PLAYERS Championship Betting Preview

The "Island Green" 17th hole at the ...

The “Island Green” 17th hole at the at TPC Sawgrass. The teeing ground is off the bottom of the picture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s one of the most marquee events in all of golf, with arguably the most iconic hole in the entire game. The PLAYERS Championship held at TPC Sawgrass happens this week with a stacked field, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Let’s take a look at what we can expect.
 
2013 PLAYERS Championship Fact Sheet

  • Course: The PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass
  • Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
  • Yardage: 7,215 yards, par 72
  • Defending Champion: Matt Kuchar
  • Five Consensus Favourites: Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood

TV Schedule:

  • Thursday – 1:00 to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 1:00 to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 2:00 to 7:00 PM ET (NBC)
  • Sunday –  2:00 to 7:00 PM ET (NBC)

Key Storyline This Week
 
As much as people may be tired of hearing it, Tiger Woods is the focus this week, as he is whenever he tees it up. His record at Sawgrass has not been good over the years, at least when compared to other tracks, with only one win and four top-10’s in 14 total appearances. In fact, his performance at other courses designed by Pete Dye isn’t great either, so it could just be the way that Dye does things that makes Woods uncomfortable. Dye has a way of doing that to players. The thing is, Woods is having the kind of year so far that leads people to believe that he could return, at least partially, to his prior dominant form. We probably won’t see him again until the Memorial at the end of May, and then the U.S. Open in mid-June. Counting him out, regardless of the week and course, is a fool’s errand, but when you consider his record and the price involved, I’ll be passing on him this week.
 
TPC Sawgrass
 
Is the par-3 17th island green the most famous hole in the world? There’s definitely an argument to be made that it is. Much like the 12th at Augusta National, the 17th is no more than a pitching wedge or maybe a 9-iron for the pros these days, and yet, it remains a difficult test for the players based on atmosphere and swirling wind. The green is just 78 feet long, with a tiny but deep bunker guarding the front right hand side, and the entire hole is surrounded by water. The best thing about the hole is that it was never intended to be designed this way in the first place, and that Dye completely hated the idea. Originally, it was just supposed to be a par-3 with a lake in front. When the course was almost finished, all of the sand and dirt in the area was pretty much gone, leaving a massive ditch right in the middle of the area where the hole was going to be. Dye’s wife Alice convinced him to do the island green based on another hole that she had played previously, and the rest is history. A flyover of the hole is embedded below.
 
Flyover of the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. on Twitpic
As intimidating as the hole is, it tends to vary on the handicap scale based on the wind. It’s played under par in one of the last five years, but it was only the 11th hardest hole on the course last year, averaging a score of 3.04. The two most difficult holes historically have been the 14th and the 18th, so the players will have a pretty difficult run of holes to negotiate at the end of their rounds.
 
Par-4 14th (467 yards)
If players don’t hit the fairway off of the 14th tee, they’re screwed. The left hand side is guarded by a massive water hazard and a narrow bunker that runs all the way up the fairway, which also happens to be one of the most slender strips of short grass on the entire course. Players who bail out right will be greeted by grass bunkers with thick rough, making it difficult to hit a good shot into a green that has huge undulations and doesn’t hold really well even with shots from the fairway. Bunkers surround the green, making accuracy imperative with the approach, as mistakes will be punished. One of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour every year, and ranked as the hardest hole on the course in four of the last five years. The one time it wasn’t? Ranked second.
 
Par-4 18th (447 yards)
One of the most famous finishing holes in all of golf, the 18th has been a swing hole in previous years, and probably will be again in 2013. A huge body of water runs up the entire left hand side of this dogleg left hole, with trees guarding the right side of the fairway. Grass and sand bunkers are present around the green and will catch most errant approach shots into a large putting surface that is very fast, sloping severely from right to left. The easiest it has ranked in the last five years on the course is third hardest.

 
Suggested Plays
 
Rory McIlroy (Best Odds 21-1 at Spreadex)
If you had to guess who was number one on the PGA Tour this year in the all-around ranking, Rory McIlroy would not be the first guess of anyone, myself included, but he does indeed lead the pack. For all of the talk about how he hasn’t played well in 2013 and how switching to Nike was a mistake, he actually hasn’t had anywhere near the kind of poor year that has been thrown on him. His record at Sawgrass is terrible, missing the cut in all three times he’s teed it up, but I can’t pass up 21-1 for a guy who I still think is the most talented player in the world.
 
Lee Westwood (Best Odds 31-1 at Betfair)
Westwood is trending upwards with his finishes, with a T10 in Houston, T8 at the Masters and a T4 last week at the Wells Fargo. He’s finished inside the top-6 three times in his career here, with the last coming two years ago, and everything just seems to be in order with his game right now.
 
Jason Day (Best Odds 47-1 at BETDAQ)
Ignore the missed cut here last year, and focus on the T6 he had back in 2011 when he was playing well and injury free. He seems to have gotten things back on track this year, coming close to winning the Masters and even though his finish didn’t reflect it, his stats were solid at the Heritage in his last start. When his putter is hot, he’s one of the best players in the world, and his other skills are a perfect fit for this course.
 
Nick Watney (Best Odds 51-1 at Spreadex)
Watney has put himself in a position to win in each of the last three weeks, but either couldn’t go low enough in the final round, or he had one blow up round at some point over the four days. Still though, he’s on a much better run of form recently than he was early in the year after the switch to Nike, and he does have two top-20 finishes here in his career, including a T-4 back in 2011.
 
Louis Oosthuizen (Best Odds 70-1 at Betfair)
>Oosthuizen is the most under the radar player in the world, and I’m really not sure why. In his last appearance in the U.S., he missed the cut at the Masters, but he did finish tied for 10th in Houston the week before, and followed that up with a T-5 last week in China, so he seems to be in some decent form. Two missed cuts in two appearances here in the past, but at 70-1, it’s tough not to like this as an each-way bet.
 
Ian Poulter (Best Odds 100-1 at BETDAQ)
Give me a guy who putts and scrambles like Poulter at 100-1, and I’ll take it any time, regardless of the course they are playing. Poulter finished as the runner-up to Henrik Stenson here in 2009, and even though he hasn’t done much in the way of good finishes in 2013, that’s more to do with a lack of playing than anything. He’s about to start a stretch of playing in five of the next six events, and I think it’s very likely that he gets inside the top-5 this week.

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