Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
The unofficial ‘fifth major’ takes places this week with the best players in the world competing at the Players Championship. For the first time since 2006, the PGA Tour’s flagship event switches the tournament from being held in May to March.
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is not a layout which can be overpowered, perhaps explaining why favourites Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson have never finished inside the top five. Instead, accuracy and control is favoured, along with a sharp short game, to win at the 7,189-yard par 72.
Pete Dye’s design is a daunting prospect and there is no more intimidating sight than the infamous par three 17th hole with the green surrounded by water. Avoiding big numbers on this hole will be important if the players are to get their hands on this coveted title.
Xander Schauffele made a superb debut at the tournament last season and the confident American has a great opportunity to win the Players Championship this week. He shot four rounds under par to finish in a tie for second on 14-under-par as he immediately took to Sawgrass. Schauffele returns in much better form and it would be a surprise if he fails to get into contention this weekend.
The FedEx Cup leader has already won twice this season after victory at the WGC HSBC Champions and the Tournament of Champions in January. Schauffele’s last six PGA Tour starts have all resulted in top 25s so he comes in this week with great confidence in his game. Ranked fourth for par five scoring average, Schauffele can take advantage of the scoring holes and looks a major contender at 20/1 each way.
Francesco Molinari comes in off a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Italian is capable of following this up with more success at Sawgrass. The Open champion has elevated his game to a completely different level over the last year which was crowned by his major win at Carnoustie last summer. His victory at Bay Hill was his third PGA Tour title in his last 12 starts.
Molinari’s accurate style is ideally suited to the demands of this track. He will never overpower a course and with his putter firing last week he looks a strong contender. The 36-year-old has missed four cuts at Sawgrass but his other four starts have resulted in a top-nine finish. With his confidence at an all-time high, Molinari should feature on the leaderboard and his stunning form last summer proves he can hold his form. Back the Ryder Cup star for another win this week at 22/1 each way.
Ian Poulter has come very close to getting his hands on the Players Championship and another strong challenge is expected. The feisty Englishman finished runner-up ten years ago and repeated the feat in 2017 when his PGA Tour status was under threat. Poulter was also 11th last year at Sawgrass and the strategic element of the course undoubtedly suits him.
Poulter has started this year extremely impressively and comes into this week with no shortage of confidence. The 43-year-old recently reeled off four successive top-six finishes including at the Dubai Desert Classic and WGC Mexico Championship. His performance at Bay Hill, finishing 23rd, was a solid warm-up and he is tenth on tour for total driving this season. With his long game in excellent shape, Poulter merits support at 33/1 each way.
Rafael Cabrera Bello looks increasingly comfortable playing in America and could threaten his maiden PGA Tour title this week. The Spaniard led after the first round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and finished in a tie for third. It continued a promising run of form which has seen him post top 25 finishes in his last six PGA Tour events including third at the CJ Cup.
Cabrera Bello showed a liking for Sawgrass two years ago when he tied for fourth place. The 34-year-old was also 17th last season and there is every reason to expect him to challenge this week. Cabrera Bello led the field for putting at Bay Hill and is sixth on tour for strokes gained putting. This tournament has a history of producing European winners, the likes of Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia are recent champions, with Cabrera Bello capable of following in their footsteps at 50/1.
Lucas Glover has been one of the most consistent performers this season and the experienced American will fancy his chances of getting into contention again this week. He has finished inside the top ten of his last three tournaments which includes both Florida events. A closing round of 66 saw Glover tie for fourth at the Honda Classic and another strong showing at Bay Hill followed with tenth spot.
Glover’s history at Sawgrass is very mixed but he has shown an ability to play well at the course. The 2009 US Open champion was third here in 2010 and sixth two years ago. Glover leads the tour for scrambling and bogey avoidance while he is fourth for greens in regulation. This potent combination, underlining his recent success, makes Glover an appealing bet at 50/1 each way.
Xander Schauffele each way 20/1
Francesco Molinari each way 22/1
Ian Poulter each way 33/1
Rafael Cabrera Bello each way 50/1
Lucas Glover each way 50/1