Paul Krishnamurty has scoured Thursday's opening day three-ball coupon and recommends the following five picks...
"Niemann beat 70 in his last five, and eight of his last ten opening rounds...I doubt he'll need to perform heroics to win this"
More heroics from Westwood to come?
What better way to kick off the 'Fifth Major' than a bet in the opening three-ball, which combines romance, nostalgia, form and arguably value? It was wonderful to see Lee Westwood turn back the clock last week to contend at Bay Hill. Do not rule out a repeat. He certainly seems up for it.
Who is ready for The Players this week? pic.twitter.com/PnijAQkZEQ? Lee Westwood (@WestwoodLee) March 9, 2021
Two of this trio are among Steve Rawlings' Find Me a 100 Winner picks. The third man, Robert MacIntyre, is probably up against it on his course debut, and is yet to demonstrate his outstanding potential in the States.
Oosthuizen is a legitimate favourite but his record at Sawgrass is actually inferior to Westwood, who has recorded five top-eight finishes, compared to just one top-ten for the South African.
Horschel a strong candidate this week
Next I'm happy to endorse another outright selection from these pages. Dave Tindall makes the strong case for backing Horschel each-way at 70-1 here, noting his knowledge of Sawgrass, excellent recent form in Florida and general preference for Bermuda . His chance is clear.
The principal threat here is a twice Sawgrass runner-up. Ian Poulter has a cracking course record and is very much respected, but the third man could be a weak link. Gary Woodland's power game isn't ideal for this test and he's been way below his best for several months.
Not much for veteran Kelly to beat here
Back Jerry Kelly 2u @ 11/4 (vs Dahmen, Taylor) (Starts 13.46)
This group probably won't require anything special to win and that leads me towards the clear outsider of three. The 54-year-old veteran Kelly nearly won this title at his peak and has a decent record at Sawgrass, landing consecutive top-20s as recently as 2015 and 2016.
He's playing well enough on the Champions Tour to hope for a respectable performance. There's little to suggest either of his 'superiors' here will thrive. Dahmen comes in off five missed cuts from six, including four poor opening rounds. Vaughan Taylor has missed eight of his last nine cuts at Sawgrass, only bettering 72 in the first round twice.
Niemann looks a class apart
Compare those opening round numbers to this favourite. Niemann beat 70 in his last five, and eight of his last ten. True, the fact the Chilean is making his debut is a negative but I doubt he'll need to perform heroics to win this.
Laird does have Sawgrass pedigree, finishing top-five in 2012 and 2013. Last week's strong start is a further positive but the way he fell back over the weekend was more in line with his general struggles this year. As for Duncan, he falls well short on all relevant indicators.
Perez Sawgrass record is superior by far
Finally another group with low expectations amongst whom, the outsider of three appeals. Opposing Bubba Watson at Sawgrass has long been a licence to print money. In 12 visits, he's never made the top-30, only twice made the top-40 needs more room.
Chez Reavie's accurate game appears more suitable but he too has really struggled, with 30th his best in six tries. Both records are clearly inferior to Perez - whose best finish was third and has made the top-25 in three of his last six attempts.