Sungjae Im of South Korea watches his shot from the second tee during the fourth round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Sungjae Im of South Korea watches his shot from the second tee during the fourth round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)|Associated Press

Mike Kern picks The Players Championship and is staying away from faves McIlroy and Rahm, seeking value in Im, Scott, Sheffler and others

Mike Kern

Mike Kern

It’s the Players Championship, golf’s next-best thing to a major. The field is among the best of the year, even though Tiger and his sore back are missing. So we’ll try to give out some knowledge and come up with a winner.

Last week one of our longer-shot picks, Matthew Fitzpatrick, at least finished in the top 10. So if you backed him up like I suggested, you would at least have gotten some of your money back. Never hurts.

Rory McIlroy, who’s always in contention (as he should be) but rarely closes the deal, is again the favorite at 7-1. We should be used to it by now. And he is the defending champ. Jon Rahm is next, at 10. He too usually plays really well but just doesn’t seem to win enough. Then again, who does these days? It’s hard to lift a trophy on a fairly regular basis is all I’m pointing out.

Justin Thomas, who hasn’t played as well lately, is 14-1. He’s followed by Bryson Dechambeau, at 18. He’s finished in the top five in his last three starts. Patrick Cantlay, Hideki Matsuyama and Xander Schauffele are all 20. Xander was the runner-up here in 2018 (before missing the cut last year). Tommy Fleetwood, who MC’d last week at the Arnold Palmer after nearly winning the Honda Classic, is 25. So is Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson, your 2018 champion. Sungjae Im, who was third last week after winning the previous event, is 28.

Rickie Fowler, the 2015 winner, Patrick Reed and Adam Scott are 33. Brooks Koepka, who has fallen off the map like Jordan Spieth once did as he comes back from knee surgery, is 40-1 with Matt Kutcher and Gary Woodland. Tyrrell Hatton, who won last week in his second start back from a knee surgery, is 45 with Marc Leishman, last week’s runner-up, and Collin Morikawa. Paul Casey and Tony Finau are 55. Fitzpatrick is 60. Byeong Hun An, 2016 champ Jason Day and Justin Rose, who’s really struggling, are 65.

Sergio Garcia, who won here a long time ago, is 70. Ditto Scottie Scheffler, who’s one of the best young players out there and who played well last week. Spieth is 80, along with Henrik Stenson, who MC’d last week at 40-1. I know 'cause I had him. Brandt Snedeker, who can be as good as his streak putter allows him to be, is 100. And Kevin Kisner, who has his moments, is 125.

This is a good week to get some value, assuming you don’t think Rory is going to repeat and Rahm might still not be ready yet and Justin isn’t in top form at the moment. Of those I would probably back Rahm, but I’m going to look further down the board to come up with some possibilities.

I have Fleetwood in my yearlong pool, so I’m going to stay away for him since I already have something to root for anyway. But it wouldn’t shock me to see him come back with a nice effort.

The Picks

I would definitely throw at least a little bit on Im, if only because nobody’s playing any better. I don’t know what that will mean this week, but at that number he’s worth something. Even to just finish in the top five at +700. That’s not bad, for someone who’s done at least that the last two weeks.

Adam Scott has finished no worse than 12th in his last four Players. So I can back that. I can also back him getting a top five at 7.5-1.

Along those lines, Scottie Scheffler is 14-1 to get a top 5 and 7-1 to get a top 10. That’s worth an investment. Ditto Brandt Snedeker at 10-1. And I suppose I could say the same about Tyrrell Hatton at 10-1 to get a top five. Hey, even if it’s just for a smidge you have to respect the guy who’s hot.

And I guess if you pinned me down to go with one of the faves, I would take Bryson Dechambeau. And back him up with a top five at 4.5-1.

One more piece of whatever. Jason Day withdrew last week due to a back issue. But he’s won this, and was fifth in 2018 and eighth a year ago. So if you’re willing to take that risk, the numbers on him are certainly attractive. You can even get 14-1 for a top five. You never know with backs, and I usually tend to stay away, but if you’re going to make more than a few bets and hope that a couple hit, then he’s one bloke who might be worth a taste.

That’s about it for me. Probably too much to digest anyway. But these things aren’t as easy to break down as say, the Big East semifinals. Or at least I don’t think so. Which means Rory probably wins by a dozen.

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