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Players Championship picks 2023: This star is ready for his biggest win

PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 18: Patrick Cantlay swings over his ball on the 10th tee box during the third round of The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on February 18, 2023 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

If you’ve been paying attention, 2023 has already delivered one thrilling finish after the next. We’ve barely caught our breath, and now (another) one of the biggest events of the year is here. If you’re one of those casual golf fans, don’t worry: You’re in the right place.

Our betting panel has hit three of the past four outright winners correctly—and more impressively, we’re up a collective 42 units on top-10 and matchup bets on the season. As any golf bettor knows, that’s where you can make a living. We’re doing just fine.

Now we’re eyeing up a winner at one of the most volatile weeks of the year. We wish you luck. To help your best bets, we’ve assembled the best collection of experts in the industry—which consists of a caddie reporting anonymously from TPC Sawgrass; Pat Mayo of DraftKings and FantasyNational.com; Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel; Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com; Andy Lack of RRG and his Inside Golf Podcast; and your two authors. Scroll down to read our best bets for the 2023 Players Championship.

Scroll down for our full analysis and best bets for this week at the 2023 Players Championship.

Players Championship picks 2023: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions

Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Justin Thomas (20-1, DraftKings) — Some windy conditions throughout the event play right into the hands of the 2021 winner. You need to be incredibly well-rounded in all facets of the game—and he’s that player.

Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Max Homa (22-1, DraftKings) — One poor week on the greens has led to Homa being vaulted by a few on the betting board. No player gained more strokes between driving and approach at Bay Hill than Max Homa, but he just happened to lose more strokes on the greens than in any start in 18 months. If Homa just has his average putting week he actually wins the API, and we’re talking about him in the 12- to 14-1 range right now.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Collin Morikawa (24-1, FanDuel) — Morikawa has one of the best overall course fits for TPC Sawgrass, so I’m willing to look past his MC last week. He’s super accurate off the tee (usually), and we know how good the irons are. He’s in pretty elite form despite two missed cuts in his past three starts, as he has three top-sixes in his other three 2023 events.

Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Viktor Hovland (27-1, FanDuel) — Hovland’s game is getting dialed, showing ball-striking improvements nearly every single week. He gained 5.24 strokes in Phoenix, 6.01 at Riviera then 9.60 last week in Orlando. Hovland dismantled TPC Sawgrass in that category last year, gaining 14.17 strokes, per the RickRunGood.com golf database, by far the most in the field. His game is trending in the right direction and is headed to a course that will amplify his strengths.

Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Patrick Cantlay (16-1, DraftKings) — Cantlay was always an “avoid in Florida” kind of guy, but that hot Sunday and a T-4 at the API really impressed me. More than anything, as our guy Rick has pointed out on his show, Cantlay is a master at shaping the ball both ways off the tee and on approach. That is a huge asset here, where Pete Dye routinely asks you to shape the ball around trouble. He’s too good of a golfer to not contend in the biggest events of the year, so I think he finally does this week.

Christopher Powers, Golf Digest staff writer: Patrick Cantlay (16-1, DraftKings) — Not to be “I caught Cantlay at 20-1 on Sunday night” guy, but I caught Cantlay at 20-1 Sunday night—so I got some sick closing-line value, which makes you seem smart in the gambling community even when you lose. All jokes aside, it’s hard not to back Cantlay off that insane final-round 68 on an impossibly tough golf course. The only thing that should scare you this week is he hasn’t had success in this tournament since the move to March, but we can chalk that up to the volatility of this course. He’s an elite ball-striker and elite ball-striking usually gets the job done at this place.

Andy Lack, RickRunGood.com and Inside Golf podcast: Viktor Hovland (27-1, FanDuel) — Viktor Hovland was frustratingly close last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, sitting in the middle of the fairway just one stroke off the lead with a 9-iron in his hands on the par-5 16th hole. The bogey-bogey finish led to a deceiving 10th-place finish. Operating with a glass-half-full approach, Hovland had his best ball-striking week since last year’s Players, gaining a whopping 6.3 strokes off the tee and 3.7 strokes on approach. The uber-talented Norwegian now returns to the site of the best ball-striking performance of his career, as Hovland gained over 14 strokes ball-striking last year at the iconic Pete Dye venue. Everyone is already aware of the talent, and this is the perfect spot for him to pick up that elusive first breakthrough victory.

