We’ll leave the debate about whether The Players is a major to other forums. To those playing daily fantasy golf, entering pools or placing a wager, The Players Championship is very much in the upper echelon of the year’s events. The price pools in all DraftKings and FanDuel contests this week are the biggest of the year, and with this week’s field containing 100 of the top 100 players in the world, the odds on each golfer to win are significantly higher than you’d normally see.
That gives our panel of expert golf handicappers, which includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green every week, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network, to two of the most respected fantasy golf experts, Pat Mayo and Brandon Gdula, and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf, some tough decisions for this week. This field is loaded—but that means the value is here if you pick correctly.
Speaking of value, we can’t remember the last time Tiger Woods’ odds to win were above 20-1 when he entered a tournament showing signs of his game being strong. Don’t think his game is where it needs to be? He currently leads the tour in strokes gained/approach and is in the top 5 in strokes gained/off the tee. Now that’s elite. Will our experts back him at The Players, where only two of his 80 wins have come? Read on to see who our experts like this week.
2019 Players Championship Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Jason Day (25-1) — Don’t listen to the Jason Day. He has a good record around this place—a wire-to-wire win in 2016 to go along with a couple of other top 10s – and says he’s feeling fine after last week’s WD at Bay Hill.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Sergio Garcia (33-1) — A former champ, with experience playing TPC Sawgrass in March, with a strong track record at PGA National, another shorter, tough Florida course played this time of year, Sergio’s form is eerily similar to his lead up at the 2018 Masters. Since last September, Sergio’s played 11 events worldwide. He has a Top 10 in nine of them. The only two blemishes were his DQ in Saudi Arabia, where failed his greenskeeper exam, and two weeks later at Riviera when he came T37. That week at the Genesis he still was absolutely dialed in with his irons, the rest of his game just couldn’t catch up. In his three US starts in 2019, those irons have been elite, improving in each subsequent event, for an average of 6.67 strokes gained/approach per start, finishing inside the top 10 each week in that category, according to FantasyNational.com. His entire game just hasn’t cooperated all at one time… yet. Returning to a happy location, Sergio shouldn’t be impacted by the cooler conditions, and has his game peaking at exactly the right moment. Knock down a few eight-footers with regularity, and the Spaniard will be a two-time Players champ.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Xander Schauffele (25-1) — So many golfers could win this week that picking one is hard, but Xander comes in at low enough odds that we can target him and still fill up the betting slip. He finished second here last year while leading the field in strokes gained/tee to green. He’s gained approach strokes in 9 of 12 rounds, can contend with the world’s best, and can conquer tough courses.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Dustin Johnson (12-1) — Dustin Johnson has never played well at TPC Sawgrass, but with a softer golf course and colder weather putting more of a premium on driving distance, we like the combination of his strength off the tee and wedge play where you need to hit the ball in the right spots. These odds are pretty enticing for the favorite—I think the conversation about who’s going to win this week rightfully starts with DJ. My model gives him the best chance to win.
Golf Digest editors: Tiger Woods (20-1) — We can thank Tiger’s neck injury last week for these higher odds. It’s too intriguing not to capitalize. Tiger’s game, more than ever, is suited to TPC Sawgrass. His previous bomb-and-gauge style only translated to one victory during his peak—when he was winning every tournament with regularity (his second Players title came in 2013, when he was playing great, but beyond what we’d call his “peak.”). Now, Tiger leads the tour in strokes gained/approach—his irons are not just his strength, but they are the best in the world. And he’s fourth in strokes gained/off the tee, which is going to be an important stat to succeed in this week. If you believe he’s healthy, like he said he was in his press conference on Tuesday, then you almost have to take Tiger Woods at 20-1. He still possesses the best “golf mind” in the game, and it’s imperative to think your way around this Pete Dye design.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 16 events. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler’s win (16-1) in Phoenix. And Brandon Gdula has three picks of his who have finished runner-up.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 Players Championship (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Tommy Fleetwood (30-1) — This week will be about driving—with the colder Florida weather putting more of a premium on distance—and scrambling, as these smaller, diabolical greens at TPC Sawgrass will lead to more missed greens than a normal week, especially when you’re coming in with one or more clubs than we’re used to seeing in May. Tommy Fleetwood ranks inside top 10 in both these stats—and we saw his game is pretty sharp at Bay Hill. I expect him to continue that strong play and contend this week.
