The PLAYERS first-round preview and best bets

The PLAYERS first-round preview and best bets

The PLAYERS Championship is under way but there’s plenty of time to find value among the three-balls. Ben Coley picks out his best bets.

Golf betting tips: The PLAYERS round one

1.5pts Scott to beat Morikawa and Fowler at 12/5 (bet365)

1pt double Fleetwood and Svensson at 4/1 (General)

1pt Griffin to beat Lower and Schwab at 11/8 (General)

0.5pt Fleetwood, Svensson and Griffin at 11/1 (bet365, Boylesports)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Griffin to beat Schwab and Lower (1712)

All three of these make their debuts in The PLAYERS and there’s little doubt that BEN GRIFFIN arrives as the form pick, and with the game to further enhance one of the low-key most promising profiles on the circuit.

Griffin ranks 30th in strokes-gained total this year, just behind Viktor Hovland and Justin Rose, in front of Matt Fitzpatrick and Sahith Theegala. He’s creeping closer to the world’s top 50 and, having improved his putting for a return to the east coast, where he grew up, it could be a fruitful spring for a player close to qualifying for the WGC-Match Play.

Griffin’s success has been built on strong starts and he ranks 15th in first-round scoring, while just one player on the PGA Tour has managed more rounds in the sixties so far this season. If he can do that again I’ve little doubt he’ll take care of Justin Lower and Matthias Schwab, the former struggling since the turn of the year and Schwab, whose long-game has been generally poor, often starting slowly.

For those backing in singles, Paddy Power’s 6/4 looks excellent value.

Hoge to beat Molinari and Reavie (1734)

This is one of those three-balls where one player stands out as immediately opposable. Chez Reavie has missed his last four cuts, is doing nothing well, has seldom produced anything of note at Sawgrass, and shot 80-77 on his last visit.

Prices of 3/1 are surely a couple of points too short and I’d be of the view that Tom Hoge deserves favouritism over Francesco Molinari, without necessarily being in a rush to oppose the Italian.

Hoge was the halfway leader last year and he’s 14-under for his four opening rounds at Sawgrass, which is a phenomenal return. It’s a good course for his tidy game, one which relies upon quality approach play, and he’s putting well at the moment.

A missed cut on a very different layout last week isn’t overly concerning and if he’s back to the form he showed previously, Hoge can peg another good round here and hang around close to the leaders throughout the tournament.

Molinari has four top-10s at Sawgrass and that’s ultimately why I don’t want to take him on. However, he’s also missed five cuts and finished outside the top 40 on two other occasions, so a lot depends on whether he can build on 14th place at Bay Hill, a course where he’s a past champion. I have slight doubts, hence preference for Hoge, but can just about skip this one.

Stallings to beat Brehm and Griffin (1807)

  • Lanto Griffin has withdrawn and all bets on this three-ball are void

Ryan Brehm was a 1000/1 selection in my Bay Hill preview, the decision to side with him and not Kurt Kitayama surely ranking among my worst five (in golf previewing, at least), but after a promising start he reverted to type and missed the cut.

His failure to build on an eye-catching display at the Honda suggests the latter will soon look like a clear anomaly for a player who had done next to nothing since winning in Puerto Rico. With Sawgrass a straightforwardly bad fit on paper, he’ll do well to better last year’s opening 74, which he followed with a round of 81.

Lanto Griffin’s last round here was also in the eighties and his comeback from injury is yet to gather pace. There have been moments of promise, with sub-70 rounds at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, but he’s also carded rounds of 76, 77 and 80 and was last seen withdrawing from the Genesis Invitational.

All of this suggests that SCOTT STALLINGS, whose medium-term form far surpasses that of both playing partners hence why he’s got a Masters invite safely tucked away, might just win this by default.

He’s got a round of 65 to his name around Sawgrass, too, and while he’s missed his last two cuts, 23rd in Phoenix and 15th at Pebble Beach are both strong lines of form. Six of his eight opening rounds here have been par or better and anything like that might result in a comfortable win.

Piercy to beat Hahn and Watney (1840)

Finally, this veteran three-ball holds some appeal because Scott Piercy looks like he has his game in decent shape, whereas James Hahn and Nick Watney do not.

Hahn seems to have been distracted by criticism of his generally anti-PGA Tour/elite player opinions, and the suggestion that Dustin Johnson might talk Saudi Arabia into abolishing the death penalty and so on.

He’s also nursing a neck injury and has a poor record here, a comment which applies to Watney in recent years. At his best, the American was fourth here following an opening 64, but he’s struggled for a long time and was down the field in Puerto Rico.

Piercy finished close to the leaders there, continuing a generally solid run of form. He’s broken 70 in seven of his last 11 opening rounds and there are some indications that the move from May to March has helped him here, with three under-par rounds in his last six.

It’s not an ideal course for Piercy, whose best effort is 22nd, but right now he’s in a better place than his playing partners.

Shelton to beat Lee and Smotherman (1150 GMT)

The very first group out for round one of The PLAYERS features world number 50 Min Woo Lee, who on paper and the pick of his form would look a worthy favourite against Robby Shelton and Austin Smotherman.

