2018 Players Championship predictions: One of these nine golfers will win at TPC Sawgrass
Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas or ... Bryson DeChambeau (?) are among the contenders
It was not long after the Wells Fargo Championship that I was asked who I was picking for The Players Championship would be. The first name that came to mind? Jordan Spieth. Of the top 15 players in the world, Spieth has won least recently worldwide. He just feels due. Of course, I forgot at the time that he's missed his last three cuts here and have since reneged on that pick and even removed him from my list of candidates that I think have a real chance of winning this week.
That list, however, is rife with top 10 players like Spieth. Sawgrass is obviously a ball-striker's playground. As my pal Sean Martin noted on the Fried Egg Podcast this week, most of the last decade's worth of winners have been top 10 in strokes gained on approach shots so I'm keeping that in mind as we look at the nine guys who can win this tournament this week.
Also, a thing to keep in mind: I'm probably going to look silly here because this tournament is so much more difficult to predict than, say, a Masters or even one of the Opens.
Visit SportsLine now to see who you can bank on to win the 2018 Players Championship and which long shots will make a run. Plus, we predict Tiger Woods' exact finish. All from the model that's nailed four of the last five majors heading into the weekend.
1. Justin Thomas: Shot a 65 in the final round here two years ago and is currently top 10 in strokes gained on approach shots. It's so easy to envision him being crowned No. 1 in the world on Sunday evening against the second-biggest (or biggest?) win of his career as I re-heat the, "wait, J.T. isn't better than Spieth, right?" debate. They have both won eight of their first 106 tournaments so save your Twitter mentions for after Sunday.
2. Henrik Stenson: He's a horse for this course. Top 20 in four of his last six Players appearances, and he's No. 1 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained on approach shots. I mentioned this earlier, but to put some numbers around it: The Players' scores are about 5 percent more heavily weighted toward great approaches and 5 percent less toward putting than a normal event.
3. Sergio Garcia: I always associate Garcia with this course, for better or worse. He's the all-time money leader here, and despite a poor year overall (for him) he's still No. 3 in strokes gained on approach shots. Watching him work the ball both ways on this track is a glorious experience.
4. Rory McIlroy: He has four top 12s in his last five appearances here, but I never remember thinking, "Man, really seems like Rory is going to win The Players this week!" In that sense, it has been Augusta Lite for him. He's No. 4 of players in the field this week in historical strokes gained on this course for his career.
5. Tiger Woods: I know it sounds crazy to say a guy who just went T55 last week at the Wells Fargo Championship is one of nine who can win, but he hit the ball pretty well. Maybe I'm just contrasting it with his putting (which was an abomination), but I really do think he's kind of close and that we'll look back at Quail Hollow as a short-game outlier.
6. Bryson DeChambeau: I liked Martin's take on DeChambeau so much that I'm stealing it for the purposes of this post. He's 17th in approach shots and has finished in the top five in three of his last four (!) events. This is his first appearance at TPC Sawgrass, but great ball-strikers are great ball-strikers, and DeChambeau is world class.
7. Jon Rahm: He might be the top guy in terms of throwing out course types and history. I think he just rolls out of the rack and flushes balls both ways and can work shots any way you want him to. He's a joy to watch play, and even if he doesn't win a Players, he'll certainly win several huge tournaments like The Players over the course of the rest of his career.
8. Rickie Fowler: Has two top fives here (including a dramatic win), and he's been playing beautifully over the last month. I don't really see him winning, but it felt wrong to leave him off this list considering his history at Sawgrass and his recent form. Only 39th in approach shots this season.
9. Jason Day: My struggle to reconcile why I don't love watching Day play golf is well documented, but it's hard to go against somebody who has won here in the last two years and is coming off a win. He'll need to improve his play from tee to green, but when Day hops on heaters historically, he's tough to knock off the podium.
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