Dark Horses to Watch at the 2014 Players Championship
The favorites this week at the Players Championship are a predictable lot: Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, etc.
If you're willing to be a little more speculative in your fantasy golf league or when selecting who you'll be mustering the greatest enthusiasm for this week, you've come to the right place. And it's worth noting that last week's champion, J.B. Holmes, was listed at 50-1 odds entering the tournament. Thus, it paid to look beyond the favorites last week.
Let's take a look at the best in dark-horse picks this week.
Finish at the Players Last Year: T62
Recent Form: Although Jason Dufner hasn't teed it up on the PGA Tour since missing the cut at the Masters, he did play the Volvo China Open two weeks ago where he finished 54th. Dufner has made seven of eight cuts on the tour this season with three top-10 finishes.
Why He Could Win: The Auburn alum finished tied for sixth at the Players in 2011, so he's clearly capable of contending at TPC Sawgrass. If he can put together four solid rounds with the putter (Dufner is 178th in strokes gained-putting, per PGATour.com), he can win this week.
Finish at the Players Last Year: T55
Recent Form: After a disappointing missed cut at the Masters, Charl Schwartzel rebounded nicely with a T12 finish at the RBC Heritage. He's made five cuts in seven starts on tour this season and has two top-10 finishes.
Why He Could Win: Schwartzel tied for 26th at the Players in 2011 thanks to a tidy final-round 68. Although he didn't play well at Sawgrass last year, the major winner has the tools to win and could be rounding into form. Winning the Players requires major fortitude, which the South African has demonstrated in the past.
Finish at the Players Last Year: Missed cut
Recent Form: In his most recent start, Ian Poulter finished fifth at the Volvo China Open. He's made seven of nine cuts on tour this season and finished second at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
Why He Could Win: Poulter opened with a first-round 65 in 2012, so he knows how to go low at Sawgrass. Unfortunately, he faltered over the succeeding rounds and missed the cut in the tournament last year. The 65, however, proves that Poulter has what it takes to take on Pete Dye's course.
Finish at the Players Last Year: Did not play
Recent Form: J.B. Holmes won last week's Wells Fargo Championship in what has been a comeback season for the golfer. He's made 11 of 12 cuts in 2014 and has finished inside the top 20 in his last four starts.
Why He Could Win: Winning the week prior to an event ought to always make a player a dark-horse bet at the next tournament, right? Holmes' game looks sharp right now, and he finished tied for sixth at TPC Sawgrass in 2011.
Finish at the Players Last Year: T26
Recent Form: His last time out, Graham DeLaet finished tied for 29th at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He's made 10 of 12 cuts this year and has recorded an impressive five top-10 finishes.
Why He Could Win: The bearded Canadian was solid at Sawgrass last year, putting together a clean final-round 69 to finish tied for 26th. He's clearly learning how to play Pete Dye's Ponte Vedra Beach gem, as he barely made the cut in his previous outing in 2012.
Finish at the Players Last Year: T2
Recent Form: Kevin Streelman finished tied for 14th at last week's Wells Fargo Championship. He's had a solid season thus far, making 11 of 12 cuts.
Why He Could Win: For one thing, he nearly did last year. A brilliant final-round 67 vaulted the Duke alum into second position. Streelman's performance at TPC Sawgrass in '13 is all you need to know about to consider him a solid dark-horse pick this week.
Finish at the Players Last Year: Did not play
Recent Form: Kevin Na has made four of his last five cuts. He finished tied for 18th at last week's Wells Fargo Championship.
Why He Could Win: Na tied for seventh at the Players in 2012. Were it not for a final-round 76, the native South Korean could have won the tournament. If he's able to reprise that performance this year, he could find himself a Players champion.
Finish at the Players Last Year: T8
Recent Form: The Titleist staffer has made nine of 14 cuts on tour this season. However, he's suffering from a spell of "missedcutitis" as of late.
Why He Could Win: Ben Crane finished inside the top 10 at TPC Sawgrass last year. The Portland, Oregon, native has missed three consecutive cuts, sure, but his play at the Ponte Vedra course last year indicates he's capable. At 175-1 odds, Mr. Crane is the darkest of horses this week.
*Odds via OddsChecker