The Players Championship: Three to play in the First Round Leader market

American Nick Watney
Last week's runner-up Nick Watney has been R1 leader at Sawgrass before
Join today View market

Dave Tindall picks out three players to get onside early at this week's Players Championship...

"Watney has appeared on plenty of R1 leaderboards this year, notably sitting second after day one at the Valspar, third after his opening lap at the RSM Classic and T9 after a Thursday 65 at the CareerBuilder Challenge. He also opened with a 68 to sit T10 after round one at Pete Dye's Hilton Head."

Back Nick Watney each-way @ 100/1

*EW Terms: 1/5 Odds | 7 Places

Weather forecast: Sunny, warm and pleasant describes Thursday's overall forecast. However, the afternoon starters do get higher temperatures (double that of the early starters - 25 degrees against 12/13 in the morning) and the winds are slightly lighter for the p.m. wave although it's fairly tame by Florida standards.

History: We've had Jason Day (2016) and Martin Kaymer (2014) both shoot 63s on the way to wire-to-wire victories in recent years. Day did it the morning, Kaymer in the afternoon. That sums up a pretty even split overall down the years and, in fact, starting from 2012, six of the leaders/joint-leaders teed off in the morning and six in the afternoon.

The warmer weather in the afternoon this year could help although the extra foot traffic will make the greens a little bumpier for the p.m starters. Overall, there's no obvious bias for either wave.

Watney worth sticking with

I put up Nick Watney for FRL at three-figure odds last week and, frustratingly, he shot the joint-second best round a day too late.

The American then added two strong laps on the weekend to finish runner-up and record his first top 10 in three years. Not that it came out of the blue. Watney hasn't missed a cut in 2018 and he took that streak to 11 with his runner-up finish.

Ranked 1st for Greens In Regulation at Quail Hollow, the 37-year-old is now reminding us of the player who won five times on the PGA Tour from 2007 to 2012.

Although he didn't fly out of the traps last week, Watney has appeared on plenty of R1 leaderboards this year, notably sitting second after day one at the Valspar, third after his opening lap at the RSM Classic and T9 after a Thursday 65 at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He also opened with a 68 to sit T10 after round one at Pete Dye's Hilton Head.

It's going back a few years but Watney was the joint-leader after round one of the 2011 Players Championship after a superb 64 while he also shot in the 60s on Thursday in both 2009 and 2010.

There are signs he's hitting those high levels again so 100/1 looks a fair price.

Horschel can cash in quick on local knowledge

Billy Horschel is a popular and obvious pick this week and he came close to giving this column a 40/1 Dead Heat winner at the Texas Open but missed a couple of late putts.

Still, it was a full each-way return for Horschel finishing T2 after round one and that was the position he occupied after R1 at The Heritage a week earlier.

Billy-Ho went on to finish T5 and T11 in those two events and since then he's popped up to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans - the pairs event - alongside Scott Piercy.

Life is good at the moment and this, of course, is a man who finished 2-1-1 in the final three FedEx Cup play-off events of 2014 to scoop the $10 jackpot.

Horschel is starting fast and playing great golf right now and there's no reason why that shouldn't continue at TPC Sawgrass where he was just one shot off the lead after day one of the 2015 event. That was thanks to an opening 68, a score he repeated in the first round 12 months later.

It's no surprise. Horschel has lived in Ponte Vedra Beach since 2009 and reckons he plays the course around 20 times a year.

"The lines don't look as intimidating because I know there is more room," he told Golfchannel.com when asked if he has an advantage. "I guess it just makes it a little bit more comforting seeing that I've played it, the shots don't affect me as much."

Local knowledge + impressive form + recent fast starts = a tasty FRL bet at 60/1.

Poulter has penchant for fast Sawgrass starts

Ian Poulter shot an afternoon 7-under 65 to share the lead with Martin Laird after round one in 2012 while he ended the first day of The Players Championship in the top five in both 2008 and 2009.

It's a course he simply loves playing and, having finished runner-up to Henrik Stenson in 2009, the Englishman added another second place last year - one that helped him keep his playing rights in the United States.

Poulter ended the opening lap in the top six (Betfair offer seven payout places this week) on six occasions last year and they were mostly in strong fields - Dubai Desert Classic, Honda Classic, The Heritage, Scottish Open, Open Championship and Turkish Airlines Open.

That backs up the belief that he's at his best when the adrenaline is really pumping and he'll head back to his Florida base in fine fettle after winning the Houston Open - a result which got him into the Masters - and T7 at The Heritage.

He shot two 64s and a 65 in those two events and, although they weren't on day one, those recent signs that he can go low bode well for this market.


Dave's 2017/18 R1 leader P/L (based on £5 ew per selection)

Staked: £180
Returned: £45
P/L: -£135
(After Wells Fargo Championship)

Join today View market

Discover the latest articles

Read past articles