Players Championship sleepers to watch: Is it Viktor Hovland’s time to shine?

March 9, 2020

The Players Championship kicks off on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, and while there’s no Tiger Woods in the field, there’s plenty of other firepower in what will be golf’s biggest event of the season thus far. Can Rory McIlroy repeat, or will an under-the-radar player rise to the occasion and check off the biggest victory of their career? Here are our staff’s sleeper picks to watch.

Players Championship sleepers to watch

Josh Sens: Kevin Na. At a course that favors length less than a lot of regular Tour stops, I’ll take a chance on a grinder like Na. He’s got three top 10s at Sawgrass, including that crazily gutty showing when he he was fighting the driver yips and still finished 7th. The course is bound to be baked-out, fast, like Bay Hill was this past week, and Na made the cut there. With oddsmakers listing him at 100-to-1, I’d say he’s worth a shot.

Sean Zak: Joel Dahmen might not consider himself a top 20 player in the world, but he’s been playing like one for the last month and a half. Between Riviera and (last week’s version of) Bay Hill, the guy has played well at tough courses. Decent chance he finds his way into the top 10 again this week.

Zephyr Melton: Scottie Scheffler. True to his personality, Scheffler has flown under the radar this season, but he’s the early leader for Rookie of the Year. The 23-year-old rarely misses cuts — just two on the season — and has four top 10s on the year. He’s also fifth on Tour in birdie average. If he can keep the big numbers off the scorecard, he’ll be on the first couple pages of the leaderboard come Sunday.

Nick Piastowski: Harris English. He’s been steady over the past month — T16 in Phoenix, T17 at the Honda (where he shared the first-round lead) and T9 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I also like that he’s fifth on the PGA Tour this season in greens in regulation at just over 73 percent — anytime you can give yourself multiple looks at birdie it’s a good thing, especially at Sawgrass.

James Colgan: Collin Morikawa. There might be no safer bet among the first-timers at Sawgrass. In the last three years, winners at the Players have ended the week with an average strokes gained: tee-to-green of 11.26. (That’s almost three strokes higher than the average strokes gained: tee-to-green of the winner at the Arnold Palmer Invitational over the same time period.) Morikawa ranks eighth on Tour in that category in 2020, and in the top 20 in strokes gained: total. Add in his composure to finish T9 among the carnage at Bay Hill last weekend and you’ve got a recipe for a breakout week.

Dylan Dethier: Viktor Hovland. He’s obviously become a well-known figure in golf circles, but Hovland’s odds (150-to-1) still reflect serious sleeper status. He’s not a great chipper but does everything else pretty well, one thing in particular: he’s an elite driver of the golf ball. The rough is going to be gnarly and a guy who can find the fairway is probably going to win this thing.

Luke Kerr-Dineen: Harris English’s career is undergoing a quiet resurgence. The two-time PGA Tour winner in 2013 has five top 10s in his last 11 starts, and has gone T16, T17 and T9 in his last three. It’s the kind of form you get from players who are ready to win, so why not this week?

Josh Berhow: Max Homa has had a nice little run here with three top 10s and nothing worse than a T24 (last week) in his past five starts, but he’s never played a tournament round at TPC Sawgrass, which gives me slight pause. Therefore I’m going with Brian Harman, who either plays very good or very bad at TPC Sawgrass. Here’s hoping it’s the former.

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