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Preview, Props & Best Bets: Players Championship

The proverbial “fifth major” of the PGA Tour season begins Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

The Players Championship has a different vibe this year for several reasons. Noticeably absent are defending champion Cam Smith and several of his LIV Golf counterparts. Directly related — the 144-player field is competing for a record event purse of $25 million.

Forty-four of the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are in the field, with No. 1 Jon Rahm, No. 2 Scottie Scheffler and No. 3 Rory McIlroy grouped together for the first two rounds.

Field Level Media’s golf experts provide key tournament notes along with their favorite prop picks and betting trends this week.

THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., March 9-12 Course: TPC Sawgrass (Par 72, 7,275 yards) Purse: $25M (Winner: $4.5M) Defending Champion: Cameron Smith FedEx Cup leader: Jon Rahm HOW TO FOLLOW TV: Thursday-Friday, 12-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 1-6 p.m. (NBC) Streaming on ESPN+: Thursday-Friday, 6:45 a.m.-6 p.m. ET; Saturday-Sunday, 7:45 a.m.-6 p.m. Twitter: @ThePlayersChamp

PROP PICKS –Max Homa to Beat Xander Schauffele (-130 at DraftKings): Homa is ranked No. 7 in the world — one spot behind Schauffele. But Schauffele has missed the cut at TPC Sawgrass the past two years and has struggled to a T33 and a T39 in his past two starts. Homa, who finished T13 at last year’s Players, enters in far better form, with two wins and a runner-up this season before last week’s solid T14 on a very difficult Bay Hill course.

–Hole No. 17 Fewer Than 55 Balls in Water (-125 at BetMGM): The past two years have seen 66 and 57 balls find water at No. 17. That has increased the average to 48.68 per year since 2003, with the 69 balls water balls in 2017 the only other year in the past 13 to top 54. Players had to contend with heavy rain and winds in 2022. Outside of potential rain on Friday, this year’s forecast appears far more favorable.

–Viktor Hovland to Finish Top 10 (+275 at BetRivers): The Norwegian is coming off a T10 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Granted, he opened with a hole-out for eagle and added an ace for two strokes of good luck, but Hovland generally plays well in Florida. He finished T9 at TPC Sawgrass last year following a T2 at Bay Hill. Hovland also won the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December — one of five top-10s in his past 12 worldwide starts.

2023 Prop Picks Record: 11-13-1

BEST BETS –Rory McIlroy (+900 at BetMGM) won The Players in 2019 and narrowly missed out on a playoff at Bay Hill last week. He is the third-biggest liability at BetMGM, where he leads the field with 11.8 percent of the money backing him to win.

–Jon Rahm (+1000) already has three wins this year and enters The Players ranked No. 1 in the world for the second consecutive year. Coming off a T39 last week, the Spaniard’s best finish in five previous event starts was a T9 in 2021. After opening at +1100, Rahm’s odds shifted as low as +800 before returning to +1000 as he is third at BetMGM in both total bets (7.8 percent) and money (8.5 percent) backing him. –Scottie Scheffler (+1000) has a missed cut and T55 in two previous starts at The Players, but he still leads this week’s field with 8.6 percent of the total tickets at BetMGM since opening at +1600. Scheffler also leads with 11.5 percent of the tickets and 12.5 percent of the money placed at BetRivers. He missed out on a potential playoff last week when he bogeyed the 72nd hole from the fairway, but he leads the tour in greens in regulation (73.61 percent) this season.

–Patrick Cantlay (+1600) is the only player to finish in the top five in each of the past two designated events, the Genesis and the Arnold Palmer. However, he has missed the cut in his past three appearances at TPC Sawgrass and has never finished better than T22 in 2017.

–Max Homa (+1800) is already a two-time winner this season to go along with a runner-up at the Genesis while vaulting to a career-high seventh in the world rankings. He is BetMGM’s biggest liability entering The Players, having drawn 7.7 percent of the money after opening at +4000.

–Justin Thomas (+1800) won the event two years ago and his 70.48 scoring average at The Players is the lowest since 1983 of any player with at least 15 rounds played. That has contributed to Thomas being the second-most popular choice at BetRivers, with 5.5 percent of the total bets and 8.5 percent of the money supporting him.

NOTES –This is the first of five events that offers 600 FedEx Cup points to the winner, with the other four being the majors. It’s the 49th edition of The Players, the 41st at TPC Sawgrass.

–The 144-player field includes 49 of the top 50 players in the FedEx Cup standings, with only No. 30 Ben Taylor (wedding) missing. The last man in was Ryan Armour, who was No. 111 in the FedEx Cup standings when the field was set, with No. 113 Harry Hall of England the first alternate.

–Smith defeated India’s Anirban Lahiri by one shot and England’s Paul Casey by two shots last year. All three now play for the LIV Golf League, as does Harold Varner III, who finished T6. LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman holds The Players tournament scoring record of 264, set in 1994.

–For the fourth time in five weeks, the No. 2 and No. 3 players enter a tournament with the chance to take over No. 1 depending upon the results. This time, it’s Scheffler and McIlroy trying to overtake Rahm.

–Kurt Kitayama and Colombia’s Nico Echavarria are playing after earning their first tour wins last week. The last player to win The Players after also winning the previous week was Tiger Woods in 2001.

–Field Level Media


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