Past results: Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially heating up. We cashed our third straight winner at the Honda Classic with Christopher Powers backing Chris Kirk at 30-1 to win the Honda Classic. That continues a streak that started with Brandon Gdula correctly predicting Scottie Scheffler’s win at the WM Phoenix Open (13-1) and Rick Gehman hitting Jon Rahm at the Genesis Invitational (+750). Add in Gdula and Stephen Hennessey’s Tony Finau (16-1) winner at the Houston Open in the Fall and that gives the panel four outright hits on the 2022-’23 season. Let’s keep it rolling at The Players!

Players Championship picks 2023: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win

Caddie: Keith Mitchell (55-1, FanDuel) — He’s gone toe to toe with top-five players in the world and proven he can hang. That’s two top-fives in his past five starts, plus he’s won in the state of Florida. It wouldn’t surprise anybody if Cashmere Keith contends.

Mayo: Tom Kim (40-1, DraftKings) — It’s crucial to hit fairways this week, and Kim sits 15th in the field in fairways gained in the 2023 season. He’s great with his wedges and can scramble, so it’s likely to hinge all on his putter. His putting stroke seems like a legit coin flip each week. He’s lost as many as 6.7 strokes/putting over two rounds at one point. He also gained 12.5 over four en route to a victory in the same stretch. There really seems to be no in-between.

Gdula: Keith Mitchell (55-1, FanDuel) — Mitchell is one of the absolute best drivers on Tour, and he pairs distance with accuracy, which is very helpful at TPC Sawgrass. Mitchell’s got pop potential when other aspects of his game click along with the driver, as evidenced by a T-13 here last year, a T-5 at the Genesis, plus a T-4 at Pebble Beach recently when the short game was on point.

Gehman: Adam Scott (100-1, BetMGM) — Scott missed the cut here last year, ending a stretch of nine straight weekends at TPC Sawgrass with six top 20s during that run. His game is quietly rounding into form, earning a T-31 finish last week in very difficult conditions. He’ll be able to tap into his experience around a golf course that requires it.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Tommy Fleetwood (85-1, FanDuel) — Tommy Lad led here after Round 1 last year and had a fifth-place finish in 2019 and a seventh-place in 2018. TPC Sawgrass clearly brings out the artist in Tommy. He can shape his shots off the tee and into these greens, and he’s got one of the best short games in the world. Fleetwood should be live here.

Powers, Golf Digest: Hideki Matsuyama (85-1, FanDuel) — Yes, Matsuyama seems broken if you just look at his recent results, but he’s actually still gained on approach in four of his last five starts, and he’s not that far removed from a top 10 at Torrey Pines. Also, it’s impossible to not think about his scorching hot start here in 2020 before the world shut down. 85-1 for a Masters champion who tied the course record here in 2020? It’s too tempting to pass up.

Lack: Keegan Bradley (50-1, BetMGM) — Keegan Bradley is the exact type of player further down the odds board who I know is capable of winning an event of this caliber. A major champ, in addition to a FedEx Cup playoff and WGCevent winner, Bradley is coming off a strong performance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, gaining 6.6 strokes ball-striking. Now he returns to a track where he has experienced a fair amount of success at, including a fifth-place finish last year. I would be far from surprised to see Bradley raise the trophy come Sunday afternoon at a venue that has been kind to him over the last decade.

Players Championship picks 2023: Players We’re Fading

Caddie: Sam Burns (66-1, BetMGM) — Ranking 193rd in SG/approach with these small greens and some wind is the recipe for disaster here. Something looks off with Burns … I would take a wait-and-see approach.

Mayo: Patrick Cantlay (16-1, DraftKings) — I just can’t stomach these odds. It’s not about him missing his past three cuts at Sawgrass, it’s that Cantlay’s priced closer to the top 3 (Rory, Scheffler and Rahm) than the group behind (Thomas, Homa, Morikawa, Schauffele, Finau). That’s simply not right.

