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Highlights on Off The Ball

Virtual Insanity! John Duggan's Golf Tips for The Players Championship

Welcome to Virtual Insanity, where we spend virtual money to try and win virtual money on golf be...

Virtual Insanity! John Duggan'...

Virtual Insanity! John Duggan's Golf Tips for The Players Championship

Welcome to Virtual Insanity, where we spend virtual money to try and win virtual money on golf betting. It's that simple!

We had a 66/1 winner last week as Ryan Brehm won the Puerto Rico Open by six shots!

This is what we said about him in the preview column.

A horse for the course in Puerto Rico is Ryan Brehm, who was tied for 11th last year, improving on tie for 35th the year before. He has made four cuts in a row on the Korn Ferry Tour, including a top ten. A lot of players in this field have a string of missed cuts beside their names, the golf equivalent of PU, and Brehm is not one of those players, so he has prospects of a top eight result or better.

So profit on this feature to 23.5% for 2022 as the virtual pot is at €1235 from €1000 entering this week's PGA Tour event of focus, The Players Championship in Florida.

The Players Championship is played at the Stadium Course at the TPC of Sawgrass, a par 72 designed by Pete Dye that tests every facet of a golfer's game.

It's known as the 'fifth major' as the field is very strong - the only significant absentees this week are Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau.

It's a parkland course with water and the signature hole, the par 3 island 17th, guarantees drama all four days.

The event has been moved back to March from a position in the calendar in May.

I have always felt this is a ball strikers' course - but the roll of honour is varied - from household names Woods, Mickelson and Rory McIlroy to Fred Funk, Stephen Ames and Craig Perks.

Weather is going to play a big role this week - there are thunderstorms forecast on Thursday and Friday, strong winds on Saturday and a cold day on Sunday.

We are dealing with the deepest field of the year here, so it's not as easy a puzzle as Augusta, for example.

2019 winner McIlroy, Honda Classic runner up Shane Lowry and Masters hopeful Seamus Power are the Irish players in the field.

The tournament starts at 11.45am Irish time on Thursday.

Be sure to shop around, with bookmakers such as Paddy Power, Betfair, Betfred, Ladbrokes and Coral offering 1/5 the odds for your pick to get into the top 8 places. Other bookies such as SKY Bet and Boyle Sports are offering terms of up to 11 places but often with less generous outright odds.

Our headline selection this week is Patrick Cantlay for €10 each way at 20/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places, William Hill). 

I was thinking of putting up American Patrick Cantlay as my sole selection this week and leaving it at that, but then I considered how Luke List and Ryan Brehm became winners from small each way plays. So I am strongly headlining Cantlay in my staking plan this week, but leaving some wiggle room for place opportunities with other golfers at massive prices.

Cantlay is the Rodney Dangerfield of golf in my eyes - 'he don't get no respect' from the bookmakers and talking heads. Now to be fair to his peers, they did vote the Californian 2021 PGA Tour Player of the Year after he claimed the FedEx Cup following his win at the Tour Championship.

Cantlay won four times on the PGA Tour last season, took care of Shane Lowry in the Ryder Cup singles and found love from the fans, who have branded him 'Patty Ice' for his cool demeanour. I think the love is important because the unassuming Cantlay has quietly driven himself to the top of the game by getting maximum return on his immense talent. There are no obvious weaknesses in his game.

The 29 year old was the world amateur number one for 55 weeks. He took low amateur honours at the 2011 US Open, but didn't play on the PGA Tour at all in 2015 and 2016 due to a serious back problem and during that time, he lost his best friend and caddie Chris Roth in a hit and run accident. Cantlay has overcome adversity to put himself in a position now to win big tournaments, major tournaments. He has three top fives already this season and when one digs deeper, he was tied seventh at Sawgrass through 54 holes in 2017 and tied eighth with one round to go in 2018. He has spoken of his liking for the course and I believe his patience can navigate any testing conditions this week. He's a strong headline pick for me.

Our second selection is Brooks Koepka for €4 each way at 35/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places, William Hill).

