The Players Championship betting: Navigating an island of nightmares

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Last week's slices didn't fade exactly how we expected them to, with Sam Burns, Corey Conners, and Cameron Young all managing top-20 finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. We'd have been fine on the strength of our draws as Chris Kirk (+275) easily cashed a top-20, but Will Zalatoris sliced one harder than a 30-handicapper at his local course. A final-round 79 dropped him from a potential top-10 to a 38th-place finish, passing Adam Scott - his main head-to-head matchup - along his way down the leaderboard.

Now the TOUR heads down the road to its crown jewel, The Players Championship, widely referred to as golf's unofficial fifth major. Known most for the island green on the par-3 17th, TPC Sawgrass can be a nightmare with some inconsistent weather conditions, which is exactly what's in the forecast for the week. Experience will be needed on an already tricky Pete Dye course that rewards patient play over sheer power.

Three draws

Brooks Koepka

With a total purse of $20 million this week, this is the most lucrative tournament in PGA TOUR history. Somewhere, Brooks Koepka's ears just perked up. Known for his ability to turn it up for the majors, Koepka is missing a win at Sawgrass on his resume. He's healthier for this event than he has been in recent years, and playing in the Honda Classic two weeks ago smells like a tuneup on another course where water lurks at many turns.

Koepka's +200 price for a top 20 is probably due to him missing the tournament last year, a T56 finish in 2019, and not being synonymous with contention in this event. However, back-to-back top 20s in 2017 and 2018 show that Koepka can play The Players when healthy. In fact, a rare outright bet is in order at a price of 40-1.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

With length off the tee not being critical on what's considered a second-shot golf course, Fitzpatrick is a good candidate for a strong showing. His T9 finish here was his best result last year and came after he made consecutive cuts prior to the mid-tournament shutdown in 2020.

As for recent form, it doesn't get much better than T6, T10, and T9 finishes in 2022. A victory against this field is probably a stretch considering he has never won a PGA Tour event, but at +175 to finish in the top 20, he's worth some support.

Cameron Smith

Smith won the first event of the season in Hawaii, cashed a big check, and enjoyed the rest of his time on the islands before getting another big payday in Saudi Arabia. Since then, he has just one start, which was at the Genesis Invitational. Smith gets his sixth career start at Sawgrass and is a player capable of handling the wind and weather. Those survival instincts could be enough for a top-20 finish (+150), and an even-money matchup with Sungjae Im is a play as well.

Three slices

Jordan Spieth

Since a fourth-place finish in his first appearance at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth's results in Duval County have been grim. It's possible Spieth's ability to get out of trouble in seemingly miraculous ways on some other courses just doesn't translate here. At +150 or better, it's worth taking Spieth to miss the cut, something he's done in four out of his last six starts in Jacksonville. Sam Burns has said he's found something in his swing and would be a good matchup for a fade of Spieth.

Tony Finau

Since power isn't a necessity, it stands to reason that those who rely on power will struggle at Sawgrass. Finau has endured recent nightmares, with a 78 in the first round last year, and he's missed the cut three times in five finishes. At +137 to miss it this year, expect Finau to struggle to manage the conditions, and a matchup with the steadier Louis Oosthuizen (-130), in-form Gary Woodland (-110) or Jason Kokrak (-110) are ways to bet against him.

Cameron Young

If you get an invitation to the most lucrative tournament in golf history, you attend in hopes of having a good enough Thursday and Friday in order to cash in. However, it's another consecutive start for a rookie, in tough conditions, on a tricky course, which makes Young at least a stay-away if not a bet to miss the cut at +125.

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

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The Players Championship betting: Navigating an island of nightmares
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