Welcome to our weekly PGA Tour gambling-tips column, featuring picks from GOLF.com’s expert prognosticator, Brady Kannon. You can follow Kannon on Twitter at @LasVegasGolfer and you can read below to see his favorite plays for the Players Championship, which kicks off Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, in Ponte Vedra, Fla. Keep scrolling past Kannon’s picks, and you’ll also see data from Chirp, a free-to-play mobile platform — and GOLF.com affiliate — that features a range of games with enticing prizes, giving fans all kinds of ways to engage in the action without risking any money.
This has been the year of “the elevated event.” In just three months, we’ve already had four such tournaments and each has been a treat the Players Championship has always been elevated, if you will. It carries the largest purse on Tour and arguably assembles the game’s most competitive field. Kurt Kitayama earned $3.6 million at Bay Hill last week, holding off Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, and Jordan Spieth for his first PGA Tour victory. This week we head north to Ponte Vedra Beach, where a $4.5-million winner’s check awaits.
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, a Pete Dye design, has been hosting The Players Championship since 1982. It is commonly referred to as “the 5th major.” The governing body at Augusta National Golf Club puts on the Masters. The PGA of America conducts the PGA Championship. The USGA plays host to the U.S. Open and the R&A runs the Open Championship. The Players Championship is the Tour’s baby and its crown jewel event. The 17th hole, a par 3 with an island green, is part of a three-hole finish that ranks among the most dramatic closing stretches in the world.
At less than 7,200 yards, the course is short by Tour standards, but we have seen both bombers and short knockers win here in the past. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Davis Love III fit the bomber mold, but they’re offset by former champions, Si Woo Kim, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Tim Clark and Fred Funk. I favor Driving Accuracy over Driving Distance this week. But at Sawgrass, it is really about positioning. Many players will play 3-woods and long irons off the tee to avoid water hazards and other trouble. The rough is not as brutal as what we saw last week at Bay Hill, and the greens, which are also Bermuda grass, are smaller than Tour average. Ball Striking will be paramount this week. The forecast calls for 10-15 mph winds. Nothing fierce. But given that no two holes run in the same direction, players will be tested from all possible angles and will have to be able to work some shots.
That said, the most important statistics this week are Good Drives Gained and/or Fairways Gained (Total Driving is not a bad place to look either), Strokes Gained: Approach, Par 4 Scoring (or SG: Par 4’s) and Scrambling. Work around the greens has proven crucial at the Players, with the top tier of past leaderboards loaded with players who scrambled best. It makes sense with the undulations on and around the greens, the quirky bunkering, and the small putting surfaces. Other areas I looked at this week were Bogey Avoidance, Strokes Gained: Putting (Bermuda Grass), and how these players have fared on other Pete Dye courses and/or the comp courses. For comps, I considered Sedgefield (Wyndam), Innisbrook (Valspar), The Concession (WGC-Workday), Muirfield Village (The Memorial), and Sea Island (RSM Classic). The Pete Dye designs I used were Harbour Town (RBC Heritage), TPC RIver Highlands (Travelers), TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic) and the Stadium Course at PGA West (American Express).
Picks to win the Players Championship (and finish Top 20)
Patrick Cantlay (16-1)
Cantlay is getting a lot of betting attention this week. I could have taken 18-1 but got greedy and waited, thinking I might get something a tad higher. Ultimately, I had to settle for 16-1 but I’ve seen as low as 13-1. This is our third time in four weeks backing the UCLA Bruin and while we have cashed Top 20 finishes, the outright win still eludes us. He was 3rd at the Genesis and 4th last week in his first ever trip to Bay Hill. Cantlay fits our criteria this week. He’s 4th in Total Driving, 19th in Scrambling, 2nd in Bogey Avoidance, and 1st in Par 4 Scoring. He is also 22nd in this field over the last 36 rounds in SG Approach. He’s been tremendous on some of the comp courses with 2nd, 7th, and two 3rd place finishes at Harbour Town, a win at TPC Louisiana, and three Top 10 finishes, including a runner-up at the American Express. In his last five trips to TPC River Highlands, Cantlay hasn’t finished worse than 15th and shot a 60 on that course back in 2011. I feel like he’s primed and ready to put it all together this week at TPC Sawgrass.
