The 2022 Players Championship marks the best field of the year, by far. And thus, it is an exceptionally tough tournament to handicap. It's made even more difficult when you consider how much variance (which plays out as randomness) TPC Sawgrass has to it as a course.
So, while prognostication might not be as straightforward as a Masters or U.S. Open, we can still draw on a deep course history for many players as well as some recent form from everyone. What both of those numbers tell us about the golfers in this field can be used as a guide for predicting which pool of golfers will win this week's Players.
There are plenty of contenders in field this week, a mix of both young and old. Here's the usual list of suspects with maybe a few surprises tossed in as we try and figure out who's going to win the first big-time event of 2022.
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|Last year's champion traditionally plays well here. His 2.16 strokes gained on this course ranks third behind Si Woo Kim and Hideki Matsuyama among golfers who have played 10 or more rounds and are teeing it up this week. He has some statistics working against him (nobody at TPC Sawgrass has ever gone back to back), but of all the best ball-strikers in this event over the last 20 rounds, Thomas' short game has been more buttoned-up than any of them. If somebody was ever going to go back toback, there's no better option. Odds: 16-1|
|Hovland is fresh off a runner-up finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, which was his sixth top five in his last eight starts (including three wins and $5.5 million earned). If he's not on this list, then you're either ignoring reality or putting too much stock into his missed cut here last year. Despite that MC, his strokes gained number here remains high because he played tremendously in 2020 before the tournament was canceled on Thursday evening. Odds: 20-1|
|It's very brave of me to take the No. 1 golfer in the world, I know. The numbers are simply astounding. In his last 20 rounds, Rahm's ball-striking is over a stroke better than the fifth-best ball-striker (Thomas) in that same period of time. He hasn't had the finishes in his last two starts (both outside the top 10), but the ball-striking has been so good that I can't afford to not include him here with the hopes that his lackluster short game over the last month turns back around to its usual form. Odds: 11-1|
|I want to ignore him at TPC Sawgrass since he was the one-and-done pick for most of the rest of our First Cut Podcast league, but I can't. His ball-striking is off the charts (no surprise), and his numbers at TPC Sawgrass (albeit in just five rounds) are tantamount to those of Rahm. Strategically, this is a golf course that should be absolutely perfect for him as it's one of the few on the PGA Tour that skews more toward precision than length as it relates to course success. If he putts well, he'll be a menace here. Also if he wins, I'm cooked in my one and done. Odds: 16-1|
|It's silly to me that, if he had finished, say, second at Phoenix and third at Bay Hill (instead of winning both), he'd be touted more than he is entering this event. Oftentimes, we believe winning doesn't lead to more winning because it's difficult for us to envision a player winning three times in four starts. However, nobody is playing better than Scheffler over his last 20 rounds (2.55 strokes gained), and he should be mentioned among the heavy favorites. Odds: 25-1|
|It's an oddity to me that he's missed his last two cuts here, but he preceded those with a pair of top 25s, and like Morikawa, his incisive game seems perfectly set up to dominate on this track. Only Thomas and Scheffler come in with better overall strokes-gained numbers over their last 20 rounds. Odds: 20-1|
|I haven't seen his name floated around a lot this week even though he has a pair of top 10s in his last five starts here and nearly won the Honda Classic. His flighted irons should come in handy if the winds gust like they're supposed to on the weekend, and this is certainly the caliber of tournament for which I expect him to contend. Odds: 30-1|
|I've had such an inkling about Scott all week. His historical numbers here are tremendous, and his play of late (especially at Riviera) was inspiring. I know he's a bit longer than everyone else on this list, but I think he he's going to have an awesome week. Odds: 45-1|
|Somebody else who isn't being talked about enough. He led the 2020 version after Round 1 and has a pair of top 10s in his last five starts here. As good as Matsuyama has been playing, he's been even better than expected on this golf course and absolutely flushed it in two of his last three outings (1.3 strokes gained on approach at Bay Hill, 1.4 at Phoenix). It came down to him and Xander Schauffele for my ninth spot, and I'm giving the edge to Matsuyama because of his course history. Others I regret not being able to include are Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry, Corey Conners and Rory McIlroy. Odds: 30-1|
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