Players Championship: Opportunity Knox for Russell

Russell Knox has a great record in his adopted State of Florida
Russell Knox has a great record in his adopted State of Florida

Dave Tindall is back with his analysis and tips for this week's PGA Tour event - The Players Championship...


"As for his record in the Sunshine State it’s superb. He’s made his last 15 cuts, finished second (2014) and third (2015) at the Honda Classic and has had two decent cracks at Sawgrass."

Main bet: Back Russell Knox @ 81.080/1

Each-way terms: ¼ odds, 5 places


Main bet: Back Russell Knox e/w @ 80/1

I want to find some Florida reliability when looking through my selection's form and Knox certainly has that.

The Scot lives in Jacksonville and went to University there and a listen to his accent shows how immersed he's become in the local culture.

As for his record in the Sunshine State it's superb. He's made his last 15 cuts, finished second (2014) and third (2015) at the Honda Classic and has had two decent cracks at Sawgrass.

On his Players Championship debut in 2014 he closed with a 68 to finish T34 while last year he jumped 17 spots to take T17, again rounding off with a four-under-par final round.

Knox will return this year as a WGC winner having landed the HSBC Champions in November last year.

The way he closed out that event was extremely impressive and will give him so much belief every time he takes on the game's best.

He hasn't quite kicked on in emphatic style since that breakthrough first victory but he did finish runner-up in the following week's OHL Classic in Mexico and also banked second place at The Heritage on his last start.

That was on another Pete Dye layout which has to bode well and it's worth noting that the 30-year-old ranked 1st in the All-Around stats that week.

This season he's third for Greens In Regulation and that always counts for plenty at Sawgrass. He's also a lot happier on the greens.

"I was thrilled with the way I putted this week," he said at Hilton Head. "Practice actually works. And I think I'm going to have to dedicate myself to do it more often. I put in some time and actually figured out how to make a few."

All in all, there is much to like about Knox this week and the signs look good for a big challenge at 80/1.


Main bet: Back Henrik Stenson e/w @ 33/1

Unlike other big tournaments, it's common to look through the records of the top players at Sawgrass and see missed cuts and midfield finishes.

Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day may well pick up a Players Championship win at some point in their careers but so far they're a combined 0-13. In fact, Spieth's second place in 2014 is the only top five they have between them.

That's not to say it's a graveyard for the elite but the message has to be don't back them at short prices.

That's why I'm happy to play World No. 6 Henrik Stenson at 33/1, a price that is at least eight points too big.

Unlike the 'Big 3', Stenson has already won a Players Championship (2009) while he's banked two other top fives (3rd 2006, 5th 2013) and a top 10 (2008). When you add in top 20s in 2012 and 2015, it's pretty obvious he's accumulated an excellent body of work there.

"I've always been comfortable playing it," said the Swede of Sawgrass a couple of years ago. "It's a very special place for me."

He's obviously his price for a reason and one obvious factor is that he missed the cut at Quail Hollow last week after shooting 72-75.

But should that put us off at all? Not when you add it to his previous results there. Stenson has now played in six Wells Fargo Championships. He's missed the cut four times and never even made the top 50. His halfway exit there was almost expected.

Prior to that, Stenson was T24 at Augusta National (again, a very typical result for him at The Masters), runner-up at the Houston Open and third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

In other words, he's contended heavily in two of his last four starts and landed the each-way cash.

Looking at his results in Florida (his U.S. base) and Stenson has four top fours in his last seven starts so taking him at 33s in the Sunshine State really does have plenty of merit.

The only other one I'd really look at in the front 10 in the betting is Sergio Garcia.

Compared to those much shorter in the betting, his course record is excellent.

The Spaniard won at Sawgrass in 2008, was runner-up in 2007 and again last year while he was also third in 2014 and T8 in 2013.

Last seen battling back from a slow start to finish third in his home Open de Espana at Valderrama, it would come as no surprise if Sergio again put in some of title challenge.

He's close to selection at 28/1 but since his victory in this event eight years ago, he's only managed one further win on American soil (2012 Wyndham Championship) and that's enough to put me off.

To be fair, Stenson hasn't won in the States since a pair of play-off wins in 2013 but he's a bigger price and just gives the impression that he has more self-belief than Garcia despite his lack of a recent victory.


Value bet: Back Marc Leishman e/w @ 100/1

The Aussie can pop up at big prices in big events and we've already seen him make a play-off at last year's Open Championship, finish fifth the previous year at Hoylake and post T4 in the 2013 Masters. He was also third in the 2014 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

At Sawgrass, he's made the top 25 in each of the last three years with a best of T8 in 2013.

He concluded his T23 with a 67 in 2014 and shot bookend 69s when T24 last year.

Speaking 12 months ago, Leishman said of Sawgrass: "I really enjoy it. It's a good place. I guess you tend to enjoy where you play well, and I didn't play well here the first couple years I was here (MC in 2010 and 2011), so that's why I wasn't a huge fan of it.

"But now that I've learnt how to play it a little bit, it's such a good place because if you play well you can score well, but if your game is not on, it's just going to punish you, and I think that's a good thing.

"It punished me the first couple years, but my game has improved, learning where to hit it, where not to hit it, and yeah, feeling good."

Leishman missed the cut in this year's Masters but has followed that with T30 at Hilton Head and T20 in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans two weeks ago so he's trending in the right direction again.

The Zurich Classic was played over just 54 holes so, having shot a 66 in round three, it's easy to speculate that he would have pushed on for a top 10 had it gone the full distance.

One eye-popping stat is that Leishman is ranked 1st in Total Driving this year and hitting it long and straight (think of past winners of this event such as Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Stenson) is a good recipe for Sawgrass.

He's also 21st in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green and 25th in Strokes Gained: Putting so the numbers suggest the 32-year-old could be ready to produce another of his big weeks at a marquee event.

A three-figure price looks juicy indeed.


Top 10: Back Kevin Na @ 7/1

Kevin Na has done this column a couple of favours already this year in these Top 5/Top 10 markets.

It's the best place to play him (1 win in 313 starts shows how he always throws away the win element of an each-way bet) and he's worthy of following again here.

TPC Sawgrass can be a 'marmite' sort of venue but Na definitely likes it as show by three top 10s in his last six visits.

That run includes sixth last year and 7th in 2012 (he didn't play in 2013) so he's been particularly strong in recent starts at the Florida track.

To be honest, he loves playing in Florida as a whole.

Since the start of 2015, Na has posted four top 10s in six starts there and, as they read 9-10-6-6, it's clear that Top 10 appeals more than getting too ambitious and playing him for a Top 5.

The last we saw of Na was him finishing fourth at The Heritage (Pete Dye) so with course and current form in his favour the 7/1 for a top 10 certainly appeals.

Francesco Molinari is another option here.

The Italian was a solid T17 at Quail Hollow last week, T9 at Bay Hill on his last Florida start and has top 10s (6th in 2014, 9th 2010) in two of his five appearances at Sawgrass.

It's easy to argue that he's value at 12/1 for another top 10 this week.

You can read my colleague Steve Rawlings Players Championship Betting Preview behind the link.

Dave's 2016 P/L (based on £5 e/w per selection outrights, £10 win top 5s/10s)

Staked: £540
Returned: £634.5
P/L: +£94.5

(After Wells Fargo Championship)

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