Kurt Kitayama held off an impressive group of contenders on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Two of the top three players in the world were right there with him to the very end, but he birdied two of his final three holes to close out his first career TOUR win.
It feels like we’ve already had a stretch of mini-majors to start the year, but the TOUR now turns to the unofficial fifth major — The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. This is always one of the great tournaments of the year as it is an open door to many different styles of play and different contenders. The 2023 tournament will be unique for a number of reasons, but most notably on the front end is the void left by defending champion Cameron Smith and seemingly all of the highlights from that winning run.
All of the current stars of the TOUR will be on the course and competing for the biggest purse of the season. All of that sets up to be another memorable week around Pete Dye’s signature course and the most famous hole in golf — the par-3 17th. I’ll be looking for players showing form, but not necessarily course history as even former champions have their share of missed cuts and poor finishes on this course. The ability to hit all shots and play well in all aspects tee-to-green, as well as get hot with the putter, will be key to starting to build our card this week for The Players.
Tom Kim +5000 (Bet365)
I’ve been following this number on Tom Kim for The Players since the start of the year. I almost took it a couple of times, but I’m glad I waited as his play the past few weeks has caused it to drift. I don’t want to discount the fact that he hasn’t had the best of finishes lately, but I like what I saw from him at the Arnold Palmer Iinvitational this past week. His Sunday included a round where he shot 2-under and gained 2.64 shots on the field with his ball striking. He’ll be able to build off of that momentum into this week, where I think his game is a perfect fit for TPC Sawgrass.
Kim is a really accurate player off the tee and excels on approach, especially with his wedges. This is a course that won’t punish him for a being a little shorter off the tee than many of the other top players in the world and it will allow him to play to his strengths. While there may be some concern about him making his debut in this event, I think he will benefit greatly from having Rickie Fowler’s former caddie, Joe Skovron, to guide him through his first tournament rounds at The Players. Skovron was there with Fowler when he won in 2015 and his experience around this course will be vital for Kim to just play his game. That all adds up to me putting Kim on my card at this mid-range number.
Jason Day +5000 (Bet365)
There are a couple of big comeback stories that have risen to the forefront early this year and Jason Day is certainly one of them. I have been hesitant to buy in on it because we have seen him flash at times in the past, but now, after his fourth consecutive top 10, I’ll be looking to buy on the Australian going into this weekend. This is a tournament that has always suited his game and that certainly proved to be the case when he won this event in 2016. There’s no reason he can’t be a contender once again and this is a solid number, though I admittedly wouldn’t go much lower than this for a guy looking for his first win since 2018.
Si Woo Kim +6600 (PointsBet)
There are seemingly two ways that things go in a given week for Si Woo Kim — he either contends for the win, or posts a big number and is a withdraw risk. The good news is the outright market is right where I want that type of volatility as the weeks where he is near the top will immediately dwarf those at the bottom if he comes through with a win. I admittedly was hoping for a bit of a stronger number and will wait to see if any books reset him to longer odds on Monday, but this is right on the edge of a good number for him this week.
Kim finished a middling T39 last week at Bay Hill where he ended any hopes of a top finish when he posted a quadruple-bogey nine on Saturday. The part that has my interest though is what the South Korean did after that as he had just one more blemish amongst seven birdies in his final 30 holes of the weekend.
He really showed some solid ball-striking form outside of those two holes, which lost him more than 5.5 shots on approach, and really skew the numbers going into the new week. Kim has won this event before in some really tough weather and has the game to challenge for another title if he can carry some of his momentum from the weekend into Sawgrass.
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