Gdula: Viktor Hovland (27-1, FanDuel) — Hovland wouldn’t be priced here if not for the T-10 last week. I know he led The Players in SG/tee to green last year, however, he consistently loses strokes around the green (including last year at this event), and his wins are historically at events when the winning score is closer to 20-under than 10-under. It’s more to do with believing that there are better plays at better numbers than not believing in Hovland, but I just don’t like the number enough.

Gehman: Hideki Matsuyama (85-1, FanDuel) — This isn’t a favorite, but allow me to present reasons for fading Hideki in matchups and DFS. The driver is a huge problem right now for the 2021 Masters champ, who lost 2.6 strokes off-the-tee last week at Bay Hill. That’s his worst driving week since the 2021 Valero Texas Open, per the RickRunGood.com golf database. He’s lost strokes off-the-tee in 12 of his past 16 measured events, and the rest of his game hasn’t been good enough to make up for those woes.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Justin Thomas (20-1, DraftKings) — It’s scary to fade JT at TPC Sawgrass, but he leaves me no choice. He has been pedestrian with his approach play, ranking 74th in this field over his past 36 rounds, per RickRunGood.com. That’s not peak JT. We’ve seen flashes, like in Phoenix, which prompted me to bet him at Riv … then he disappointed. You can make a case for so many of these top guys, but for me JT ain’t it.

Powers, Golf Digest: Collin Morikawa (22-1, DraftKings) — Morikawa has been boom-or-bust this year, with three top-sixes and two missed cuts in five events. Coming off a MC at Bay Hill, it’s risky to fade a potential boom week, but Morikawa has somewhat shockingly gone backwards with his irons over the last few weeks. Also, he struggles on Bermuda greens, and he’s already a shaky putter.

Lack: Jon Rahm (+900, BetRivers) — This is a pure heat-check fade for me. After firing a flawless 65 on Thursday last week, Jon Rahm looked absolutely gassed over the weekend. With wins in five of his past 10 starts, fading the World No. 1 is always a scary proposition, but something appears to be shaky right now with his biggest weapon, his driver. TPC Sawgrass is the wrong golf course to enter with off-the-tee concerns, and it has notoriously been more of a challenge for faders of the golf ball. This is simply too steep of a price to pay right now for a player with question marks surrounding the strongest aspect of his game.

Players Championship picks 2023: Matchups

Caddie: Taylor Montgomery (-110) over Brian Harman (DraftKings) — The rookie has cooled off since the hot start to his season, but there’s reason to like him over Harman. The former Georgia Bulldog ranks worse than 130th in SG/approach and SG/short game, which is not a good formula. Montgomery being a top-five putter here can mitigate some of the struggles elsewhere.

Mayo: Jon Rahm (+105) over Rory McIlroy (DraftKings) — The guy who wins every other event is available at plus-money against one other player. It doesn’t matter if that other player is Rory. Seems like a good deal for a coin flip at worst.

Gdula: Justin Rose (-136) over Harris English (FanDuel) — English has putted his way to two top-12s in his past three starts but has been very mediocre tee-to-green lately. Rose is coming off two MCs yet holds a big edge in ball-striking over English.

Gehman: Jason Day (-125) over Tom Kim (DraftKings) — Over the past 36 rounds, there are only four golfers in this field who have gained two-plus strokes per round. They are Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and … Jason Day. He’s been electric with the putter and pristine with his ball-striking. Now he goes back to TPC Sawgrass, where he won in 2016 and has three more top-10 finishes.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Davis Riley (-110) over Aaron Wise (PointsBet) — These are two players trending in the opposite directions. Look at the longer-term data, and Aaron Wise will outperform Davis Riley in most metrics—but Riley’s coming off an eighth-place finish in a stacked field at Bay Hill, whereas Wise missed the cut badly, losing more than five strokes on approach in his two rounds. The data guys might not like this one, but I’m riding the hot hand on a Southern boy who should like this Bermuda-filled course more than a kid from Cali.

