Players Championship: R1 preview and three-ball tips for Sawgrass

Golf
Ben Martin: Well worth backing at anything odds-against
Ben Martin: Well worth backing at anything odds-against

Ben Coley looks ahead to the first round of the PLAYERS Championship, where he's found a very strong fancy.

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6pts Ben Martin to win his three-ball at 11/8

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Ben Martin to beat Robert Garrigus and Derek Fathauer

By far the best bet on day one of the PLAYERS Championship is Ben Martin to get the better of out-of-form pair Robert Garrigus and Derek Fathauer.

Martin is an unspectacular golfer in unspectacular form himself, but he's made eight cuts from 10 events this year, is a self-confessed Pete Dye fan and very nearly won this event when fourth on his debut three years ago.

A missed cut in 2016 might not be ideal but he bounced back with 30th place last year and his no-frills game is the sort which so often thrives at TPC Sawgrass, where power isn't much of a weapon at all.

Garrigus is one of the PGA Tour's biggest hitters, so any venue which takes away his advantage from the tee is unlikely to suit. There are some exceptions to that, but Sawgrass is not one of them: in eight visits, he's missed seven cuts and the exception saw him finish a lowly 73rd.

The 40-year-old opened with a round of 85 here on his debut and closed with a round of 80 on his last visit. A scoring average of 75.5 is almost four shots higher than Martin's and demonstrates that while one player has the game for the course, the other does not.

Garrigus also arrives in miserable form. He shot 80-78 in Texas when last teeing it up on his own, while at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans he and Harold Varner missed the cut after a second-round 78. While Martin has made eight cuts in 10 starts this year, Garrigus has missed six in 11.

Fathauer finished 17th here when Martin took fourth, but that really is the only positive. He's one of the most out-of-form players in the field, shooting 83-80 last week, 82-73 in Texas, 81-76 in the Heritage. Repeat: this PGA Tour golfer has shot 80 or more in four of his last six rounds, including all three openers.

There are two risks with this bet. One is that Martin plays so poorly that one of the other two outscores him by default. The other is that strange things happen in every sport, every day. That aside, he should be odds-on and then some.

Zach Johnson to beat William McGirt and Brian Gay

I've made the case for Johnson in my pre-tournament preview - although the price has now well and truly gone as he's been popular with various writers - and he can make the sort of solid start which should account for William McGirt and Brian Gay.

Without repeating what I've written elsewhere, Johnson boasts an excellent record at Sawgrass, where in 13 visits he's made the weekend 12 times, and on 10 of those occasions he's shot par or better on Thursday.

His current run of strong starts here stands at six, five of which were under-par along with one round of 72, and anything in that region should be good enough. For good measure, he's seventh on the PGA Tour in round one scoring.

McGirt has been in awful form all year and while there have been flashes from Gay, top-10 finishes in Phoenix and at Pebble Beach are fading memories now. He also owns a poor Sawgrass record with 12th place in 2011 his only top-30 in 14 visits.

Vaughn Taylor to beat Bryson DeChambeau and Kevin Chappell

If you are looking for an outsider worth a small bet, consider former Ryder Cup player Vaughn Taylor to beat Bryson DeChambeau and Kevin Chappell.

Both DeChambeau and Chappell have designs on this year's Ryder Cup team, which Taylor does not, and they're two of the very best ball-strikers on the circuit. If either has a hot day with the putter, the bet likely loses.

However, Chappell has been disappointing this spring and it's unclear whether another niggling injury has fully cleared up. The type of player who absolutely is prone to the odd shocker, one who has not been starting well all year, it's not out of the question that he plays himself out of it on day one as was the case with an opening 77 in 2015.

DeChambeau is in great form and deserves favouritism, but he did open with a round of 75 last week and of the three, it's Taylor who ranks highest in this year's first-round scoring statistics.

There are some big negatives for Taylor to overcome, chiefly his recent record at Sawgrass, but he was eighth here at his peak and is capable of a good day when we need it. He wouldn't by any means be a strong fancy, but 9/2 is generous if you can get it - he'd be more a 3/1 chance.

Posted at 2055 BST on 09/05/18

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