He played nicely in the Honda Classic a fortnight ago, too, and that’s ultimately why I can just about avoid opposing him despite a missed cut at Bay Hill and the likelihood that he is caught out on his Sawgrass debut.

With Smotherman badly out of sorts and also appearing here for the first time, it’s Shelton who I like. He’s also making his debut in the event but knows the course well, having won the junior equivalent and played several rounds here in the past. He’s a dynamite putter who extended a run of good form by outplaying Lee last week, and under these conditions, at this time, he’s the one to beat.

Fleetwood to beat Pendrith and Tarren (1212)

With a flat forecast for Thursday’s first round, any inclination to try the first-round leader market in one of the most competitive tournaments of the year is pretty easy to overcome on this occasion.

Were there indications that the morning wave had it best then it might’ve been tempting to chance TOMMY FLEETWOOD, who opened with a 65 to lead in 2019 and shot 66 last year to again top the leaderboard on day one.

Lightning probably won’t strike thrice, but it is worth tapping into not just a strong record on Thursday but at Sawgrass as a whole – he boasts the best adjusted scoring average in the field among those to have played in The PLAYERS more than once.

Putting concerns are enough to keep me from siding with him outright or to beat some better-fancied compatriots, but Fleetwood can outscore playing partners Taylor Pendrith and Callum Tarren with little fuss.

Pendrith’s scoring average is in fact the best in the field because he played well (13th) on his debut here. However, he returns with his driver having been poor all year, which is a big issue given that it’s typically the most reliable club in his bag.

The Canadian shot 77-74 last week and looks to be struggling, as is Callum Tarren whose last eight rounds have all been over-par, including a second-round 80 at Riviera. This is his course debut and it comes at a bad time.

Mitchell to beat Todd and Thompson (1223)

Odds-against about in-form Keith Mitchell, a player of serious quality who is finally realising it, immediately stood out – but on closer inspection his draw comes with some risks I’m not quite prepared to take.

Mitchell’s sole win came under tough conditions here in Florida, he’s best on bermuda, and he’s broken par in three of his four opening rounds at Sawgrass. Like Fleetwood, he’s a compelling first-round leader candidate with a best of 65 at the course, and he was an excellent 13th in last year’s renewal.

There are lots of reasons to be hopeful, but both Brendon Todd and Michael Thompson have flashes of form here, they’re accurate off the tee and, most troublingly of all, each of them can light up the greens. I’d be confident Mitchell finishes ahead of both this week, but far less so over 18 holes.

Scott to beat Morikawa and Fowler (1245)

Collin Morikawa might be a vulnerable favourite here, having struggled so far at Sawgrass and now grouped with two former PLAYERS champions in Rickie Fowler and ADAM SCOTT.

Fowler was in my staking plan last week and showed up well early on. Despite failing to build on that promising start, there’s no reason to abandon the view that he’s firmly on the comeback trail. His work with Butch Harmon has paid off quickly, and a return to the world’s top 50 is imminent.

However, it’s worth stressing that even at his world-class best, Fowler’s record at Sawgrass is quite dramatically inferior to Scott’s. He’s been first and second of course, but the rest of his efforts amount to very little, and he’s often been unable to recover from slow starts which have been common.

Since 2010, when they first played this event together, Scott leads the head-to-head 8-3. That includes each of the last five and not once during this spell has it been close. Round-by-round, Scott leads 19-9 with three ties, and in round one he’s outscored Fowler seven times in 11.

Having finished alongside each other in 31st at Bay Hill, I don’t think there’s a great deal between these two, but Scott’s superior Sawgrass record suggests he’s the value play here. He’s also been starting brightly of late, with par-or-better opening rounds on every start since the Memorial Tournament last June. Given that this run includes two majors and a typically strong schedule, it’s a seriously impressive run.

Sky Bet offer 23/20 about Scott in a mythical two-ball if you’re less keen to take on Morikawa, which is a great option for those who can. It’s not that I’m dead against Fowler, but there’s a small edge to be had in backing a player who might just be a step ahead around here.

Svensson to beat Dahmen and Streb (1256)

Taking on Joel Dahmen around here isn’t necessarily the most obvious move, given that he’s broken par in seven of his 10 rounds. That’s a serious record and his accuracy off the tee and preference for something tricky makes Sawgrass a somewhat obvious fit.

However, he is playing really poorly at the moment and is prone to a shocking day on the greens, so there’s a vulnerability to his profile which ADAM SVENSSON backers can look to exploit.

Svensson makes his debut in the event at a good time, as he’s putting with confidence and his long-game has improved throughout his last three starts. He played really well at Riviera, showed plenty when fancied in the Honda, and four solid rounds for 24th place last week were a continuation of that.

Robert Streb on the other hand has missed his last eight cuts and is on a run of five here at Sawgrass, where 13 of his 14 rounds have been 70-plus. It’s a bad course for a struggling player and in what’s a match, taking Svensson at odds-against holds plenty of appeal.

Posted at 1410 GMT on 07/03/23

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