Four time major champion Brooks Koepka appears injury free now, and he is a danger to everyone in the bigger events. Koepka has the killer instinct, so bottle is not in question. His desire sometimes has been, but he seems in a place again where he can lift trophies. The 31 year old closed with a 63 in the final round at Sawgrass in 2018, when he finished tied 11th, so I don't believe this course is an issue. Kopeka also knows how to negotiate tricky conditions - winning the US Open at the windy Shinnecock Hills. He enters this week off the back of a tie for third in Phoenix and he shot 69 on the final day of the Honda Classic to finish inside the top 20. In both of those tournaments, his ball striking was strong. He just needs to hole some putts at Sawgrass to contend and one knows that if he's hanging around, he has the aura and the track record to win The Players.

Our third selection is Matt Fitzpatrick for €4 each way at 35/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places, William Hill).

Last week we made England's Matt Fitzpatrick our headline pick at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and he finished in the graveyard for each way punters - tied for ninth. We go again! Fitzpatrick can be somewhat infuriating with his approach shots, but only because he's so accurate off the tee and a fantastic putter. He has four top 12 finishes on the bounce and his best Sawgrass finish was last year, when finishing in a tie for ninth. Challenging weather won't be an issue, because he's a grinder - and winning a big tournament shouldn't be beyond him as Fitzpatrick is a twice winner of the DP World Tour Championship and a former US Amateur champion. It's time for his first professional win in the United States and no better place to start than at The Players Championship.

Our fourth selection is Emiliano Grillo for €1 each way at 200/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places, William Hill).

Argentina's Emiliano Grillo is not the worst each way longshot - he was in the hunt for a strong finish on his last appearance at the Genesis Invitational before slipping away with a closing 73 - his tie for 21st not a true reflection of his performance. Grillo has always been an excellent ball striker, but a shaky putter - these overseeded greens at Sawgrass in March do level the playing field however. He was in contention to win The Players back in 2017, but faded with a final round of 75. Last year reflected greater consistency from the 29 year old - he was 59th in the Fed Ex rankings, helped by a tie for second at Hilton Head (another Pete Dye design) and a decent showing at the Open Championship. You never know!

Our fifth selection is Dylan Frittelli for €1 each way at 250/1. (1/5 the odds the first 8 places, Paddy Power, Betfair, Betfred).

There is no rhyme or reason when it comes to Dylan Frittelli - after a decent if unspectacular early career on the European Tour, he tried his luck in the USA. His best result in 2019 before the John Deere Classic was a tie for 18th - and he won that John Deere Classic with a final round of 64. In late 2020, he was tied fifth in his rookie appearance at the Masters and also placed fifth at last year's Open Championship. I have noticed that he's been producing glimpses of form of late - a tie for 16th at the Honda Classic for example - and on his debut appearance at Sawgrass last year, he finished tied 22nd with two rounds of 68 in his effort. The conditions for the Masters in 2020 were soft and The Players conjures outsiders who contend. Frittelli is my idea of someone who will be in the hunt on the back nine on Sunday or miss the cut. My gut tells me it's more likely to be the former than the latter.

Our final selection is Taylor Pendrith for €1 each way at 250/1. (1/5 the odds the first 11 places, SKY Bet).

All rookies have to get their head around the PGA Tour, but Canadian Taylor Pendrith is not doing too bad a job. A second place finisher four times on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, he should have won on his fourth PGA start of the season in Bermuda, an event which was played in difficult conditions. A tie for 16th at the recent Farmers Insurance Open was encouraging, and Pendrith then produced three rounds of 69 at the Honda Classic. It all got away from him a bit at Bay Hill last week as he took 78 strokes in round four, but a potentially soft Sawgrass may suit his strong game off the tee. He is ninth for driving distance and with four par fives on offer, he could build momentum. I feel 50/1 to get into the first 11 isn't a bad price. Oh Canada!

So that's €42 wagered virtually on this week's Players Championship.

Please gamble responsibly, never bet more than you can afford, and good luck!

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Golf JD John Duggan Virtual Insanity