2019 Players Championship picks, predictions: One of these nine golfers will win at TPC Sawgrass

It's decision time when it comes to the 2019 Players Championship. On the eve of the biggest tournament of 2019 to date, there are myriad options when it comes to picking a winner, and most of the top 50 players in the world (all of whom are playing) are enticing choices.

Let's cut through the noise a little bit, though, and look at the pool of nine golfers I think will include this year's winner. There will be names -- Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods among them -- that are monster draws, but I don't really think they stand a good chance of taking this year's first big crown.

Such is life in the upper crust of golf. Here are my nine as the 2019 Players unfolds starting on Thursday.

1. Justin Thomas: My pick to win and the most likely player in the field to do so. His putting hasn't been very good (for him) so far this season (he's 79th overall). If that improves ...

2. Xander Schauffele: X-Man is hiding in plain sight. One of four golfers at better than 1.9 strokes gained per round, and he finished T2 here in 2018. Seven straight top 25s (including two wins), and still nobody believes. He might be mini Brooks Koepka in terms of getting way up for the biggest events.

3. Brooks Koepka: Speaking of ... He missed a cut last week at Bay Hill (notably not a major) but finished T11 here last year. It's the kind of course that he just absolutely crushes at. Tiger talked a lot on Tuesday about how you have to overcome optics when you're hitting shots at Sawgrass. There might not be anyone better suited to do that than Koepka.

4. Rickie Fowler: You could make some sort of argument that Fowler, Thomas and Dustin Johnson (also not on this list!) have had the best 2019s of anybody in golf. I wouldn't be the one making it, but you could. Also I might only be including him on this list because I watched his three-birdie performance at No. 17 from 2015 on a loop today and was reminded that he hit a ball right of the stick on the fourth playoff hole! All the stones down the stretch.

5. Francesco Molinari: I don't really think he can go back to back in this spot, but I also didn't think he'd take down Spieth, Tiger and Rory McIlroy in an Open Championship last year either. He's had a lot of success on this course and is obviously smoking with his irons. Anything is possible.

6. Justin Rose: Only one top 20 in the last four tries for Rose at this course, but he finished T4 to Martin Kaymer back in 2014 and his recent form has been laugh-out-loud good.

7. Tommy Fleetwood: As is my wish for Thomas, I wish this course was baked to hell and running forever for Fleetwood. He thrives in those conditions where he has to hit those knockdown 4-irons from 230 yards and hold tight greens from deep distances. If he putts, he'll contend (rinse and repeat for most of my list).

8. Ian Poulter: They should rename this the The European Ryder Cup Invitational. Poulter has a T11 and T2 under his belt in his last two outings here, and he's been quietly playing great golf (which is wild because Poulter doesn't do anything quietly).

9. Rory McIlroy: Statistics tell me that even without winning he's been the best golfer on the PGA Tour in 2019. He's not had loads of success here, but I think the move to March will help him. He'll be able to go bombs away, and playing aggressively could be at a premium this weekend.

So who wins the 2019 Players Championship? And which long shots stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now to see the full Players Championship projected leaderboard from the model that nailed the winners of four golf majors.    

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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