Where to watch the Players Championship
Sky Sports Main Event and Golf, 11.30am Thursday
Jordan Spieth to miss cut
3pts 2-1 bet365
Rory McIlroy to win 12.56pm threeball
3pts 17-10 bet365, Hills
Russell Knox to win 4.50pm threeball
2pts 6-4 general
Alex Noren to win 6.40pm threeball
2pts 6-5 general
Xander Schauffele to miss cut
1pt 12-5 bet365, Coral, Ladbrokes
Keith Mitchell first-round leader
0.5pt each-way 66-1 Betfair, Power
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Players Championship first-round preview
The three best players in the world have been grouped together for the first two rounds of the Players Championship – Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy tee off alongside each other at 12.56pm UK and Ireland time on Thursday.
McIlroy may be looking forward to the contest more than his playing partners and the 2019 Sawgrass champion can be backed at 17-10 to outscore the two men above him in the world rankings.
McIlroy was delighted to see his A-game returning at Bay Hill last week, where he bounced back from a round-one 73 to finish second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, beaten by just a shot. As McIlroy flourished over the final three rounds, Rahm was eight over par, and the Spaniard has never made a significant impact in the Players Championship. Neither has Scheffler.
The same can be said of Jordan Spieth, who appeals at 2-1 to miss the cut in this top-class line-up. From 2015 onwards, Spieth’s Sawgrass record reads MC-MC-MC-41-MC-48-MC. And in 2020, when the tournament was abandoned after one round because of Covid, Spieth carded a Thursday 75 which left him in 125th place.
Spieth admitted in his media conference that he likes to shape balls and hit feel shots, preferring the challenge of Kapalua and Augusta to the test of precision at Sawgrass, where so many water hazards demand straight hitting.
Throw in the fact that Spieth appeared to be nursing a lower-back injury during the final round at Bay Hill on Sunday and the chances of another Players flop seem high.
In addition to McIlroy, two other first-round threeball options appeal – Florida-based Europeans Russell Knox and Alex Noren can do the business at a course they know well.
Knox has been struggling for form, but it was a similar story last year until he finished sixth at Sawgrass. The Scot can prove too steady for Kevin Tway and Chesson Hadley (4.50pm), while Noren can keep his scorecard cleaner than Thomas Detry and Max McGreevy (6.40pm).
Noren, tenth in the 2017 Players and twice a top-five finisher in the Honda Classic in Florida, finished fourth in the Houston Open in November, then second in the DP World Tour Championship and fifth in Abu Dhabi. This week, he may sparkle close to home.
There have been three completed Players Championships since the tournament moved back to March and Xander Schauffele has missed the cut in all of them. The Californian last week admitted he feels out of his comfort zone in Florida and that he is considering moving to the Sunshine State to improve his performance there. The West Coast man seems a big price to miss another Sawgrass cut this week, while Keith Mitchell is worth chancing for first-round leader.
Mitchell, who won the Honda Classic in Florida in 2019, is driving his ball better than anyone on the PGA Tour. From a 7.23am local-time launchpad in the forecast morning calm, the in-form powerhouse should set up countless birdie opportunities.
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