The PGA Tour's flagship event, the 2020 Players Championship, tees off Thursday with a loaded field set to take on TPC Sawgrass. Just three of the world's top 50 players are missing from the 2020 Players Championship field, and the only top-20 player not teeing it up this week is Tiger Woods, who is resting his ailing back. Rory McIlroy is the defending champion and comes in as the favorite at 7-1 in the latest 2020 Players Championship odds, but no player has won the event in consecutive years.

Other defending champions competing include 2018 winner Webb Simpson, who faces 30-1 odds, Rickie Fowler (2015) and Adam Scott (2004) at 33-1, and Matt Kuchar (2012) at 40-1 Players Championship odds 2020. Other elite 2020 Players Championship contenders include Jon Rahm (10-1), Justin Thomas (16-1), Dustin Johnson (28-1) and Brooks Koepka (40-1). Before you make any 2020 Players Championship picks, you need to check out the PGA Tour predictions from SportsLine's resident golf insider, Sal Johnson

A media legend and consummate golf insider, Johnson is coming off a red-hot year. He featured Woods in his best bets for the Masters and backed Koepka in his picks for the PGA Championship, and both players pulled off victories. In the season-ending Tour Championship, he nailed it, pegging Koepka, McIlroy and Xander Schauffele as main contenders to come out on top, and McIlroy won the event for the second time, Schauffele was second and Koepka tied for third. 

Johnson also knows what players need to do to win at Sawgrass. Before last year's event, he pegged McIlroy as one of his Best Bets, citing his ability to contend in every event. He had played in the final group eight times in a year without a victory coming into the 2019 Players. "We all know he is too good and, at worst, will back into a win," Johnson said. McIlroy won by a stroke, paving the way for a year that earned him PGA Tour Player of the Year and FedEx Cup champion honors. 

Before last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, Johnson also made special mention of the strong momentum Tyrrell Hatton came in with. The 28-year-old led after the second and third rounds and shot 74 in very tough conditions to win his first PGA Tour title by a stroke. Anyone who has followed Johnson's advice is way up.

Now, Johnson, the first producer of "Inside the PGA Tour," a longtime ABC Sports golf producer who has worked with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman, and the founder of the world's top golf statistics database, has released his highly confident 2020 Players Championship picks here, and they will surprise you.

Top 2020 Players Championship expert picks

We can tell you Johnson is fading Rickie Fowler, even though the fan favorite and 2015 Players champion finished in the top 20 last week at Bay Hill. The 31-year-old has nine worldwide wins, but has struggled in recent weeks. Johnson saw improvement in Fowler's game last week, but there is still plenty of work to be done. He's not worth backing, even at 33-1 Players Championship odds.

Johnson is very familiar with the veteran Scott, who is 34-under in his past 16 rounds at the event. He tied for sixth in 2017 and won at Pebble Beach last month, but has had several rough outings. The Australian has an Official World Golf Ranking of No. 9 and is 17th in scoring average. The 39-year-old has 31 worldwide victories and his ball-striking remains impeccable.

The stats authority also is tuned in to the game of Tommy Fleetwood, who was on fire before hitting a speed bump and missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The Englishman still is seeking his first PGA Tour victory, but has finished in the top 25 in four of his six events and was third at the Honda Classic. He has six international victories, is 16th on Tour in strokes gained off the tee, and hits more than 70 percent of greens in regulation.

How to make 2020 Players Championship predictions

Johnson is all over a monster long shot who has consecutive top-five finishes and played well at Sawgrass last year. This golfer has not won yet on the PGA Tour, but has plenty of momentum and could be poised for a shocking victory. Anyone who backs this underdog could hit it big.

Who wins the Players Championship? Where do Scott and Fleetwood finish? And which monster long shot is a must-back? Check out the odds below, then visit SportsLine to see Sal Johnson's full leaderboard, picks and analysis for the 2020 Players Championship, all from the insider who nailed the Tour Championship and knows what it takes to win at TPC Sawgrass.

2020 Players Championship odds

Rory McIlroy 7-1
Jon Rahm 10-1
Justin Thomas 16-1
Bryson DeChambeau 18-1
Patrick Cantlay 20-1
Hideki Matsuyama 20-1
Xander Schauffele 20-1
Tommy Fleetwood 25-1
Dustin Johnson 28-1
Sungjae Im 28-1
Webb Simpson 30-1
Rickie Fowler 33-1
Patrick Reed 33-1
Adam Scott 33-1
Brooks Koepka 40-1
Matt Kuchar 40-1
Gary Woodland 40-1
Tyrrell Hatton 45-1
Marc Leishman 45-1
Collin Morikawa 45-1
Daniel Berger 50-1
Tony Finau 55-1
Paul Casey 60-1
Byeong Hun An 66-1
Jason Day 66-1
Matthew Fitzpatrick 66-1
Justin Rose 66-1
Abraham Ancer 70-1
Sergio Garcia 70-1
Louis Oosthuizen 70-1
Scottie Scheffler 70-1
Harris English 80-1
Billy Horschel 80-1
Shane Lowry 80-1
Jordan Spieth 80-1
Henrik Stenson 80-1
Viktor Hovland 90-1
Bud Cauley 100-1
Ian Poulter 100-1
Brandt Snedeker 100-1
Bubba Watson 100-1