Collin Morikawa (27-1)
I like it when it seems like one of the best players is being ignored or there isn’t much buzz in the betting world about that player. That feels like the case this week with Morikawa, the 10th ranked player in the world. He stumbled mightily in the final round at Kapalua to kick off 2023 (I remember it well as I was on him that week) and his stock has drifted downward ever since. He missed the cut last week at Bay Hill and did so in Phoenix, too — but he also recorded a 3rd at Torrey Pines and finished 6th at the Genesis. He is a Top 5 player in the field for Good Drives Gained, Fairways Gained, and SG Approach over the last 36 rounds. He also won the WGC-Workday at The Concession in 2021. The problem is the short game as it has been off recently. Over the course of the 2022-23 season, his Scrambling is solid, but it will need to return to form if he’s going to win here this week. With everything else he does so well, I believe he has a real shot and at close to 30-1, he’s almost an auto-play in my opinion.
Jason Day (32-1)
As with Cantlay, we took a shot with Jason Day to both win and finish in the Top 20. He delivered for us by recording his 4th straight Top 10 finish on Tour. I wrote about how he has sneaked up on us in the last five months. It has been an incredible return to form for the Australian and I’m going to back him again this week, on another course, like Bay Hill, where he has won. Day ranks No.1 in this field for Bogey Avoidance over the last 36 rounds, 2nd for Scrambling, and 1st in SG Par 4’s. In addition to his win here, Day has also finished 8th, 5th, 19th, and 6th. He has a Top 10 in his career at Harbour Town, a 20th at the Valspar, and was 18th in 2021 at The Concession. Though Whistling Straits is a far cry from a clone of Sawgrass, it’s also worth nothing that Day one the 2015 PGA Championship on that Dye design. As we noted last week, we’ve always known about his short game – but now the driver and the irons are working too. I have to take another shot with him as it appears he is destined to win again soon.
Tyrrell Hatton (35-1)
The Englishman has really been playing great golf with two Top 10 finishes and a Top 15 in his last four starts. He is 2nd on Tour in Total Driving, 40th in Scrambling, and 4th in this field over the last 36 rounds for SG Putting on Bermuda. He has Top 10 finishes at Harbour Town and Sedgefield and Top 25 finishes at Innisbrook and The Concession. He was 13th here at The Players last year. His iron play can sometimes get away from him despite ranking 28th on Tour in SG Approach. With his work off the tee and around the greens however – combined with his comp course history and current form, I think he’s in the mix again here roughly 140 miles from his Florida home.
Sungjae Im (40-1)
As is the case with Cantlay, we are backing Im for the third time in four weeks. Unfortunately, he missed a Top 20 finish for us last week by one shot. But we can’t ignore his consistency in all areas of the game while still getting juicy prices on him to win. Im ranks Top 21 in this field over the last 36 rounds in SG Off the Tee, Bogey Avoidance, Scrambling, and Fairways Gained. He hasfinished as high as 13th at the RBC Heritage and 17th here at Sawgrass. He has a 4th place finish at the Valspar, a runner-up, a 6th, and a 9th place finish at the Wyndham, and has never finished worse than 18th in five trips to the American Express. If you also look at what Im has done on courses that measure less than 7200 yards, he ranks 10th in this field over the last 36 rounds on such courses for SG Ball Striking. I believe he’s worth another shot at 40-1 or better.
Si Woo Kim (90-1)
Yes, 90-1 appears to be an outlier that I came across, but I am okay with anything at 65-1 or better. Si Woo is a former Players champ and along with Webb Simpson, he is probably the “co-owner” of the Wyndham Championship with finishes of 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 1st in his career. He checks in with a runner-up finish at the RBC Heritage as well. To illustrate his prowess on these types of courses, Kim ranks 12th in this field over the last 36 rounds for SG Tee to Green on Pete Dye designed courses. He is also 5th for Bogey Avoidance and 12th in Fairways Gained. He’s extremely accurate off the tee and ranks 15th on Tour in Scrambling. I did not use Wailae Country Club as a correlated course this week but there are some ties – narrow fairways, Bermuda grass, wind – and Si Woo won the Sony Open there just three months ago.
Full tournament head-to-head matchups
Tyrrell Hatton (-135) over Jordan Spieth
Jason Day (-120) over Matt Fitzpatrick
Kannon’s season-long head-to-head picks record: 11-7-1
Who Chirp users think will win
Jon Rahm – 22.86%
Rory McIlroy – 21.65%
Scottie Scheffler – 20.30%
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