The Players Championship First-Round Leader Tips: Scheffler can shine early at Sawgrass

American Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler can cash in on his early tee-time

The PGA Tour stays in Florida for The Players Championship and Dave Tindall has three each-way picks to be First Round Leader at TPC Sawgrass...

"In his last four starts, he's twice been in the top four after 18 holes."

Back Scottie Scheffler E/W @ 45/1

Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 6 places

Weather forecast for Thursday: Temperatures start at around 60 degrees for the morning wave and don't get higher than 68 in the afternoon. Of greater note is that the morning wave get lighter winds: it climbs gradually from 4mph to 8mph between 7am and 10am while the afternoon wave will be dealing with 10mph to 11mph winds.

First-round leader history:
2020 - 63 Hideki Matsuyama
2019 - 65 Keegan Bradley, Tommy Fleetwood
2018 - 66 Webb Simpson, Chesson Hadley, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Alex Noren, Patrick Cantlay
2017 - 67 MacKenzie Hughes, William McGirt
2016 - 63 Jason Day
2015 - 67 Kevin Na, Hideki Matsuyama, Charley Hoffman, David Hearn
2014 - 63 Martin Kaymer
2013 - 63 Roberto Castro
2012 - 65 Martin Laird, Ian Poulter
2011 - 64 Nick Watney

Strategy: There are 21 players listed above: 11 teed off in the morning wave, 10 teed off in the afternoon. The weather forecast suggests a very early start could be beneficial so I'll pick two from the early wave but save one for the afternoon. After all, the weather could switch between the time of writing and start of play.

Scheffler to start fast

Conventional wisdom says you need experience to do well at TPC Sawgrass and, technically, this is Scottie Scheffler's Players debut.

However, 18 holes were played last year before the tournament was abandoned due to COVID and the big-hitting American flew home in 5-under 31 to post a 68.

At the time, that put him seventh on the leaderboard.

Being voted PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2020 showed that Scheffler is very adept at turning up to new venues and working things out quickly.

He's again making strong early impressions this season and ranks ninth for R1 scoring.

You want some strong current form to do well at Sawgrass and Scheffler certainly has that: in three February starts the World No.30 posted T7 in Phoenix, T20 at Riviera and solo fifth on his most recent Florida start two weeks ago in another elite field at the WGC-Workday Championship.

He also opened with a 65 in the Farmers Insurance so, in his last four starts, he's twice been in the top four after 18 holes.

Scheffler tees off at No.10 at 06:56 so gets an immediate chance to attack that back nine on which he flourished 12 months ago.

Take him at 45/1.

Count on Conners

Corey Conners was the joint first-round leader at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational and I'm going to back the Canadian to burst out of the blocks again here.

Conners had a two-shot lead at halfway, eventually finishing third, so had a superb week at Bay Hill.

On the face of it, he doesn't have much course form with his record showing just a tied 41st from 2019.

But two of his last three laps at TPC Sawgrass have been completed in 4-under 68. The first of those was in the third round two years ago while he opened with that same score 12 months ago before the tournament was curtailed.

In short, he has some confidence here.

Corey Conners at the Houston Open.jpg

Conners ranked 1st for Strokes Gained: Approach at Bay Hill and 11th in SG: Putting so there is good reason to expect him to continue his excellent play.

He heads out from the 10th at 08:13. Take the 60/1.

Kirk can get to work in afternoon

For my late starter, I'll go with Chris Kirk at 100/1.

I've also gone for the American in my outright preview and I don't want to miss out if he starts fast.

As stated, he's in a great place on and off the golf course at the moment and built on some strong early-season form, which included a second place at the Sony Open (R1 65), with tied eighth at Bay Hill.

Kirk has three top 15s in his last six visits to TPC Sawgrass and ranks 27th in R1 scoring on the PGA Tour this season.

With his game in good shape, he can flourish from his afternoon tee-time: Kirk gets underway at 14:06 from the 1st.

Daniel Berger is the other late starter I pondered while Harris English, who defied some previously poor course form to open with a 65 in last year's aborted event, could be an interesting early runner (07:51) at 75/1.

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