top 20 bets so we hope we kept you in the black.
Bryson DeChambeau figuratively and literally flexed his muscles at the Arnold Palmer coming home with a one shot victory over Lee Westwood and carrying the lake on number 6 twice.
The field is led by Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlory, and Bryson DeChambeau among others. This tournament is a fun one with the famous island green par three 17th and a tough finishing hole to add some drama.
TPC Sawgrass is a Pete Dye-designed par 72 playing around 7,245 yards with overseeded bermuda grass greens. Recent winners of this tournament are Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, and the Pete Dye specialist Si Woo Kim who was somewhere around 400-1 entering that week. The tournament has produced some really longshot players finishing high on the leaderboard.
Sawgrass is a really hard course to handicap and lots of player types have succeeded here over the years. In 2019, Rory won gaining a combined 11.8 strokes off the tee and on approach. In 2018, Webb Simpson won gaining a combined 14.4 strokes around the green and putting.
This tournament moved to March from May in 2019 for the first time and seemed to play a bit softer and easier. It remains to be seen how that will truly change things.
Since lots of different players can succeed here it’s hard to pinpoint some stats to really focus on. SG: Approach is the key stat for me week to week and I will lean heavier into it this week as it is the stat that most directly correlates to consistently good golf.
Players in good form entering the week and players with success at The Players and Pete Dye courses are also interesting to look at.
2021 Players Championship Picks – Outrights
Even though we have seen some strange leaderboards over the years here, guys like Rory, Webb, and Jason Day have won indicating it does take elite talent to win here, especially in a field like this.
I think the outright prices this week are some of the best value I have seen in a while in part because of the strong field but also because this event is unpredictable. There were so many attractive numbers it was hard to narrow them down.
Justin Thomas +2000 (DraftKings)
Getting Thomas at or over 20-1 feels like stealing given his win equity especially after he gains 9.5 strokes on approach his last event. Thomas has been solid but unspectacular so far this year but he was really stuffing his irons two weeks ago at the WGC.
Essentially every time JT putts well, he wins and at this number, he is going to putt good enough to win more often than this number indicates. Thomas is the best iron player on the planet period (4th in SG: Approach over last 50 rounds) and if he is going to hit his irons like that, all he has to do is keep his driver out of the water and putt average to contend.
Thomas also ranks third in the field in Opportunities Gained (fantasynational.com statistic) over the last 36 rounds in this field and also has a third and an 11th place finish at The Players in five tries with no missed cuts.
Daniel Berger +4400 (FanDuel)
The award for the most mispriced player this week goes to Berger. Berger has proven over the last year that he is an elite player on tour and can close out tournaments with two wins to show for it since the Covid restart. He has seven top 10’s since the restart and is one of the best all-around players on tour.
Berger can do it with the irons or the putter and is consistently a great driver of the ball ranking 21st in SG: Off the Tee over the last 24 rounds. Since the start of 2020, Berger has gained strokes on approach in 18 of 21 events showing just how consistent he is.
Berger is coming off a win two weeks ago and two other top 10’s since the calendar turned over. Getting Berger anywhere over 40-1 is absurd given his play over the last year.
Justin’s Longshots: Abe Ancer +7500 & Adam Scott +8000
Players Championship Picks for the Top 10
Xander Schauffele +230 (FanDuel)
Xander has been arguably the best top 10 bet in golf since September of last year with six top 10’s in 10 starts to go along with 3 other top 20 finishes. Xander had his first finish outside the top 25 since last June two weeks ago at the WGC which is an incredible run of consistency.
Xander’s game has no weak spots. Over the last 24 rounds, he ranks in the top 30 in every major statistic and in many of the other statistics I included in my fantasynational.com model this week. His all-around game should help buoy him this week on a tough test.
Xander is just Mr. Consistency and you just know that he will be in the hunt by Sunday and he may not win but he will be close. Plus, he has a second-place finish at The Players in 2018.
Justin’s Longshots: Cam Smith +550
Players Championship Picks for the Top 20
Corey Conners +250
Conners is one of the best ball strikers on tour and is coming off a third-place finish last week while having his best week putting in over a year. He is a terrible putter but his tee to green game is super strong.
Conners is top 11 in SG: Approach and Off the Tee as well as Opportunities Gained, SG: Par 5, and Fairways Gained over the last 24 rounds. His iron play and off the tee game raise his floor pretty high as long as he doesn’t putt himself out of a tournament.
Conners just needs the putter to cooperate and he showed signs last week that are promising. Conners is on a run of seven top 25’s in his last nine starts.
Will Zalatoris +300
Rinse and repeat with Zalatoris. I think this is the third consecutive week he will make the article but he just keeps performing. He posted yet another top 20 last week and his ball-striking is just pure.
Zalatoris can’t putt and that is clear but his ability to drive the ball far and in the fairway and his stellar iron play raises his floor so high. A Zalatoris win is coming, he just has to figure how to make his 5-10 foot putts and not three-putt.
Either way, he has nine top 25’s in 12 PGA Tour starts since September, and at 3-1, it’s a no-brainer for me.
Chris Kirk +420
I’m also going back to the Chris Kirk well this week too. Kirk has been really solid all year and is playing with house money after regaining his status on tour earlier this year. Kirk has four top 16 finishes in his last 5 starts and has regained his form from five or six years ago.
Kirk’s game has been really solid, gaining strokes in every major category over the last two weeks and having two strong approaches weeks before that. His all-around game fits nicely here and he has had some success at The Players with three career top 15’s.
Kirk does have three career wins and it wouldn’t shock me to see him contend this week as a nice longshot play.
Justin’s Longshots: Doug Ghim +800 & Kyle Stanley +800
Players Championship Picks for Matchups
Chris Kirk -114 over Brendan Todd (DraftKings)
All the things I said about Kirk apply here. He is on a really solid run with some high finishes indicating his floor is made cut. This bet is more about Todd.
Todd’s game is based on his putting ability which is really great. However, the rest of his game has fallen off significantly since his two wins late in 2019. Todd ranks 129th in the field in SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds and 134th in SG: Off the Tee.
Todd’s game just isn’t there right now losing strokes on approach in four straight with a missed cut and a 57th over the last three weeks. Todd’s best career finish at this event is 51st.
Henley’s stats are crazy to look at. He has gained strokes on approach in every event he’s played since last June and has posted six top 11 finishes in the process. He just hasn’t broken through for a win.
Henley has cooled off a bit since the new year started but has gained at least two strokes on approach in each of his last two starts as well as gaining strokes putting in four straight. Putting was holding him back last year but it appears he is trending up there, it’s just been off the tee of late.
Henley isn’t a bomber so TPC Sawgrass should play to his game and allow those off the tee numbers to improve. His ball-striking has been phenomenal and if that continues, he will find himself high on this leaderboard. Henley is +400 to finish in the top 20 and +200 to finish in the top 30.