ESPN predictions for who will win the 2022 Players

It has become a go-to thought each year when the Players Championship arrives. Anybody can win at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course because the track does not favor a certain player’s game. Well, it’s true. Look at the champions list — everyone from Tiger Woods to Tim Clark, Rory McIlroy to Fred Funk, Justin Thomas to Stephen Ames.

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So, no, this PGA Tour event isn’t an easy one to predict. Still, we gathered our experts to take a shot.

Matt Barrie, ESPN
Winner: Billy Horschel
Why he’ll win: Because golf makes no sense. Especially when a proud Florida native has never won a PGA tournament in his own state. Horschel’s game has been in good form. Including the Farmers, Billy Ho has finished: T-11, T-6, T-16 and T-2 last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks through. That time is this week at The Players.

Elizabeth Baugh,
Winner: Billy Horschel
Why he’ll win: This might be the one chance I get to go with Billy Horschel, so I’m taking it. He just came so close to snagging the title at the API and has had a solid start to his year. He’s made it clear how much a win on his home turf of Florida would mean, and since he’s warmed up, this might be the one.

David Bearman, ESPN Betting
Winner: Collin Morikawa
Why he’ll win: We will lead off one of the hardest golf events to handicap with what we do know: Morikawa is one of the best ball-strikers on Tour, one of the most consistent players on Tour and is always in the mix at big-time events. Morikawa, who is only making his second appearance at TPC Sawgrass leads the Tour in shots gained: total, is sixth tee-to-green, fourth on approach, eighth off the tee and fourth in putting, which is a huge improvement from 178th and 128th the past two years. In the last 19 months, Morikawa has won the PGA Championship, Open Championship, WGC-Workday Championship and finished 4th in the U.S. Open. Why not the “fifth major” too?

Michael Collins,
Winner: Sungjae Im

Why he’ll win: TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course suits no one. Don’t have to be a bomber but have to be long enough. Don’t have to hit every fairway and green, but you have to hit enough of them. You don’t have to be a great putter, but you have to be good enough. I can’t think of another golfer who matches this AND plays every week (it seems like). Im already has one win this season and has been one of the most consistent players over the past year. He’s missed two cuts since the week before last year’s U.S. Open.

Michael Eaves, ESPN
Winner: Rory McIlroy
Why he’ll win: After what he called a “crazy golf” setup at Bay Hill, Rory should feel much more at ease with the layout at Sawgrass — a place he won just three years ago. Oh, by the way, despite the frustration he felt at API, he still finished T-13.

Chris Fallica, ESPN
Winner: Daniel Berger

Why he’ll win: Some scar tissue to deal with after Sunday’s debacle at the Honda, but the Florida native is healthy physically and, after an opening-round 74 last year, grinded his way to a T-9 finish at Sawgrass. This course produces a variety of winning styles, and Berger, who is fifth on the tour in shots gained: tee-to-green, checks a lot of boxes.

Charlotte Gibson,
Winner: Viktor Hovland
Why he’ll win: Everyone struggled last weekend at Bay Hill, including Hovland, who managed to tie for second despite blundering in the bunkers and penciling bogeys aplenty. And yet, all signs point to the world No. 3 because he’s consistently on the rise. With three top-10 finishes and one win this season, the 24-year-old will capture his first elite-field finish this week at TPC Sawgrass.

Doug Kezirian, ESPN Betting
Winner: Matt Fitzpatrick
Why he’ll win: He is a bit lower on the betting board, around 35/1, but he’s ready to break through and notch that first PGA win. His approach game should keep him in it, and he’s performed well on Pete Dye courses the past few years.

Anita Marks, ESPN Betting
Winner: Collin Morikawa
Why he’ll win: He has finished top five in all three U.S. starts this season. The two most important metrics, he ranks in the top 12 — 12th in driving accuracy and fourth in approach. He is also fourth in putting since he switched to the saw putting grip. The move has paid off for him. Morikawa also ranks first in par-4 scoring and fourth in par-5 scoring, as well as 11th in scrambling. He has it all.

Andy North, ESPN
Winner: Viktor Hovland

Why he’ll win: He’s such a great striker of the ball, which is so important at Sawgrass. His short game is improving.

Nick Pietruszkiewicz,
Winner: Will Zalatoris
Why he’ll win: He was an odd left wiggle away from getting that first win at the Farmers Insurance in late January. And that came after a T-6 at The American Express. He’s been in the neighborhood. Now it’s time to buy. Sure, that iffy putting stroke makes me nervous, but he stripes it — first on tour in shots gained: approach the green — so he’ll have so many opportunities. He just needs the hole to get in the way a few times.

Mark Schlabach,
Winner: Collin Morikawa

Why he’ll win: Morikawa has already won two majors at the age of 25, winning the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park and the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in his first start in both events. Winning The Players requires every element of a player’s game, and few are better across the board than Morikawa. He ranks first in shots gained: total (2.514), eighth off the tee (.667), fourth approach the green (.915) and putting (.927) and sixth tee-to-green (1.587). He finished tied for 41st in his first start at the Stadium Course last year but shot 6-under 66 in the final round, a sign he figured things out.

Marty Smith, ESPN
Winner: Collin Morikawa

Why he’ll win: This dude is a smilin’ assassin. Certain athletes are born for the stage. Morikawa is one of them. He finished T-41 in 2021 but shot a final-round 6-under 66. He is emerging as an absolute superstar. The 2022 Players is the next brick in the path.

Curtis Strange, ESPN
Winner: Patrick Cantlay

Why he’ll win: Incredibly talented and smart, what you need on the quirky TPC.

Tom VanHaaren,
Winner: Jon Rahm

Why he’ll win: Rahm finished 6 shots back at the Players Championship in 2021. He finished 5 shots back in 2019, so it feels like he’s due to get over that hump and win one. He has more experience now in pressure situations, so I think he’ll come out on top.

Kevin Van Valkenburg,
Winner: Matt Fitzpatrick

Why he’ll win: I’ve never been a big believer in Fitzpatrick, but his game is growing on me, particularly because his approach play is so good. The Stadium Course at Sawgrass rewards precision over distance, and I like where he’s trending. It’s time for Fitzpatrick to grab the biggest win of his career.

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