Who will claim the 2013 Players Championship on the 18th green Sunday?
It's never easy predicting the winner of any golf tournament, especially one with the type of world-class field gathered this week for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. That said, Players history tells us to bet on proven and experienced golfers who know their way around the Stadium Course and its challenging stretch of closing holes.
Golfers with positive momentum, a solid TPC Sawgrass resume and the steely nerves to handle the test are our favorites during this challenging week on the Stadium Course. It's the toughest test of golf this side of a major championship, and it's going to take a world-class golfer, or one with a seriously hot swing, to win it come Sunday afternoon.
Sunday is a long way away, but here is how we see the top of the leaderboard playing out and the odds of winning for those players we see contending down the stretch.
Brandt Snedeker hopes to rediscover his winning form this weekend in The Players Championship.
Momentum Meter: Before hurting his ribs midway through the season-opening West Coast swing, Brandt Snedeker was playing the best golf on the PGA Tour hands down. The Tennessee native finished in the top 25 in each of his first five starts, including four top-five finishes highlighted by a victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach.
Despite starting Sunday in the final group, Snedeker finished a disappointing sixth at the Masters the week before a somewhat average performance on Hilton Head in the RBC Heritage, his last start before this week.
Why He’s a Threat: With a couple weeks off heading into The Players, Snedeker should be healthy and rested heading into The Players. Problem is, he hasn't made the cut at TPC Sawgrass since a tie for 12th in 2007, a span that covers his past four Players starts.
That said, Snedeker has the short game and accuracy to survive The Players test. The question is whether he’s recovered enough from the Masters to put it all together.
Odds to Win: 50 to 1
Kevin Streelman is having a career year in 2013.
Momentum Meter: One of seven first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, few golfers this side of Billy Horschel are as hot as Kevin Streelman and there’s little sign of that ending anytime soon.
In his past five starts, Streelman has posted a trio of top 10s, highlighted by a tie for third and sixth at the RBC Heritage and Wells Fargo respectively. His play on difficult courses, headlined by his Tampa Bay Championship victory at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, shows he has the mettle to tackle a challenge of the likes of TPC Sawgrass.
Why He’s a Threat: Streelman hasn't finished better than 19th in The Players, yet he’s never entered the signature PGA Tour event on the type of run he does this week. While his length is relatively average, Streelman ranks 10th on tour in scoring, a result driven by his accuracy off the tee and from the fairway and strong putting that is ranked in the top 25 on tour.
Combined, that creates a great cocktail for a strong Sunday party at the Stadium Course.
Odds to Win: 45 to 1
Sergio Garcia claimed the 2008 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Momentum Meter: Although he might lack the swag to back it up, Sergio Garcia is actually having a solid opening half to 2013. Showing signs of improved putting and his usual flair for the unexpected, Garcia has posted six top 20s in his seven starts this season.
He finished tied for eighth in the Masters and tied for third at the Cadillac Championship, two of the more difficult courses he’s played this year.
Why He’s a Threat: If anyone had a vote to make The Players the fifth major, it would be Sergio. The Spaniard’s 2008 victory at TPC Sawgrass is the most significant of his career and came just a year after he placed second in the event.
With his putting improved at least per his standards, it stands to reason that Garcia will extend his strong play into this weekend.
Odds to Win: 35 to 1
Rory McIlroy looks to end his inconsistent ways in this week's Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Momentum Meter: Much like analyzing Phil Mickelson, it’s difficult to decipher whether Rory McIlroy enters The Players Championship with a measure of momentum or still stuck in a funk of inconsistency and equipment confusion.
The former World No. 1 has posted top-25 finishes in each of his past three starts, including top 10s at the Valero Texas Open and last week at soggy Quail Hollow. That said, he remains winless during a season in which he was expected to exert his dominance. Still underachieving compared to 2013 expectations, Rory can’t seem to put back-to-back solid rounds together, something he'll have to do if he wants to add a Players Championship to his two major titles.
Why He’s a Threat: Considering Rory has never posted a sub-par round on the Stadium Course, he’s not a threat due to past performance at TPC Sawgrass. Rather, we’re banking on the fact that McIlroy needs a breakout performance to turn his 2013 around, and with the U.S. Open only a little more than a month away we’re thinking The Players will work just fine to that end.
Odds to Win: 30 to 1
No player is hotter than Billy Horschel entering the 2013 Players Championship.
Momentum Meter: Good luck finding a hotter golfer over the past six weeks or so of PGA Tour action. Horschel claimed his first PGA Tour victory two weeks ago at the Zurich Classic on the heels of three straight top-10 finishes, including a tie for second and another for third in the Shell Houston Open and Valero Texas Open respectively.
Had Horschel qualified for the Masters there’s no telling what he would have done there.
Why He’s a Threat: While Horschel has never played in The Players Championship, were counting on his impeccable recent form and local knowledge of the course to hold him in good stead upon his inaugural Stadium Course challenge.