Mayo: Paul Casey (45-1) — If Casey can putt, not great but merely reasonably, he’s a live bet at Sawgrass. With top-3 finishes in three of his past four worldwide starts, the Brit rates out almost as well across the board as any player in the field, not just in the mid-range. Per FantasyNational.com, over the past 24 rounds, Casey is top 20 compared to the field in strokes gained/approach, strokes gained/ball-striking, eagles gained, strokes gained on par-4s and par-5s, as well as fairways gained. That’s not a sudden blip either—when you sort by the past 100 rounds, he still actually gets slightly better: Top 10 in strokes gained/approach, strokes gained/ball-striking, eagles gained, strokes gained on par 4s from 450-500 yards and strokes gained on par 5s. He skipped last year’s Players Championship, but posted two Top 25 finishes in the two years prior. Just pray he’s down two heading into Sunday, not up two.
Gdula: Sungjae Im (120-1) — Sungjae Im just doesn’t really show many flaws in his game, the type of profile that can help out a lot here. He’s gained strokes with his ball-striking in 80 percent of his past 50 rounds, tied for third among the field, via FantasyNational.com.
Riccio: Cameron Champ (200-1) — My model gives Cam Champ the third-highest chance out of the entire field to win, so at 200-1, you have to consider it. His elite distance should be a separator at a course that’s going to demand it. And his low iron trajectory shouldn’t be an issue here, if he can place his ball where he wants it. These greens aren’t perched up—they should be more receptive to iron shots this year, too. Maybe this isn’t the year Champ wins at Sawgrass, but you just can’t ignore these odds.
Golf Digest editors:Ian Poulter (50-1) — Year after year, we’ve seen older players contend at TPC Sawgrass. The course rewards good play and usually doesn’t require elite distance to play well. It’s more about angles and where you place your ball. Over the past year, Ian Poulter is striking the ball on an elite level. And he has a great track record here. Poulter finished runner-up in 2017 and T-11 last year—gaining an average of more than 10 strokes over the course of the tournament in those two years. Those are remarkable numbers. These odds are really enticing for somebody who should have a chance to play well if he continues to strike the ball as well as he has recently.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Justin Rose (22-1) — I’m off of Justin Rose. I don’t think he likes this place. In his career, he’s got one top 10 and one top 20 at TPC Sawgrass. When you consider how those stats compare to other venues where he’s been remarkably consistent, that signals to me that this place doesn’t suit his eye.
Mayo: Justin Thomas (16-1) — Justin Thomas might be the scariest player you could choose to fade—if only because his win rate has been so incredibly over the last three years. But, you can’t pick everyone, and something seems off with JT. He went 19 straight events gaining strokes on his approach shots before losing -3.2 at Honda, yet between Honda and Mexico, he’s now lost strokes on approach shots in 5 of his past 7 rounds. That’s atypical for him. Only three times in the previous 12 months has he lost strokes on approaches in consecutive rounds (rounds three and four at the 2018 BMW Championship; the first and second rounds of the 2018 Players; and the first and second rounds of the WGC-Mexico). That’s absurd. Now, he did injure his hand off a tree at Honda, which might be something that has lingered. If we’re nit-picking at the top end, that’s good enough a reason for me to fade.
Gdula: Rickie Fowler (18-1) — This is really too short of odds for Rickie Fowler, which is why he sets up as a fade for me. His 2015 win here masks a lot of poor performances at TPC Sawgrass, and his approach play is erratic enough round-to-round to make me encourage others to avoid him in a loaded field.
