Last year’s PLAYERS Championship was scheduled to be played amid the beginning of the sports shutdowns that were happening in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the first round was completed, PGA Tour officials decided to cancel the rest of the tournament.
This week, the unofficial “fifth major” is back at the Pete Dye-designed TPC Sawgrass course with 49 of the top 50 players in the world in the field. Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, ranked 12th in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR), withdrew due to a knee injury.
A victory at THE PLAYERS, in addition to an estimated $2.7 million in prize money, guarantees three-year exemptions to all of the major championships, a five-year PGA TOUR exemption and 600 FedEx Cup points. The defending champion, because of the cancellation of the 2020 event, is 2019 winner Rory McIlroy.
The most famous hole on TPC Sawgrass, home of THE PLAYERS since 1982, is the signature par-3 17th hole with its treacherous island green. The penultimate hole has been the demise of the hopes of more than a few tournament hopefuls late on Sunday afternoon.
Lost in the notoriety of the 17th hole is the difficulty of par-4 18th, with water lining the left side of the fairway and the putting surface.
In the 47-year history of the event that began in 1974, only 11 winners don’t also have a major championship on their resumes. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some major upsets or that it’s easy to pick a winner. With past champions possessing varied styles of play, THE PLAYERS is perhaps the most difficult tournament to handicap.
McIlroy has been struggling since last year’s restart following the COVID-19 pause, with his fifth place in the Masters representing the best finish since a tie for fifth at the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Betting Odds at TPC Sawgrass
Despite cooling off of late, world number one Dustin Johnson is in a familiar position as the betting favorite at +1200 odds. Johnson struggled at TPC Sawgrass earlier in his career, but his last four finishes have been in the top 17, including a tie for fifth place in 2019.
The reigning Masters Tournament and FedEx Cup champion has been on a roll since July and might be ready to break through against the toughest field in professional golf.
Just behind Johnson in the odds at +1300 are McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion and winner of last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. McIlroy has been struggling since last year’s restart following the COVID-19 pause, with his fifth place in the Masters representing the best finish since a tie for fifth at the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
That was his sixth consecutive tournament in the top five to start the 2020 season.
DeChambeau has been pushing the envelope with finding ways to add distance to his game, and this week prompted an unprecedented act by the PGA TOUR. In response to DeChambeau’s suggestion that he might play the 18th hole from the left side of the water hazard, the Tour ruled that any ball driven there from the 18th tee would be out of bounds.
The next four players in the betting odds, the second- through fifth-ranked players in the OWGR, are Jon Rahm (+1500), Justin Thomas (+1600), Collin Morikawa (+2000), and Xander Schaffele (+2000). Webb Simpson is also at +2000, followed by Patrick Cantlay and Viktor Hovland at +2400 to round out the top 10.