Powers, Golf Digest: Xander Schauffele (+105) over Max Homa (DraftKings) — Well aware of how good Homa has been this season, and even more aware of Schauffele’s disastrous weekend at Bay Hill. However, I think Schauffele bounces back and contends here and getting him at plus money over anybody is extremely attractive.

Lack: Rory McIlroy (-120) over Jon Rahm (DraftKings) — I’m going right back to well with the same matchup for the second week in a row. Quite simply, I trust Rory McIlroy’s ability to drive the ball in play here more than Rahm’s right now, and while Rahm has shown flashes at TPC Sawgrass, his course history pales in comparison to the 2019 champion. I’ll take my chances with McIlroy for one more week, as this will be a fun showdown between the world’s two best players.

Matchup Results from the Arnold Palmer Invitational: Hennessey and Lack: 1 for 1 (McIlroy (+110) over Rahm; Gehman: 1 for 1 (Theegala +100 over Lowry); Powers: 1 for 1 (Bradley (-120) over Conners); Caddie, Mayo, Gdula: 0 for 1.

Matchup Results from this season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Hennessey: 12-6-0 (up 5.2 units); Gehman: 11-5-2 (up 4.92 units); Powers: 10-8-0 (up 1.46 units); Lack: 5-4-0 (up 0.80 units); Mayo: 8-9-0 (down 1.51 units); Caddie: 8-10-0 (down 2.16 units); Gdula: 5-12-1 (down 7.42 units)

Players Championship picks 2023: Top 10s

Caddie: Tyrrell Hatton (+360, DraftKings) — The Englishman has two top-sixes in his past three starts and hasn’t missed a cut on the PGA Tour since early June. And if the conditions get tough, Hatton’s piercing ball flight can hang.

Mayo: Ben Griffin (+1600, DraftKings) — Griffin has become a short-course superstar. In his past five starts on courses under 7,200 yards, like TPC Sawgrass, he’s found the weekend four times with results of T-4, T-3, T-12 and T-21 along with a missed cut at Pebble Beach. Yes, it’s worrisome he’s never played in The Players previously, but that’s baked into this price.

Gdula: Tom Kim (+470, FanDuel) — Whenever I like Morikawa, I like Tom Kim because of the overlap in their games in terms of accuracy off the tee and iron play. Kim isn’t as good of an overall driver, but I’m also not asking for a win—just a top-10.

Gehman: Rickie Fowler (+550) — Fowler’s comeback tour continues to impress! Fowler faded to a T-31 last week but can still boast three top 25s in his past five starts, which also happen to be the biggest events this calendar year. He’s gained strokes on approach in seven of his past eight events, and the putter is heating up again. The 2015 Players champion is playing his best golf in the past three years and will look to continue it again this week.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Chris Kirk (+650, PointsBet) — Kirk’s great at positional golf—like we saw in his win at the Honda, which we’ve seen at the Sony Open at Waialae, and him contending in the past at places like TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town. We always dial up Kirk here, and now he’s back to peak Kirk.

Powers, Golf Digest: Davis Riley (+1200, DraftKings) — Riley was completely lost between September and mid-February but has now seemingly been found on the Florida Swing. He backed up a top 30 at Honda with a T-8 at Bay Hill that featured a six-under 66 on Sunday, matching Webb Simpson for the low round of the day. This is his first Players, but that can actually work in your favor at a course like TPC Sawgrass. The less he knows, the better.

Lack: Will Zalatoris (+320, DraftKings) — I certainly believe that he’s capable of winning here, but I’ll shift my attention to the top-10 market for Zalatoris. He’s coming off a ho-hum 53rd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but he gained 4.7 strokes off the tee, which is incredibly encouraging as he now heads to a venue where off-the-tee performance is crucial. I think there is tremendous value in all markets on Zalatoris, and I expect him to be firmly in the mix.

Top-10 results from the Arnold Palmer Invitational: Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Keegan Bradley (+650); Caddie, Lack: 1 for 1 (Cameron Young (+360); Gehman: 1 for 1 (Jason Day (+335); Mayo, Gdula, Powers: 0 for 1.

