• Betting Bunker

Els & Stricker to outshine Rory at Sawgrass

Josh Williams May 9, 2012
Ernie Els has three top-fives in his last five starts © Getty Images

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World No. 1 Rory McIlroy has launched a charm offensive ahead of the Players Championship, seeking to build a few bridges having controversially missed the tournament last year.

He opted to skip the unofficial fifth major in 2011, saying that the Pete Dye-designed Sawgrass course did not suit him, but now the planet's top-ranked player feels a duty to attend.

"Looking back, it wasn't one of my brightest moments [to miss it last year]," McIlroy said. "It's a very big tournament I'd love to win one day."

And taking a look at the field, which has attracted all the sport's star names, plenty of other players are in no doubt as to the tournament's enduring prestige.

I'm more than happy to turn my nose up at McIlroy given his comments about the track, and because I feel there's plenty of value to be had at longer odds this week.

Williams' wagers

  • Steve Stricker E/W - 40/1 at bet365
    Ernie Els E/W - 50/1 at bet365

Experience is a key factor at the Players: since 2005, the average number of starts of the seven champions is 9.57 - which makes sense, because Sawgrass can be an infuriating course, so it pays to have already got the anger out of your system in previous years.

Let's wheel out the veterans, then, starting with Steve Stricker. Looking at the statistics from previous iterations, scrambling has been tough, so it's important to give yourself birdie opportunities - and if you can't do that, then you need to battle hard for your pars.

That suits Stricker's profile perfectly: he is seventh on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation and, as a brilliant putter, is 13th in scrambling. He's also had plenty of visits to Sawgrass: 15, with six top-25s, including a tie for 12th last year. The cap fits.

Another veteran who I like is Ernie Els, a self-professed lover of Dye courses who, out of nowhere really, has been quietly returning to form. He was always a beautiful ball-striker, but intriguingly this season he has improved significantly in and around the greens, and topped the scrambling charts at his most recent two events.

He has eight top-20s at Sawgrass on his CV, and three top-fives in his last five starts, all of which makes him well worth a punt both here and in the ante-post market for the US Open.

Please note that odds are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

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Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk