One year ago, Tiger Woods finished a stretch of four straight top-five finishes, including three victories, by winning The Players Championship. Injury issues mean he's unable to defend the title, leaving a strong field to battle for a chance to start their own hot streak.
The toughest thing when it comes to picking marquee golf events is the high number of different players capable of winning. It's truly wide open. On positive note, it also means there's great value if you can make the right choice out of a sea of contenders.
Rory McIlroy is the oddsmakers' top choice with play set to begin at TPC Sawgrass, followed closely by Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar. Let's check out some players outside that elite group with a chance to win this week. For a complete list of odds (as of May 8 at 7 a.m.), visit Odds Shark.
Sergio Garcia (20-1)
Garcia finished six strokes off the winning pace set by Woods at The Players last year. That doesn't tell the whole story, though. He was firmly in contention to win the tournament and then imploded over the final two holes, dropping four shots on the 17th and two more on the 18th.
The intimidation factor surrounding Woods has faded over the years, but it was seemingly in full effect during that final round. He isn't in the field this week, however, giving Garcia one less thing to worry about. And it's important to remember he played well all week until the meltdown.
Kyle Porter of CBS Sports lists him as his lock for the top 10 this week:
Garcia is in good form right now and he played well here last year for 72 holes. This hasn't been his greatest tournament but he's as big a star as anyone in the field and this tournament seems to produce star winners quite regularly.
The mental side of the sport has always been a bigger hurdle than the physical side for the Spaniard. Aside from a poor outing in the Masters, he hasn't finished outside the top 20 in any of his other starts this season on either the PGA or European tours. Expect him to contend again this week.
Dustin Johnson (40-1)
Johnson got off to a tremendous start this season. He finished inside the top six in five of his first six stroke-play events, including a win in the WGC HSBC Champions tournament. All signs pointed to a monster season for the big-hitting American.
Unfortunately for him, just as he was enjoying that top form things started to go wrong. He was forced to withdraw from the Shell Houston Open for unspecified reasons after an 80 in the opening round. He then proceeded to miss the cut the following week at the Masters.
He returns to competitive action for the first time since that two-week lull. The break came at a perfect time for Johnson, giving him a chance to press the reset button with hopes of finding the game that allowed him to come flying out of the gate. So he should get back on track at The Players.
Graeme McDowell (66-1)
McDowell hasn't enjoy much success at The Players over the years. That said, it's hard to pass up a golfer of his caliber with odds so high. Few golfers on tour are more consistent than him, as illustrated by his five top-10 finishes in eight starts this year.
If he's going to win the tournament as a legitimate underdog, conquering the storied island green at the 17th hole four times is essential. He spoke with Iain Carter of BBC Sport about the atmosphere surrounding one of the most famous holes in golf:
The Players is famous for the island green at the par-three 17th. When you arrive on the tee you sense the fans are baying for blood. They're waiting for the drama that normally unfolds and that's a negative connotation for us players.
If the green was only surrounded by rough and bunkers you would hit it every time with a simple nine iron or wedge. But surrounded by water it is a different story.
The key for McDowell is getting to the weekend in reasonable shape. He missed the cut last year after a second-round 76. He doesn't need to be winning, but if he can remain within a handful of shots of the lead instead of eliminating himself from contention early, he'll have a solid shot at the win.
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