The Back 9: 2021 The Players Championship Picks

Viktor Hovland of Norway chips from the bunker onto the fifth green during the second round of the Waste Management Open at TPC Scottsdale on January 31, 2020 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Last week on the PGA Tour, Bryson DeChambeau (13-1) donned the red cardigan after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational. For the first time in a while, it seemed like the Tour let fans back near the players and it did not disappoint. Every time Bryson teed it up to drive the par-5 sixth hole, the entire gallery was abuzz. Although he never actually drove the green like many people expected him to, he still smashed two drives carrying 370 yards, both resulting in birdies. The string of amazing Tour events continues this week as we gear up for The Players Championship.

The Course:

TPC Sawgrass is a Par 72 measuring in at 7,245 yards and sports Bermuda-grass greens. Most famously known for the iconic boom-or-bust Par-3 17th, the course was designed by legendary architect Pete Dye and promotes a point-A to point-B style of play. Taking all of this into account, my picks this week place an emphasis on strong ball-strikers that can scramble in a pinch.

Outrights:

Paul Casey of England reacts after a putt on the 16th hole during the final round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort Copperhead Course on March 11, 2018 in Palm Harbor, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Viktor Hovland (28-1)

With our first pick, we choose the best smile in golf. Prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Vik was on a ball-striking tear, gaining at least 4 strokes on both approach and off the tee in three consecutive tournaments. Last week, he finally came back down to earth. I do not, however, expect that to remain the case. Often compared to The Players 2019 champion, Rory McIlroy, Hovland is the type of player whose natural ball-striking talents can resurface in the blink of an eye. I’m buying the dip.

Paul Casey (50-1)

Paul Casey continued his fine run of form last week, gaining 5 strokes on his approach play and 7.5 strokes tee to green. That marks the third straight event that Casey has gained over 7 strokes total. In the past, Casey hasn’t quite figured it out at Sawgrass. In the same regard, the British Tour veteran has never entered Players week in such good form. Given his stellar performance at similar courses like Sedgefield CC and TPC River Highlands, there’s reason to believe he can solve the puzzle this week.

Cameron Smith (66-1)

For the last two weeks it feels as though Smith has been one round away from winning. At the Genesis, he had an up-and-down third round of 71 but rallied nicely on Sunday to finish solo fourth. At the WGC-Workday, Smith again buckled in his third round, shooting a 77 and all but dashing his hopes at claiming the title. Despite his inability to put together four rounds, Smith is a PGA Tour winner who has proven his ability to perform in harder fields. Look no further than his T-2 at The Masters in November. His game is there, he just needs to finish.

Joaquin Niemann (66-1)

After a brief hiatus, I am back on the Niemann train. After his back-to-back runner-up finishes to start the new year, Niemann cooled off a bit placing 43rd at the Genesis and 28th at the WGC-Workday. Although these results aren’t anything to gush over, the numbers at his last two events still suggest that Joaquin’s game isn’t far off from producing a winning result as he’s continued to gain strokes in almost all major categories. This will be Niemann’s Sawgrass debut but worry not. The Chilean boy wonder has managed to produce some fantastic results at comp courses like Harbour Town GL, TPC River Highlands, and Sedgefield CC.

Longshots/Cheeks of the Week:

Chris Kirk of the United States plays his shot from the 16th tee during the second round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic on July 03, 2020 at the Detroit Golf Club in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Chris Kirk (125-1) and Cameron Davis (150-1)

This week’s Cheeks of the Week are Chris Kirk and Cameron Davis. Kirk has generated some buzz on Tour, having revived his pro career after bouts with substance abuse issues. Since the new year, Kirk has two top twenties and two top tens in five starts. He also boasts a strong track record at TPC Sawgrass, going seven for seven on made cuts. Cam Davis is another Players debutant whose game should suit Sawgrass. Davis has yet to win on Tour but he boasts some of the most impressive metrics in the field, ranking 13th in this week’s field tee to green over the last 24 rounds played. Like most players, Davis just needs to find his putter and he could find himself in the winner’s circle.

All PGA odds taken from BetMGM Sportsbook

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