Riccio: Matt Kuchar (50-1) — Kuchar has been playing great this season and owns a win here in 2012. But he only owns two top-10 finishes at TPC Sawgrass, which includes his win. On a year when distance will likely be necessary, that rules Kuchar out for me. You can find way better value with players in his price range.
Golf Digest editors: Rory McIlroy (14-1) — Rory has missed four cuts in nine appearances at The Players, and his last two times at Sawgrass, he has missed the cut and finished T-35. Rory’s obviously entering on a huge heater, but I think if it’s him, he’s going to be thinking about peaking for the Masters—not earning a Players victory. That’s where his priorities are.
2019 Players Championship: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Tommy Fleetwood (-185) over Billy Horschel (Topbet) — Fleetwood is gaining some momentum after a good week in Orlando. Billy’s best finish here 16th.
Mayo: Si-Woo Kim (-110) over Cam Smith (Bet365) — Take the former champ, who has never missed a cut at this event over the wayward driving Aussie who’s never made the weekend at Sawgrass.
Gdula: Patrick Cantlay (-122) over Marc Leishman (Topbet) — Cantlay has been top-25 in two straight trips to TPC Sawgrass and grades out really balanced over the past 100 rounds. He ranked fourth in strokes gained/tee to green last year at this event and led in strokes gained/off the tee in 2017. Cantlay’s recent ball-striking has been way better than Leishman’s.
Riccio: Hideki Matsuyama (-120) over Adam Scott (DraftKings) — Matsuyama and Scott are both masters of precision with their irons with a penchant for their putters letting them down. Matsuyama, however, is eighth in my model this week for TPC Sawgrass, whereas Scott is 66th. That’s a huge disparity, mainly to do with Matsuyama’s elite iron game.
Golf Digest editors: Francesco Molinari (+100) over Rickie Fowler (DraftKings) — Francesco Molinari’s odds to win here rightfully jumped up after his win at Bay Hill. We expect him to continue that strong form, whereas Rickie Fowler hasn’t shown much after winning in Scottsdale a couple weeks ago. We’ll take the form of Molinari over Rickie in this one.
(Matchup results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 or 1 (Luke List over Adam Hadwin); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Justin Rose over Brooks Koepka); Mayo: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1; Riccio: 0 for 1)
(Matchup results for the year: GD Editors: 7 for 10 (and one push); PGA Tour Caddie: 6 for 9; Riccio: 6 for 9; Mayo and Gdula: 3 for 7 with one push.)
Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Patrick Cantlay (+333) — Like we explained in why we like Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood this week, the same applies to Patrick Cantlay. He is extremely consistent when it comes to driving and scrambling, two areas where he excels.
Mayo: Byeong Hun An (+750) — While the mainstream golf media never talks about it, Ben An is one of the world best ball-strikers. We’re not talking compared to the players beyond 100-1 or in the $6,000 range on DraftKings this week, against anyone. He also possesses one of the world’s best short games. The only thing is, the guy legit can’t putt. He’s horrendous. Fortunately, putting is fickle, and even the worst of putters can get it rolling for one event. Like with Sergio and Casey, he doesn’t need to be the best in the field on the greens, just not the absolutely lowest with the flat stick.
Gdula: Ian Poulter (+500) — Poulter’s number for a top-10 is really enticing. He’s 18th in approach and 10th around the green over the past 100 rounds, via FantasyNational.com. He has finished in the top 25 in five of 15 tries at TPC Sawgrass and has had two straight top-11 finishes at The Players.
Riccio: Rafa Cabrera Bello (+500) — Coming off a top-5 finish at Bay Hill, Cabrera Bello has proved his game is as sharp as the game’s elite. He hasn’t finished outside the top 25 since October, and he has gained more than three strokes off the tee in two of his past three starts.
