Tiger Woods prepares to catch a ball tossed by his caddie during the WGC-Mexico Championship golf tournament at the Chapultepec Golf Club in Mexico City on Feb. 22, 2019. (Marco Ugarte, File)
Tiger Woods prepares to catch a ball tossed by his caddie during the WGC-Mexico Championship golf tournament at the Chapultepec Golf Club in Mexico City on Feb. 22, 2019. (Marco Ugarte, File)|Associated Press

Golf: Kern takes a look at The Players Championship

The field is as strong as it gets

Mike Kern

Mike Kern

Last week, how was I to know that Jason Day, one of my picks (at 14-1) in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, would be forced to withdraw after six holes with a back issue? I know, I know, it happens. But he’d been playing so well. And then, one of my other choices (it’s a big field, I’m allowed), Tommy Fleetwood at 25-1, was leading after 36 holes before shooting a 76 on Saturday. He still only finished three behind eventual champion Franceso Molinari. So I came within one bad round of maybe cashing for the third time in five tournaments, all at double-digit odds. But the bottom line is I still didn’t win money. And that’s all that really counts. So we’ll try to do better this time.

The Players Championship, of course, is the so-called fifth major. Which ensures the field is as strong as it gets. And, for the first time in 13 years, it’s being played back in March again instead of May. So, the conditions figure to be different. What that means we’ll see. But maybe the best thing about this tourney is the odds for some of the better guys are about as good as you’re going to get. It’s also an event that’s produced a lot of different kind of winners over the years, so there’s that to deal with.

The good news, at least for the viewing public, is that Tiger Woods is back after missing a week with a strained neck that he said had been bothering him for a while. And you can get him at like 22-1. He’s won this twice, the last time in 2013. But I’m not sure I’d be willing to take that leap of faith so soon. But he is Tiger, so you dismiss him at your own whatever. Even when he was Tiger you couldn’t bet him every week.

Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are the co-favorites at around 12-1 (the odds can vary some from sight to sight). Rory has been in contention almost every time he’s played this year but hasn’t won since last March. DJ won his last start, a couple weeks back at the World Golf Championships in Mexico. And he won easily.

Justin Thomas, who nearly won two weeks ago, is 16-1. Justin Rose, who’s usually a factor, is 18. Rickie Fowler, who also nearly won two weeks ago, is 20. As is Molinari, who’s shown before that when he gets on a roll he can keep it going. Check out last summer leading up to his British Open victory. Not many guys win back-to-back, but … Fowler won this in 2015.

Xander Schauffele is 25, along with Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Fleetwood is 28. Day is 30. As is Sergio Garcia, who won it in 2015 and lost in a playoff three years later. Defending champ Webb Simpson, who won by four, is 40. So is Jordan Spieth, whom we’re mostly still waiting on to regain his former form. Phil Mickelson and Hidecki Matsuyama are also 40, while Ian Poulter is 45. He is a two-time runner-up and was 11th a year ago. Matt Kuchar is 60. That should do it for most of the usual suspects.

First off, I have Fleetwood in my yearlong pool, in which I haven’t cashed in a month. That means my guys either didn’t play or didn’t make the cut. Just thought you should know that. That being said, I think Fleetwood might have a shot. And at 28 he’s probably worth a few sheckles.

I also am taking a stab on Schauffele, who’s just the type of guy who sometimes wins this thing. See Webb Simpson. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As for the favorites, who for the most part I’m staying away from, I think Rory might be worth an investment. I realize he’s been frustrating, but he’s been a factor almost every time out. At some point he has to finish one off, doesn’t he? There’s probably about a half dozen other blokes I could get behind, but I try to limit it to three so that’s it.

Let’s hope one of this trio figures out a way to make my Sunday. Not to mention theirs.

And can the Masters be far off? I can see the dogwoods. Now I could go for one of those pimento cheese sandwiches. Funny how that works.

I did see one sight that was touting Fowler to be the low American at 13-1. That’s the kind of prop bet that you could certainly check out. Especially at that number. Even if it’s just for amusement purposes only, right?

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