Top-10 results from this season: Gdula: 7 for 18 (up 16.6 units); Gehman: 6 for 18 (up 12.9 units); Mayo: 6 for 17 (up 11.1 units); Hennessey: 5 for 18 (up 9.35 units); Lack: 4 for 9 (up 6.5 units); Powers: 2 for 18 (down 9.9 units); Caddie: 3 for 18 (down 5.35 units)

The Players Championship 2023: One and Done

Gehman: Jon Rahm — This is the biggest purse of the year, so we’re going with the biggest dog. I don’t need to describe how good Rahm is, so let me attack this from a strategic angle. Rahm has already been used by about 30 percent of users in most pools, compared to only 18 percent for Scottie Scheffler. There are only four golfers who have been used more frequently than Rahm to this point in the season. This is your chance to get the best player, at somewhat low ownership, in the biggest event of the season.

Previous weeks: Fortinet Championship: Emiliano Grillo. Sanderson Farms Championship: Sam Burns. Shriners: Taylor Montgomery. Zozo: Sungjae Im. CJ Cup: Matt Fitzpatrick. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy. Mayakoba: Viktor Hovland. Houston Open: Aaron Wise. RSM Classic: Brian Harman. Sentry TOC: Cameron Young. Sony Open: Hideki Matsuyama. American Express: Brian Harman. Farmers: Jason Day. AT&T Pebble Beach: Maverick McNealy. WMPO: Scottie Scheffler. Genesis: Justin Thomas. Honda: Sungjae Im. API: Rory McIlroy.

Hennessey: Rory McIlroy — I could save him for The Open, but this is a bigger payday—and I saw enough last week to where I’m confident that he’ll be lurking again come Sunday.

Previous weeks: Fortinet Championship: Cam Davis. Sanderson Farms Championship: Denny McCarthy. Shriners: Emiliano Grillo. Zozo: Hideki Matsuyama. CJ Cup: Sungjae Im. Bermuda: Mark Hubbard. Mayakoba: Viktor Hovland. Houston Open: Jason Day. RSM Classic: Brendon Todd. Sentry TOC: Patrick Cantlay. Sony Open: Matt Kuchar. American Express: Brian Harman. Farmers: Will Zalatoris. AT&T Pebble Beach: Seamus Power. WMPO: Collin Morikawa. Genesis: Justin Thomas. Honda: Chris Kirk. API: Keith Mitchell.

Powers: Patrick Cantlay — Coming off consecutive top-five finishes, Cantlay appears to be building toward a ninth PGA Tour win.

Previous weeks: Fortinet Championship: Sahith Theegala. Sanderson Farms Championship: J.T. Poston. Shriners: Sungjae Im. Zozo: Hideki Matsuyama. CJ Cup: Tyrrell Hatton. Bermuda: Russell Knox. Mayakoba: Thomas Detry. Houston Open: Sepp Straka. RSM Classic: Davis Riley. Sentry TOC: Xander Schauffele. Sony Open: Gary Woodland. American Express: Cameron Young. Farmers: Taylor Montgomery. AT&T Pebble Beach: Maverick McNealy. WMPO: Sungjae Im. Genesis: Collin Morikawa. Honda: Chris Kirk. API: Will Zalatoris.

About our experts

Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. Mayo helped create the golf stats and research website Fantasy National along with the Race for the Mayo Cup One and Done contest. Mayo won the 2022 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and is a finalist for three FSWA Awards in 2023 (Best Podcast, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 27 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are second-most all-time. Follow him on Twitter: @ThePME.

Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @gdula13.

Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.

Andy Lack is a PGA Tour writer and podcaster from New York City who now resides in Los Angeles. He hosts Inside Golf, a twice weekly podcast focused on the PGA Tour, betting, daily fantasy, golf course architecture, and interviews, as part of the BlueWire podcast network. As well as contributing to Golf Digest, Andy is also a data analyst and writer for RickRunGood.com, where he covers PGA Tour betting and daily fantasy. He came to Golf Digest’s betting panel after previously writing for Golf.com, the Score and GolfWRX. In his free time, Andy can likely be found on a golf course. Follow him on Twitter: @adplacksports