Golf tips: How to pick a winner at the PLAYERS Championship
Jack Green examines the 20-year trends from the PLAYERS Championship, with three players primed for success at Sawgrass this week.
A move to March from May has made it slightly trickier to predict this year’s PLAYERS Championship.
There are a few trends, however, that could point to who will triumph at golf’s ‘fifth major’ this week.
Host venue Sawgrass is a tricky test that is particularly unforgiving towards first timers.
No debutant has won here since Craig Perks in 2002, and 13 of the 16 winners since then had played the course at least five times previously.
This time around, then, we’re looking for a veteran who has plenty of experience in this event.
And it’s not enough to have just played at Sawgrass a few times. You need to have played well.
Of the last 20 PLAYERS Championship winners, 18 had a previous top-20 finish in the event.
There are very few perennial contenders at Sawgrass, though, with plenty of former winners mixing high finishes with missed cuts.
Rory McIlroy, for example, has placed inside the top 10 on three occasions and missed the cut three times in nine starts.
Recent history suggests it’s particularly difficult to put together good results in back-to-back years, with none of the past eight winners having finished inside the top 15 in the previous season.
Given that experience is key, it’s not surprising that young players haven’t fared particularly well at Sawgrass.
Si-Woo Kim, the youngest champion ever after winning at the age of 21 in 2017, is the only champion in the past 14 years under the age of 26.
Sawgrass isn’t just a mental test, though. It’s tough physically, too, and that’s reflected in the fact that just one player aged 38 and above has won since 2006.
We’re looking for players in their prime this week, then, with 26 to 37 the ideal bracket.
There have been a couple of surprise winners at the PLAYERS recently, with Webb Simpson triumphing last year following Kim’s 2017 victory.
Only five of the past 15 winners were major champions – including Simpson last year – and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the only winners during that spell to have won multiple majors.
Form isn’t a particularly strong indicator when it comes to picking a winner at the PLAYERS, but the past 20 winners had all made the cut in their previous start, so it’s important to at least not be coming off a stinker.
Three players fit all our criteria this week.
Dustin Johnson is the favourite at and fits the bill, having finished 17th in this event last year but notched a career-best T12 in 2017.
At 34, the 2016 US Open champion is in the right age bracket and has made 10 PLAYERS appearances in his career.
He’s coming off a win at the WGC – Mexico Championship in his last start, though, and no player has won here after triumphing in their previous start since Tiger Woods in 2001.
Marc Leishman represents better value at .
The 35-year-old Australian has never won a majo, and has made nine starts at Sawgrass, finishing eighth in 2013.
He finished T63 here last year and is coming off a T23 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week.
Billy Horschel, meanwhile, is a great outside bet at .
The 32-year-old’s best finish from six Sawgrass starts was T13 in 2015, and he claimed a top 40 at this course last year.