Golf Digest editors: Sergio Garcia (+400) — These are really enticing odds for a player who has played so well of late. Sergio gained 10 strokes off the tee at the Honda Classic—an insanely good number—but lost almost three strokes to the field in putting, according to FantasyNational.com. If those numbers improve slightly, Sergio will contend again this week—and he’s coming off two straight top-10s in Mexico and PGA National. We like that to continue this week.
(Top-10 results last week: Our PGA Tour Caddie hit Keith Mitchell at +1000 and Gdula hit Rafa Cabrera-Bello at +650 last week. Riccio: 0 for 1; GD Editors: 0 for 1; Mayo: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 6 for 10; PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 10; GD Editors: 3 for 9; Gdula: 2 for 9; Riccio: 2 for 9)
Mayo: Along with Sergio, Casey and An; Poulter he enters with form for days. In seven 2019 starts, the Brit has yet to finish worse than T-33 (the Sony Open), and he has piled up four top-6 finishes in his past five starts. The shorter course plays to his strengths; he’s made the weekend five straight times at Sawgrass including T11/2nd results the past two years, and has a solid track record at other short, wind-infused tracks like Harbour Town, Colonial and PGA National.
Im has gained strokes off the tee in 12 of his 13 career starts, gained on approach in six of his past seven events, an average of +4.65 in the strokes gained/approach stat the past two weeks, and he’s gained around the greens in five straight starts. He’s rarely going to be the best in any one category during the week, but is so solid everywhere, he’ll rarely do something to take himself out of contention.
With this balanced core, there’s no player in the field you can’t use in your final DraftKings spot. Choose wisely.
Sergio Garcia ($9,100); Paul Casey ($7,900); Ian Poulter ($7,600); Byeong Hun-An ($6,800); Sungjae Im ($6,800).
Riccio: I like rounding out my lineups this week with two elite but perhaps underrated ball-strikers with exceptional value: Luke List and Aaron Wise. They both excel when emphasis is put on proximity on long-iron shots.
Dustin Johnson ($11,400); Jordan Spieth ($8,900); Cam Champ ($7,700); Marc Leishman ($7,600); Aaron Wise ($7,200); Luke List ($7,000)
Golf Digest Editors: We love the below lineup for having elite talent and players who could easily win (Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and Paul Casey) and rounding it out with players with strong form and who definitely have the skills to push for a top-10 finish. Rarely do you have a week where you can make lineups with such balanced talent. This is a week you can do that—and we love this lineup because of it.
Justin Thomas ($11,100); Sergio Garcia ($9,100); Adam Scott ($8,200); Paul Casey ($7,900); Luke List ($7,000); Matt Wallace ($6,700)
Gdula: In a deep field, there are golfers who are cheaper than they usually are, leaving a more balanced build pretty enticing. Some mid-range options who help create balanced lineups on FanDuel include Francesco Molinari ($10,100), Patrick Cantlay ($10,000), Paul Casey ($9,900), Ian Poulter ($9,800), Rafa Cabrera Bello ($9,800).
Dustin Johnson ($12,300); Justin Thomas ($12,100); Cam Champ ($9,500); Luke List ($9,000); Aaron Wise ($8,800); Austin Cook ($8,100)
GD Editors: This lineup feels like a birdie-fest (Rickie Fowler, Jason Day) mixed with consistency. That’s a key to a winning lineup. The risk lies with Jason Day—if you believe that he feels healthy, then he’s a good play this week. We’re willing to bet that others will fade him with the injury concerns, which poses some serious value if you could grab J-Day and he contends here, which wouldn’t surprise us, really.
Rickie Fowler ($11,600); Jason Day ($11,200); Patrick Cantlay ($10,000); Charles Howell III ($9,600); Tyrrell Hatton ($9,300); Chris Kirk ($8,200)
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia’s Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA’s handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Players Championship.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.