Dustin Johnson is the favorite at 12-1, but Mike Kern is staying away.
Dustin Johnson is the favorite at 12-1, but Mike Kern is staying away.Associated Press Photo / Lynne Sladky

Bet the PGA: Mike Kern picks The Players Championship – avoiding favorites for Schauffele and Hovland

The Players starts Thursday morning.

It’s the Players Championship, the next best thing to a major, right? And it means the Masters is only a month away. Remember this was the tournament last year that was cancelled during the first round due to the start of the pandemic lockdown. And yes Hideki Matsuyama would have been the early leader after shooting a 63. Oh well.

Two weeks ago we did great, at two events, giving out a winner and a runner up. Last week wasn’t so good. We’ll try to regain our form, like some of the blokes in this field, which is one of the best of the year even if Brooks Koepka had to withdraw with an injury.

Dustin Johnson is the fave, as he should be, at 12-1. But he hasn’t played all that well here. His top 10 in 2019 was his first on the famed Pete Dye course. Bryson Dechambeau, coming off a win, is next at 16-1. As he should be. But as dominant as he can be sometimes, he’s also had a bunch of not-so-good showings too. And he also hasn’t done much here.

Rory McIlroy, the 2019 winner, is also 16-1. But he hasn’t won in awhile, and he’s struggled on the weekend. A good play might be to take him to lead after the first round, at 33-1. He held a share of the top spot last week after the first 18 holes. Hey, it might be worth a few bucks at least. Jon Rahm is 16-1 too. He’s had five top 10s in his last seven starts. And he’s +350 for a top five and +200 for a top 10. So both of those could be worth some kind of investment. You don’t always have to pick the champion to cash, a reality that sometimes gets lost in the equation. Just pointing out.

Collin Morikawa, who just won a world golf event, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele are each 20-1. Thomas has been a little lackluster so far this year, but that’s good odds for him. Of course there’s a reason for that. Schauffele was second here three years ago, and has posted six top fives in his last 10 appearances. He’s +400 for a top five and +225 for a 10. Again, that could be the way to go.

Patrick Cantlay is 22-1. He opened with a 67 last March before Covid put up a stop sign to the proceeedings, and he hasn’t finished worst than 17th anywhere since October. Webb Simpson, who won this in 2018, and Tony Finau, who never wins anything, are 25-1. Viktor Hovland is 28-1. He’s had four top fives, including a win, in his last six starts. And again, he’s +350 for a top 10 and +650 for a five. Jordan Spieth is 30-1. He’s been in contention his last four events but hasn’t been able to get it done on Sundays.

Tyrrell Hatton is 35-1. He’s had seven worldwide wins since 2016, and has played well on the Dye course at Harbor Town in Hilton Head. Daniel Berger is 40-1. He’s won twice since June, and has four other top sevens. And this tourney has produced its share of winners who weren’t necessarily big names. Matsuyama and Patrick Reed are also 40-1.

Paul Casey is 45-1. Tommy Fleetwood, who is my pick in that yearlong pool that I take back in December, is 50-1. It’s been 11 years since a player got his first PGA Tour win at the Players. Scottie Scheffler and Sungjae Im are 50-1 too.

Jason Day, a past winner, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Cameron Smith are 55-1.

Si Woo Kim, a past champ, is 125-1. Lee Westwood, who nearly won last week at the Arnie Palmer, is 100-1.

There’s certainly other names out there, but that’s mostly as far as I’m going to go. But by all means feel free to do some more hunting of your own.

So, which way to go? For starters, I would really look heavily at some of those top 10s and fives I threw out there, as well as that Rory to be the first round leader at 33-1. You might not get as much back for some of them, but you also maybe have a much better chance of getting something back.

If I’m going to try and find a winner, among the folks near the top I’d pass on DJ and Bryson, just because. You can do better, I think. I would lean toward Xander Schauffele at 20-1, and Viktor Hovland at 28-1. Again, I would seriously look at the top 10 and fives for both of those guys. But just in case they actually win, you don’t want to be left out of an even bigger payday.

In the middle tier, I always think that Sungjae Im is worth a look, even though he let me down last week over the weekend in my yearlong pool. It happens. That’s why I let you know who I’ve got. But at 50-1, he usually gives you a decent effort. And he’s also 11-1 and 5.5 for a 5/10.

I don’t know if there’s really a longshot I like a lot. I mean Corey Conners, who I failed to mention (sue me) is 80-1, 14 and 7. And he almost won last week. So maybe that carries over. But you know there’s probably going to be somebody that comes out of nowhere to make a run. You just have to come up with the right one or ones.

Hope you enjoy watching, to see how many fellas can hit it into the water at the par-3 17th. I’ve played there twice, and have to say that both times I was on the green. Once after my three partners had all put it in the wet stuff. It’s a memory I cherish. I would have cherished it even more if I’d made a birdie putt, but gimme pars are never a bad thing.

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