When to bet
By 11.50am on Thursday
Where to watch
Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Golf from 11.30am on Thursday
Steve Palmer’s Players Championship predictions
3pts each-way 25-1 Paddy Power
3pts each-way 20-1 bet365, BoyleSports
Si Woo Kim
1pt each-way 66-1 BoyleSports, Paddy Power
1pt each-way 55-1 bet365
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The battle for world number-one status continues in Florida this week as Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy line up for the Players Championship at Sawgrass.
Rahm dominated the first day of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, becoming a short-price Bay Hill favourite, but rounds of 76, 76 and 72 followed as he dropped to 39th place. After a hectic period contending every time he plays, the Spaniard appeared to hit a wall of mental fatigue.
The run of ‘elevated’ PGA Tour events is demanding for the elite, who have more media duties to perform, and Rahm may be the first to have suffered some burnout. There is nothing in his Sawgrass record to suggest Rahm will get quickly back among the birdies this week.
Scheffler, fuming after messing up the 72nd hole at Bay Hill on Sunday to surrender a winning chance, has never made an impact at Sawgrass, so McIlroy is the most attractive option of the front three. McIlroy won the 2019 Players and relishes the March Sawgrass terrain.
Steve Palmer’s top tip
Collin Morikawa 25-1
McIlroy at 9-1 will do for many – he got his game in order at Bay Hill last week – but the 25-1 about Collin Morikawa represents greater value. Morikawa has played some magnificent golf this year and could take charge of this event from tee to green.
Morikawa showed at the end of last year that his ball-striking was getting back to the standard which made him a two-time Major champion. He signed off with sixth place in the Hero World Challenge, then started 2023 with a brilliant performance in the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Some late bogeys, plus a spectacular final round from Rahm, meant Morikawa had to settle for second place in Hawaii, but there were enormous positives to take, not least how good his revised putting stroke looked.
Morikawa even impressed with his chipping at Riviera last month and the body of work he has produced this year means a missed cut by a shot at Bay Hill last week is easily forgiven. Getting a weekend breather before heading to Sawgrass – while others toiled at super-tough Bay Hill – probably aids Morikawa’s Players chances.
Morikawa was third in the Farmers Insurance Open at the end of January, then sixth in the Genesis Invitational. He has already won a PGA Tour event in Florida – the WGC at The Concession in 2021 – and Sawgrass is an ideal venue to show off his typically exquisite iron-play.
The Californian made his Sawgrass debut in the 2020 event, opening with a 68 to lie in seventh place before the tournament was abandoned due to Covid. He was 41st in 2021, then missed the cut last year after being on the wrong side of a huge draw bias. Morikawa was out in terrible conditions 12 months ago, but this week’s edition looks set to be a fair fight and this class act can play a leading role.
Next best bet
Max Homa 20-1
A tally of five PGA Tour triumphs in the last 25 months shows that Max Homa has become a member of the golfing elite, and more glory could be coming on Sunday. Victory at Torrey Pines in January was followed by a near-miss at Riviera, where he was defeated only by a rampant Rahm.
Homa, who started this year with third place in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, was 14th at Bay Hill last week. This precise iron-player, who used to live in Florida, has the perfect game and temperament for Sawgrass and he proved it last year.
Despite being on the wrong side of the draw, Homa got through to the weekend, then closed with a 66 to finish 13th. He was world number 36 coming into that event, but tees up seventh in the rankings this week. Expect the crowd favourite to set up a winning chance.
Si Woo Kim 66-1
Keith Mitchell 55-1
Si Woo Kim won the Players aged 21, carding a bogey-free final round for a three-shot success, and the four-time PGA Tour champion could repeat this week. He opened with a 65 for second place in the abandoned 2020 event, then was ninth in 2021.
Kim, a Presidents Cup star blessed with bundles of bottle, won the Sony Open in January and warmed up with an under-par round at Bay Hill on Sunday.
Keith Mitchell is the other outsider who appeals. Nobody on the PGA Tour is driving better than Mitchell, who finished fourth at Pebble Beach, fifth at Riviera and 24th at Bay Hill last week.
Mitchell loves teeing up in Florida, where he finished 11th on his Tour debut in the 2017 Valspar, before winning the 2019 Honda Classic. He carded a 68 (seventh place) in the abandoned 2020 Players, then closed with a 69 for 13th place last year.
Sawgrass course guide
Course Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Prize money $25m ($4.5m to the winner)
Length 7,275 yards
Par 72 – four par-fives; ten par-fours; four par-threes
Field 144 The cut Top 65 and ties qualify for round three
Highest-ranked players in field (world ranking in brackets) Jon Rahm (1), Scottie Scheffler (2), Rory McIlroy (3), Patrick Cantlay (4), Xander Schauffele (6)
Course records – 72 holes 264 Greg Norman (2004) 18 holes 63 Fred Couples (1992), Greg Norman (1994), Martin Kaymer (2014), Jason Day (2016), Colt Knost (2016), Webb Simpson (2018), Brooks Koepka (2018), Dustin Johnson (2022)
Course winners taking part Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Si Woo Kim, Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas
When to bet By 11.50am on Thursday
When to watch Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Golf from 11.30am on Thursday
Time difference Florida is five hours behind the UK and Ireland
Last week – Arnold Palmer Invitational 1 K Kitayama (200-1), T2 R McIlroy (9-1), H English (300-1), T4 P Cantlay (25-1), J Spieth (35-1), S Scheffler (10-1), T Hatton (35-1), T8 D Riley (225-1), T Mullinax (300-1)
Course type Parkland
Course overview Pete Dye design, which has hosted this tournament since 1982. The island-green 17th is arguably the most famous hole in golf. The switch in 2019 from a May date to a March one meant for lusher conditions, so the ball does not roll to the same extent, and it does not fly as far in the colder air. Longer clubs are required on approach, but the small, contoured greens are more receptive. The 2020 event was cancelled after one round due to Covid
Story of last year Cameron Smith edged Anirban Lahiri by a shot, but both men have since defected to LIV Golf
Weather forecast A mixture of sunshine and clouds, temperatures in the low-to-mid 20s. Light to moderate breezes throughout
Type of player suited to the challenge Plodders traditionally succeeded at this venue in May, but the switch to March effectively lengthened the track and played into the hands of big-hitters
Key attribute Power
The last 11 Sawgrass champions finished in the top 35 in their preceding tournament
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