It also doesn't hurt that Horschel, who lives in the Ponte Vedra, Fla., area, currently ranks 31st in driving accuracy, 24th in greens in regulation and 14th in strokes gained—putting. Bottom line, he hits fairways and greens and then makes putts when he needs them. That form will win at TPC Sawgrass.
Odds to Win: 25 to 1
Though inconsistent of late, Phil Mickelson remains a favorite at TPC Sawgrass this week.
Momentum Meter: It really depends on the round, hole and even minute you catch Phil Mickelson as to gauging his momentum these days.
While still among the most talented golfers in the world, Lefty has been consistently inconsistent, as shown at Quail Hollow last week where bogeys late in the third and fourth rounds ultimately cost him an opportunity to win for the second time this season.
His inability to consistently find the fairway dwarfed his solid putting at the Wells Fargo and is certainly a concern heading to Thursday. That said, when Phil is on, few players on Tour can go as low as fast.
Why He’s a Threat: Phil won the 2007 Players Championship and judging by his six top 25s at the Stadium Course he is a player to watch any time he competes at TPC Sawgrass. Lefty’s creativity around the greens has proven a significant asset and will be called upon often this week considering his struggles with the driver during the first half of 2013.
Odds to Win: 22 to 1
Graeme McDowell enters The Players Championship fresh off a win at the RBC Heritage.
Momentum Meter: Graeme McDowell was last seen besting Webb Simpson in a playoff to win the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town before taking the past two weeks off.
In a somewhat limited 2013 PGA Tour schedule, McDowell has four top-10 finishes, including two top fives in world golf championship events, to complement his triumph on Hilton Head Island.
Why He’s a Threat: The more difficult the course the better McDowell seems to play and there are few tougher than Pete Dye’s Stadium Course. McDowell is a gritty player that has a knack for hanging around for a couple days before making his weekend move toward the top of talent-laden leader boards.
That said, we are ignoring a less-than-stellar career history at TPC Sawgrass, where McDowell has never finished better than 25th in five Players starts.
Odds to Win: 15 to 1
Jason Day looks to build off his performance at the Masters with a strong showing in The Players Championship.
Momentum Meter: If not for a pair of bogeys down the Sunday stretch at Augusta National, Jason Day might have been the Aussie celebrating at the Masters several weeks ago rather than Adam Scott.
Day played solid all week at Augusta and followed that performance with a decent showing in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town a week later before taking the past two weeks off to recharge the batteries.
His Masters performance was of little surprise considering Day had three top-10 finishes heading into the week, including a third place finish in the Accenture World Match Play Championship.
Why He’s a Threat: Day’s body of work at TPC Sawgrass only includes three starts, and two of those resulted in missed cuts. Those poor performances, however, are sandwiched around a tie for sixth in the 2011 Players, the same year his finished tied for second at the Masters.
Day's Augusta National momentum carried over to the Stadium Course that year, and we are expecting the same thing to happen again this week.
Odds to Win: 12 to 1
Tiger's record in The Players Championship isn't stellar, but he is the world's best player.
Momentum Meter: Three wins on the PGA Tour before the calendar reads April says momentum to us. A tie for fourth place at The Masters was disappointing to Woods but would have been something to toast for most golfers come Sunday evening.
That said, the world’s top-ranked golfer has something to prove on a course that has not been particularly kind to him in the past several years. A Tiger with something to prove is usually a very dangerous cat indeed.
Why He’s a Threat: Short answer, because he is Tiger Woods. Before Augusta, Woods was putting off the charts and that will have to repeat itself on the Stadium Course to counteract those wayward drives that will undoubtedly happen.
It’s a contrast in performance as Woods ranks No. 1 overall in putting and 64th in greens in regulation but sits only 154th in driving accuracy. Bottom line, Woods can win from the fairways, but from the rough and hazards he will run middle of the pack. We’re betting the former over the latter this week.
Odds to Win: 10 to 1
Still basking in the glow of his Masters title, Adam Scott is the man to beat at The Players Championship.
Momentum Meter: We know, it’s the easy pick, but the fact is the last time we saw Adam Scott he was celebrating the all-time trifecta of celebrations: Masters title, first career major and first Australian to win a green jacket.
If there’s a definition for momentum, that has to be it. But wait, we have more. In his limited five PGA Tour starts this year, Scott has three top-10 finishes, including a third in the Cadillac Championship at the Blue Monster as the precursor to his Masters triumph. Bottom line, Scott is hot and that heat is heading back to Florida.
Why He’s a Threat: It’s safe to say that Scott has never putted more confidently in his career and if that continues he can be devastating on the Stadium Course. The Australian will find the fairway more often than not and has the distance to deal with TPC Sawgrass quite nicely. If the putts fall, watch out.
Odds To Win: 8 to 1