To keep the attention of fans (and golf bettors) in a crowded sports marketplace, the PGA Tour has one “anchor” tournament each month from March to September. The big one in May is THE PLAYERS Championship, and this year’s tees off Thursday morning from TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
THE PLAYERS Championship is often referred to as the “fifth major” because it always has one of the best fields on Tour, has the biggest purse of any non-major, and the winner gets some great benefits, including a five-year PGA Tour exemption.
The Stadium Course has one of the most iconic golf holes in the world, the par-3 17th island hole. If history is any indication, you can count on around 30 balls in the drink during the tournament.
This course was built in 1982 specifically to host THE PLAYERS. There were some renovations done since last year, including shortening the par-4 12th from 360 yards to around 302. That’s drivable for some players, but the green slopes toward a new water hazard on the left. There are also pot bunkers on the right side of the green.
It’s the best field of the year with 48 of the world’s Top 50 set to play. The only two missing are Belgium’s Thomas Pieters and American Brandt Snedeker. No Tiger Woods (who isn’t within a mile of the world’s Top 50) following another back surgery. Had Tiger been in the field, it would have included every winner of the last 28 PLAYERS and major championships. The guys who have combined to win the last 45 PGA Tour events are all in the field.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is the +700 favorite on THE PLAYERS Championship betting lines at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Johnson nearly won a fourth straight tournament last week at the Wells Fargo Championship but finished a shot behind Brian Harman when Harman drained a 30-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole. It was Johnson’s first start since having to withdraw from the Masters with a back injury.
Some golfers simply don’t play courses well designed by some architects – Pete Dye in this case – and Johnson has never had a Top 25 in eight previous PLAYERS Championships.
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy is +1000 on the tournament odds as he plays a Tour event for the first time as a married man. He thrives at this course with four straight finishes of 12th or better, although he has yet to win. McIlroy is grouped with Johnson and Justin Thomas (+2800) the first two rounds. Jordan Spieth, who has missed the cut in this tournament two years in a row, is at +1400 odds.
No golfer has repeated at THE PLAYERS, and Australian Jason Day is +2200 to become the first. He tied a course record with a first-round 63 in his victory at the tournament last year and led wire-to-wire. Day finished at 15-under 273, four ahead of Kevin Chappell.
The only person to win the Masters and THE PLAYERS in the same year is Woods in 2001. Sergio Garcia won his first green jacket last month and is listed at +1800 on the golf odds.
Garcia is the all-time leading money-winner at THE PLAYERS Championship; he has a win (2008) and two second-place finishes (2015 and 2007). Sergio lost in a three-man playoff two years ago to Rickie Fowler (+2000). A playoff here is three-hole aggregate over Nos. 16-18. That format was instituted in 2014.