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Look to early risers in FRL market for THE PLAYERS

5 Min Read

Draws and Fades

Look to early risers in FRL market for THE PLAYERS

    Written by Brady Kannon @lasvegasgolfer

    "Who do you like to win the golf tournament this week?"

    For those of us in the golf betting space, it’s a question we often get. A question we get much less frequently is, "Who will be leading after Thursday?"

    Good news - one can bet on either scenario. The First-Round Leader market, however, is a difficult market for golf bettors as far as going up against the oddsmaker's hold percentage. In other words, the sportsbook has the advantage in this market - more so than they do for an outright tournament winner, top-20 finishers, or head-to-head matchups. If there was ever a “needle in a haystack” bet, this is the one.

    It's good to know what you’re up against before diving in, so with the First-Round Leader market being such a tough position for the bettor, my advice is to treat this very casually and not get over-invested.

    Of course, it wouldn't be any fun to not at least take a stab.

    First-Round Leader for THE PLAYERS Championship (odds via BetMGM Sportsbook)

    Patrick Cantlay (+3000)

    In general, I like to look at players in the early wave of start times in the opening round when considering a wager on a First Round Leader. This is where winners in this market tend to come from more so than the late wave. Cantlay will tee it up within roughly the first 45 minutes of the golf tournament at 7:34 a.m. ET Thursday, off the 10th tee.

    Cantlay is a player who I believe will contend for an outright tournament win this week, based upon quite a few factors. He is No. 1 on the PGA TOUR in Par-4 and Par-5 Scoring. Over the course of the last 36 rounds played on Pete Dye designed courses with Bermuda Grass greens – as we have here this week, he is eighth in this field for Strokes Gained: Approach, fourth for Strokes Gained: Around the Greens, and third for Birdies or Better Gained. All of this is excellent and does not hurt our cause but when handicapping the FRL, I like to look at Scoring Average, First Round Scoring Average, Birdie Average, and Bogey Avoidance.

    Cantlay ranks ninth on TOUR in Scoring Average, 19th in First Round Scoring Average, second in Birdie Average and second in Bogey Avoidance. I also like the fact that he finished last week at Bay Hill in a flurry, shooting a 68 on Sunday to tie for fourth, birdieing three of his final four holes. Two courses I believe correlate with TPC Sawgrass are other Pete Dye designs, Harbour Town (RBC Heritage) and TPC River Highlands (Travelers Championship). Cantlay has finished Top 10 in four of his five trips to Harbour Town, opening with rounds of 67 twice and a 66 last year when he ended up finishing second overall for the tournament. At River Highlands, Cantlay fired a 60 in his 2nd round in 2011. Cantlay has finished third and fourth in his last two starts. Let’s see if we can get him to first when the sun sets in Ponte Vedra Beach on Thursday.

    Sungjae Im (+4500)

    Im is similar to Cantlay in the sense that there are really no glaring weaknesses in his game. He does everything very well. I mentioned Harbour Town and TPC River Highlands. Sedgefield Country Club, home to the Wyndham Championship, is another course that shows a great deal of crossover success with TPC Sawgrass. In only four career trips, Im has finished second, sixth, ninth and 24th at the Wyndham, opening with rounds of 63, 66, 69, and 62. He ranks 17th on TOUR in Scoring Average, fourth in First Round Scoring Average, 32nd in Birdie Average, and 17th in Bogey Avoidance.

    Sungjae had cooled off a bit after finishing with two straight Top 10’s at Torrey Pines and in Phoenix, but he cut his Honda Classic finish position (T42) in half last week at Bay Hill (T21), missing out on a Top 20 by a shot. Over the last 36 rounds on Dye courses with Bermuda greens, Im ranks eighth in this field for Bogey Avoidance and 22nd in SG: Around the Green. He’s had great success in his career in the state of Florida – enough to take a shot at +4500 in my opinion.

    Tom Hoge (+9000)

    Tom Hoge is our only selection that will tee off in the late wave on Thursday, pegging it at 12:34 p.m. on the No. 10 tee. He is a guy I had a hunch about playing this week to win THE PLAYERS Championship with how good he is on approach. He’s had solid success here, finishing inside the Top 35 the last three seasons in a row and in 2022, he opened with a round of 66. In four of his last six visits to TPC River Highlands, he has opened with a round of 67 or better. Hoge has recorded top-10 finishes at The American Express in 2020 and 2022. The Stadium Course at PGA West is another Pete Dye design I gave some credence to this week as far as comps to Sawgrass. In 2020, Hoge opened with a 66 at the Stadium Course and closed with a 67 on Sunday. In 2022, he shot rounds of 66 and 68. Note that only two of the four rounds are played on the Dye track at that event.

    Eventually I backed off of him as a play to win the tournament because I don’t believe his form around the greens is currently up to snuff – he ranks 183rd on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Around the Green - but I do believe he has the chops to put a low round or two together. Hoge ranks 27th on TOUR in Scoring Average, 15th in First Round Scoring Average, 12th in Birdie Average, and 24th in Bogey Avoidance. Let’s count on my guess about his low round or two coming through on Day 1.

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