Betting on golf is a risky proposition because consistency is as hard to project in this sport as any other. The 2014 Players Championship is stocked with so many of the game's elite that even the longest shots can rise to the occasion and claim victory in one of the biggest events on the PGA Tour.
Parity is a prominent theme at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, evident in the fact that Tiger Woods won last year's tournament and became just the fifth golfer to win it more than once since its 1974 inception.
With all of that established, Odds Shark has Rory McIlroy as the odds-on favorite, listing the Northern Irish superstar at 12-1.
The next three in line behind him are Adam Scott (14-1), Matt Kuchar (18-1) and Sergio Garcia (20-1). They have all won The Players before, so the betting powers that be in Las Vegas don't seem to be taking into account how difficult it is to triumph multiple times in their projections for the outright winner.
Bear that in mind when you read on about some of the favorites who shouldn't be counted on, players with longer odds who should be better wagers and the best gambles in this week's field.
Source: OddsShark.com. Complete field odds available there.
Favorites to Avoid
The past two Masters champions in Scott and Bubba Watson have taken a break from competition since the first major of the season—and rightly so, especially in Watson's case. "Bubba Golf" once again took Augusta National by storm as Watson waltzed to a comfortable win and a second green jacket in three years.
However, coming back to this event and performing well is a tall order for both Scott and Watson. It would take an extraordinary effort for either world-class golfer to ramp up his competitive juices and heighten his focus to contend, much less win.
It's hard to imagine Watson faring well as it is. He hasn't finished better than 37th in his career, as he alluded to in a pre-Players press conference:
Scott has the chance to overtake Woods for the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, which provides plenty of incentive to raise his game and get it going. It's just hard to count on someone as shaky as Scott on the greens in such a big tournament and after a post-Masters hiatus.
The Aussie could easily finish in the top 25, but expecting him to win at 14-1 is a little unrealistic given the circumstances.
Dark Horses to Wager On
On the surface, Rickie Fowler's tie for the 38th at last week's Wells Fargo Championship isn't so impressive. What stands out most is his final-round 67, which shot him 24 spots up the leaderboard.
Given how things have gone for the young American as of late, he could have thrown in the towel. Instead, Fowler ground his way around Quail Hollow and posted a respectable score to close out. Now, he's a 50-1 shot in Ponte Vedra Beach.
According to PGATour.com, Fowler has the fifth-best scoring average at TPC Sawgrass among players in the field with a minimum of eight rounds played. (Fowler has logged 10 rounds.)
Another player to keep an eye on is Martin Kaymer—perhaps the most forgotten No. 1-ranked player in the world in recent memory. Kaymer won 10 times on the European Tour, counting his 2010 PGA Championship triumph, between 2008 and 2011. Since then, he's struggled, but this course fits his eye.
Randall Mell of Golf Channel reported what Kaymer had to say about his swing, which he's tried to rebuild over the past few years: "It’s improved a lot. I can hit any shape now. There are no restrictions anymore. Before, I could only hit the fade, and that was it. It was a very safe, secure swing, but you have to hit different tee shots, especially here [at Quail Hollow]. It’s a lot better than two or three years ago."
Now that Kaymer's swing is in better order, he may be on the cusp of something big. A disappointing weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship aside, there are few better Players Championship bargains at 80-1 than Kaymer.
With twice the rounds Fowler has played at this tournament, the German has a 71.35 stroke average, good for fourth in the aforementioned scoring average at this venue.
Best Bets and Predicted Winner
Counting out Kuchar doesn't seem like a sage decision given that he won the last time he teed it up in the RBC Heritage and finished in the top five in the three marquee tournaments prior. Kuchar could be due for a down week, but he's showing no signs of slowing down.
Don't sleep on Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old who led on the front nine of Masters Sunday before Watson proceeded to outplay him down the stretch. Spieth is a 28-1 shot and is gaining the respect of oddsmakers with his consistency and precocious poise under massive pressure.
A duel between McIlroy and Spieth would be phenomenal, and renowned swing instructor Hank Haney has weighed in on who has the brighter future:
Rory already has 2 major wins but Jordan isn't scared of the moment @alexlevy5: More promising future in golf.Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth?— Hank Haney (@HankDHaney) April 26, 2014
Which favorite is the best bet to win?
It seems that Spieth is a bit steadier in terms of an all-around game, while McIlroy is more dynamic and has more explosiveness in terms of power off the tee and making birdies. A showdown at the Stadium Course would be wonderful for golf.
As for the best bet as a winner, look to Luke Donald at 22-1. Having finished in the top 20 in his last three Players appearances, Donald figures to be due for a trip to the winner's circle.
The Englishman is among the best players never to have won a major, and he's been tweaking his swing in an effort to change that, with no results as of yet. Winning golf's so-called "fifth major" in The Players Championship would springboard him forward and get him back to the level he was at when he was No. 1 in the world just a couple of years ago.
In terms of value on a bet, the sturdiness of his short game and a runner-up finish at the RBC Heritage in his last start, no one presents a better combination of all the elements to thrive at TPC Sawgrass than Donald. Everyone at The Players could use some momentum ahead of next month's U.S. Open, but Donald needs a boost more than just about anyone given his lackluster track record at the majors.