It may not officially be labeled as a “major,” but with a loaded field and fantastic course, The Players Championship is a massive golf tournament nonetheless. There are star-studded groups set to take charge on Thursday, but before we get there, it’s imperative to look at who may set TPC Sawgrass ablaze and who may fall short this week in Florida.
Our CBS Sports experts will break down The Players Championship from a variety of angles, sharing their projected winners, top 10 locks, surprise predictions and more. We will be live with you covering The Players for all four rounds, so be sure to keep coming back throughout the biggest event that precedes the Masters now that it has moved from May to March.
2019 Players Championship picks, predictions
Kyle Porter, golf writer
Winner — Justin Thomas (16-1): He’s had an “about to win three times in seven starts” vibe going for a few months now, and he has a nice history here. Thomas is third all time in strokes gained (albeit in just 15 rounds) at TPC Sawgrass, and while I don’t like what soft and slow does to his odds, I think he’s one of the three or four best players on the planet right now.
Top 10 lock — Tommy Fleetwood (28-1): This one is so tough to predict because all 50 of the top 50 players in the world are in attendance. But Fleetwood finished in the top 10 here last year and also finished in the top 10 at Bay Hill last week. He’s not somebody I view as lock-y normally, but I don’t know who else to go with here (especially considering Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson can’t seem to buy a top 10 at TPC Sawgrass).
Sleeper — Ian Poulter (50-1): Put it in my veins. T11 last year and T2 the year before that. He has four top-six finishes in his last five starts worldwide. Let’s just say … Jordan Spieth and Ian Poulter should not have the same odds to win the 2019 Players Championship.
Top 5 in order: Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Xander Schauffele, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy
Bold prediction: Dustin Johnson does nothing this week. After galloping in Mexico, it’s difficult to understand how he could be anything but lights out in this field. But he hasn’t found a ton of success on this course, and his other wins or near wins will come later on in the season.
Lowest round: 63 (-9)
Winning score: 271 (-17) | Winner’s Sunday score: 67 (-5)
Chip Patterson, golf writer
Winner — Xander Schauffele (25-1): In a tournament with this much star power, I’m looking to back players who can turn it on when the weekend hits. So instead of a Rory McIlroy or a Rickie Fowler — arguably two of the best golfers anywhere through these first tournaments of 2019 — I’m going with the closing power of Xander. Inexperience shouldn’t be an issue for Schauffele after a T2 finish in his Players debut a year ago, and if he gets the victory, it’s going to be time to consider him as much of a headliner as Rory or Rickie when the major championships come around.
Top 10 lock — Adam Scott (40-1): Over the last five years, Scott has the lowest cumulative score to par at TPC Sawgrass and the form we saw at the Farmers and Genesis Open (two of his three top-10s in just seven PGA Tour starts this season) suggests he deserves consideration as a threat at any of the major events in 2019. At 38, Scott isn’t playing the kind of schedule that has him on everyone’s radar on a week-in, week-out basis, and that’s why I like the value here as well in fantasy and pool format play.
Sleeper — Henrik Stenson (50-1): It’s been a decade since Stenson’s Players win, but the consistency at TPC Sawgrass has been there. Stenson has nine top-25 finishes in 13 starts here, and the positivity is surging after he turned an opening round 77 into a top-20 finish at Bay Hill last weekend. That kind of mid-tournament turnaround can have some carryover in the midst of the Florida swing, and I think we see another strong finish from Stenson this weekend.
Top 5 in order: Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood
Bold prediction: It’s going to be a birdie-fest. After two weeks of tougher course conditions and lower scores, I’m afraid the pendulum is going to swing the other way at TPC Sawgrass. Some fans enjoy the scoring, others wish for a more “true test” when the game’s best are competing at the highest level. With the PGA Tour, Justin Thomas, USGA, rules changes and other big-picture topics still shadowing over the sport, it’s just a hunch that this will be a very player-friendly tournament.
Lowest round: 63 (-9)
Winning score: 269 (-19) | Winner’s Sunday score: 67 (-5)
Adam Silverstein, golf editor
Winner — Justin Thomas (16-1): There’s no player in this field I trust more to go out and win this tournament than Thomas. Knowing that the Masters is right around the corner, this is Thomas’ time to turn on the jets and get in gear for the biggest event of the golf season. He’s had three top 10s in his last four events and has only finished worse than 16th once since … October 2018.
Top 10 lock — Rory McIlroy (12-1): The top 10 lock of top 10 locks. McIlroy could be 10 back entering Sunday and find a way to finish T4. That’s not to say he’s going to go out and win The Players. But if I had to put anything significant down on a player finishing in the top 10 of this event — or really any event that matters — it’s the Ulsterman.
Sleeper — Adam Scott (40-1): I was going to take Jordan Spieth here, but even at 50-1, there’s just no use banking on someone who has finished no better than T35 with two missed cuts since November 2018. Scott, on the other hand, dominates at TPC Sawgrass. It’s been 15 years since his last victory here, and he made headlines a year ago when he attempted to pick up a win with a $25 driver. That didn’t work out. But options are limited when you are looking for a sleeper, and he edges out Spieth for the honor.
Top 5 in order: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy
Bold prediction: Tiger Woods posts his best finish at TPC Sawgrass since 2013. OK, this is a bit of a cop out considering Woods has only played in two of the last five Players since winning back in ’13, but he did finish T11 last year. Woods smartly sat out the Arnold Palmer Invitational — a difficult move for him — due to a bothersome neck, and now he’s in prime position to gear up for the Masters on a course that he knows quite well. He may not be a lock, but I would not be surprised to see Woods in the bottom of the top 10 by the time the weekend is out.
Lowest round: 64 (-8)
Winning score: 273 (-15) | Winner’s Sunday score: 68 (-4)
So who wins the 2019 Players Championship? And which long shots stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now to see the full Players Championship projected leaderboard from the model that nailed the winners of four golf majors.