2023 PLAYERS Championship First Round Leader Picks: Sungjae Im Starts Faster Than Anyone

THE PLAYERS Championship is one of the most volatile events on the calendar. TPC Sawgrass doesn’t allow players to hit a ton of drivers and instead hits players over the head with plenty of technical driving chutes and small Bermuda greens. Patience can be tested, but accurate drivers of the ball who are able to get the speed of the greens early can do well — especially in Round 1, when the pressure is at its lowest. For trend purposes, the last eight events have all featured at least one morning first-round leader, while the last three events have featured morning-only first-round leaders.

That is significant, as the last three seasons have seen the event make a move away from May and into March, where the course will theoretically play softer most seasons due to the cooler weather. There is not a ton of weather to note for Thursday, but winds may creep up a bit in the afternoon. As such, for first-round leader purposes, morning-wave players will be the focus. With the deep field and the help of OddsShopper’s golf betting tools, there will be plenty of value options for THE PLAYERS Championship to explore in that wave alone.

2023 PLAYERS Championship First Round Leader Bets

Sungjae Im First Round Leader (+4600) at BetMGM

Im will be playing for the fifth week in a row this week, so there is a little concern that fatigue will be a factor. Still, he has been remarkably consistent in 2023 and has displayed strong confidence on the greens in most of his starts. Im also ranks among the best at starting fast. He is fourth in Round 1 scoring this season and shot two rounds of 66 at Sawgrass in 2021 on his way to a 17th-place finish.

The odds this week also make Im a nice target for Thursday. He is typically going off in the 35-1 to 40-1 range for the outright market, but considering how strong his first-round scoring stats are — and his relatively lackluster conversion rate on outright wins (two wins in four seasons) — his first-round leader odds make more sense to target this week. He is a solid way to start off cards and a player who should be geared up for a good opener this Sunday given how well he has played to begin 2023.

Patrick Cantlay First Round Leader (+3500) at DraftKings

The outright market on Cantlay this week has him priced at around +1800 to +2000 at many sportsbooks, so looking at him in other markets this week has appeal. The +3500 first-round leader odds also get more appealing considering he goes off early in Round 1 and therefore is in the preferred wave. Cantlay has looked exceedingly strong in each of his last two starts, gaining multiple strokes off the tee and on approach at both the Genesis and Arnold Palmer. He finished fourth last week but was never really in contention on Sunday at Bay Hill and should be somewhat better rested than a lot of the other combatants. His history at Sawgrass isn’t overly appealing, but he also comes into this year’s event with far better prep, having played last week. He makes sense as an elite name to target for Thursday’s round and should be eager to put to bed his poor performances at this event.

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PLAYERS Championship First Round Leader Longshot Bets

Long-shot bets in the first-round leader market hit all the time on the PGA Tour. You can always use OddsShopper’s tools to check out and compare odds across the major sites.

Emiliano Grillo First Round Leader (+13000) at DraftKings

Emiliano Grillo First Round Top 5 (+2100) at BetMGM

There is no doubt that Grillo is one of the most volatile players on the PGA Tour — capable of shooting 76 or 64 in any singular round. He is also a supreme ball striker who can be a great momentum target when he gets in a groove with his irons and off-tee game. Last week at Bay Hill, he gained a mouth-watering 10.6 strokes ball striking alone and over five strokes on approach. His putting was so stupendously bad that he still barely cracked the top 40, but there is little doubt that Grillo is coming in with confidence after hitting the ball that well for four rounds. He shot 65 in Round 1 at Sawgrass in 2018 and 2019 and has plenty of experience at the venue. With an early tee time and some great top-5 and outright odds for Day 1, he makes for a great low-investment target this week in the first-round leader department.

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Nate Lashley First Round Leader (+18000) at DraftKings

Nate Lashley First Round Top 5 (+2100) at BetMGM

Lashley comes in with sneaky good form after finishing third in Puerto Rico last week. He gained an eye-popping 12.5 strokes total in Puerto Rico and has generally been playing some very underrated golf of late. He has gained strokes on approach in every single start in 2023 and ranks fifth over the last 24 rounds in proximity stats. Lashley does not have the typical experience profile for Sawgrass, but from a style perspective, he is the exact type of golfer that succeeds at this event.

Lashley posted a top-10 at Waialae for the Sony Open earlier in the season, a course that also features smaller Bermuda greens and compares somewhat well to Sawgrass. He is trending well on his approaches, is accurate off the tee and has shown some huge confidence with his putter of late. Lashley goes off early on Day 1, and with some enormous odds attached, he makes perfect sense to include as both a top-5 bet and an outright target to round out first-round leader bets.

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