Expert picks: Our staff selects Players Championship favorites and sleepers

May 8, 2018

Who will win the Players Championship and take home its record first-place check? We asked our experts to pick a winner and a sleeper who could surprise.

Joe Passov: Rickie Fowler is going to win the 2018 Players Championship. He knocked hard on the door at the Masters, was right there at the Wells Fargo until a so-so final round, and he knows how to get it done at Sawgrass. He’s due — again. Sleeper pick is Rafa Cabrera Bello. Slow start this year with only a T3 in Mexico as a highlight, but he’s so solid and had a T4 at the Players in 2017. He might just find the magic this week.

Michael Bamberger: Alex Noren: a shot-maker, on a shot-makers course, and one of the best players in the world. A future Ryder Cupper you should get to know. An intense and interesting guy. Sleeper: Alex Noren. It’s not exactly like his name is dominating your grill-room chats, is it? He’s Swedish, by the way.

Alan Bastable: Michael’s right. A Swede will win this week, although he picked the wrong one. Henrik Stenson is the obvious choice. Did you know he’s leading the Tour this season both in driving accuracy and greens in reg percentage? Both those skills will serve him well at treacherous Sawgrass. (Bonus points if you also remembered he T-5’ed at the Masters.) Sleeper: Alex Noren.  

Josh Sens: Fowler: He’s been in fine form lately, and now it’s back to the scene of his biggest win. I’ll take him by a nose over Sergio. Sleeper: Kevin Kisner. Rounding out the trio in what amounts to a 2015 redux, I like Kisner as a dark horse on a course that calls less for bombing than it does for the kind of position golf he plays.

Dylan Dethier: Rory McIlroy wins the Players Championship! He’s going to get hot on the greens and dominate the par-5s. Can’t wait. Was leaning Cabrera Bello before Joe stole him from me, but instead gimme Francesco Molinari. He’s had a run of solid, unspectacular finishes and has a nose for Sawgrass. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on page 1 of the leaderboard come Sunday.

Jessica Marksbury: I’m picking Sergio to win this week. And wait, before you write me off as crazy because he’s missed his last three cuts, consider this: he’s a former Players champ with a great track record at Sawgrass. He also generally plays pretty well in Florida and I think this week is a prime opportunity for him to get his season back on track. My sleeper pick is Bryson DeChambeau (I’m still counting him as hovering under the radar). He’s been having a fantastic season and is starting to contend on a semi-regular basis. I like the chances his meticulous and mathematical approach will have on a potentially cruel and punishing course like Sawgrass.

Jeff Ritter: I loved how Jason Day slammed the door at the Wells Fargo, and he’s the kind of player who’s proven that he can get hot and stay hot. Also, he’s a past winner at Sawgrass. With his mother’s health problems no longer a distraction, I think he goes back-to-back and wins one for her on Mother’s Day. Sleepers are fun for this event because the Players has a funny way of serving as a breakthrough for guys without major titles. I’ll take a shot on Brian Harman, who has quietly rung up seven top 10s in 14 starts this year and is absolutely backing up his breakout from 2017. He only has two career Ws and I think another one is coming somewhere soon. Maybe this is the week.

Sean Zak: Winner: Emiliano Grillo. Yep, while you guys want to stick with your top 10 chalk picks, I’m going with Grillo. After struggling last year, he’s dialed his game back in again. Grillo is putting as well as he has for his entire career and has always been a great ball-striker. Will he win? Who knows. But when he does, be sure to tweet about my prophesy. Sleeper: Adam Hadwin. He’s notched six straight top-25 finishes. It’s very easy to expect a solid performance from him, the new age Matt Kuchar. With anything decent he’ll rise into the top 40 in the World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Josh Berhow: T2, T7, T9, 1, 17, 8 — Those are Patrick Reed’s last six starts. I pick Patrick Reed. He edges Jon Rahm. As for my sleeper, gimme Ian Poulter, who had a close call last year and has always played pretty well at TPC Sawgrass.