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23rd April 2024 6:15 am

“A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries."

The snow-free Players Championship

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As King Wenceslaus pops his snow shoes on, and sends some kid off to get the kindling, the snow continues to fall and lies deep and crisp, even here in Lambourn and Cheltenham. In the interest of my readers, I have ventured out to measure the depth of the snow to calculate how many mm of equivalent rain has arrived. Within a temperature range of  -1 to 0, one might expect approx 10″ of snow to equal 1″ of rain, so the current 3″ of snow on the roof of the second car I don’t drive, equals 7.62mm of rain. More is forecast, and I predict we’ll have Soft in places by this time next week.

While mentioning Cheltenham, you might wish to avail yourself of the list of my Festival statistics, which might help narrow your list of possible selections to something manageable. Click on the title for the new guide: The Donald Rumsfeld Guide to Cheltenham. I promise you – it is useful.

Inevitably in this snow, especially if you don’t have young clamouring to get toboggans out and skis on, one’s thoughts turn to warmer climes. This is undoubtedly the case judging by a recent competition and survey run by www.irishracing.com. According to research by the site, the cost of attending the Cheltenham Festival is the same as a two-week US holiday with a seven-day Caribbean cruise. When surveyed 1,539 adult sports fans across the UK and the Republic of Ireland, 79% of respondents revealed that they would take the US holiday and cruise instead of going to the Cheltenham Festival – possibly suggesting that the Festival may not be seen as the best value for money. Irish sports fans have a slightly greater preference for Cheltenham than Brits, with 22% in Ireland opting for Cheltenham and just 20% of UK respondents voting for the racing. There is a more significant split between men and women, with 19% of female respondents selecting Cheltenham, which rises to 23% for men. An IrishRacing.com spokesperson said: “These findings are very eye-opening for anyone that believes attending the Cheltenham Festival is good value for money. The survey results clearly show that given a choice, sports fans would rather have a US holiday and cruise instead of using the same amount of money to go to Cheltenham.” The website offered the fans the option to win either Cheltenham or USS getaways as a competition prize. Attending four days of the Cheltenham Festival costs an eye-watering £6,000, the same price as a two-night stay in Memphis, a tour of Graceland, four nights stay in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, a seven-night Caribbean cruise and return flights from the UK.

Talking of better things to do with one’s time than visiting Graceland, I shall be cocooned during the blizzards, watching the early Spring in Florida as I follow The Players Championship again. We had a rocky start to our golf season LTO with two failing to make the cut and four making double-digit finishes. Down 30 pts, we persevere as The Players gets underway at TPC Sawgrass on the tricky Stadium Course

Although technically, the Players Championship isn’t a major – the winner isn’t going to grumble when he picks up his $4½m cut of the $25m prize fund. The Players’ slogan as “the strongest field in golf” comes under slightly more scrutiny this year, given the notable LIV-based absentees, such as the defending champion Cam Smith, there is little doubt that it still holds the strongest field for an event outside of the majors. The top three finishers from last year’s event, including winner Cam Smith, are all prepping for their new season start on the LIV tour – but this is still one of the most exciting and challenging courses, (and yes, as per our post pic – the 17th hole is still an island par 3), making the winning of it a proper test of skills. So here are my tips to keep you warm until Monday morning.

TO WIN OUTRIGHT: As usual, Betfair and a dutching system will be my preference.

Jason Day (25-1):  The Australian is having a major resurgence, with five top-10 finishes in his past six events. He tied for 18th in the other. He also has been excellent at Sawgrass, with a 2016 victory and two top-10s since. He could make a real run at his first tour victory in almost five years.

Viktor Hovland (28-1): The Norwegian was in contention late at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, only to hit his second shot on the par-5 16th into the water and dash his chances. Still, Hovland should be up to the test at TPC Sawgrass. In finishing ninth a season ago, Hovland led the field in strokes gained tee to green despite a poor effort from his short game. He gained more than 14 strokes off the tee and on approach, and given the way he is striking the ball, a similar output is not out of the realm of possibility.

Justin Thomas (19-1): Thomas has played excellently in alternating appearances here, finishing in the top 12 in 2016, ’18 and ’21. He missed the cut in 2017 and was outside the top 30 in 2019 and ’22 after his 2021 victory. If the pattern holds, he’ll do well, and his elite short game will make a huge difference this week.

Will Zalatoris (33-1): Not a great API, but he improved throughout the tournament, ranked fifth in strokes gained off the tee as he continues to drive the ball brilliantly with a shorter driver. His approach play ticked up as the week progressed, and the tee-to-green test at TPC Sawgrass should be right up his alley. In his two previous appearances, Zalatoris has notched finishes of 21st and T-26.

Cameron Young (45-1): His T-10 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational marked his second consecutive quality outing as he finds the form that led him to a historic rookie season. Young ranked fourth in strokes gained tee to green at Bay Hill, and showed flashes of brilliance around the green. While he has not been a fixture on leaderboards this season, Young still has a pair of podium finishes in his last seven starts. Last year’s Players Championship was riddled with weather delays, so the missed cut in his lone appearance is a non-factor.

Max Homa (18-1): This should be an excellent spot for Homa. He tied for 13th last year with a final-round 66 and is in excellent form. He has seven top-25s and four top-10s this season, including two victories. Homa is second in strokes gained total and eighth in putting, a big reason he is fifth in scoring average.

Collin Morikawa (22-1) He has three top-10s and two missed cuts over his past five, but if he gets his putter going, he can contend here. He’s in the top 10 in strokes gained approach and tee to green. The two-time major champ also ranks third in driving accuracy, and keeping it in play is a must at Sawgrass.

A 30 pt punt as follows.

FIRST ROUND LEADER

I have also had a small go for 12 pts at my idea of who might be the First-Round Leader. The top 2 both owe us money – and I shall be very cross if they win on Sunday evening but thrilled if they lead on Friday morning!

 

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