The 46th Players Championship, SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC 12 conference tourney predictions

Tiger tries to win here again after winning in 2001 and 2013 (Photo, Syracuse.com).

Tiger tries to win here again after winning in 2001 and 2013 (Photo, Syracuse.com).

The Players Championship

TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida (7,189 yards, Par 72)

Architect, Pete Dye

Defending champion; Webb Simpson. Shot 18 under to win be 4 shots over Charl Schwartzel, Xander Schauffele and Jimmy Walker. Doubled the 72nd hole to shoot 73, but shot 66, 63, 68 to have a commanding lead heading into the back 9 on Sunday.

Last week: Francesco Molinari shot 64 on Sunday at the Arnie Invitational to win it. Molinari was 5 shots behind Matthew Fitzpatrick heading into Sunday, but posted a 64 early, and the lead held. Molinari finished -12 and won by 2 shots over Fitzpatrick. He has now won 3 times in his last 12 starts on the PGA Tour including winning the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie last year by 2 shots over Kevin Kisner, Rory, Justin Rose and Schauffele.

Key holes:

No.9, Par 5, 583 yards

This hole is considered by many to be one of the finest par 5’s in the country. A large lake and bunker to the right of the fairway collect wayward drives while woods to the left hinder second shots. Second shots are critical here as a long iron or fairway wood are required to go to the right side of the fairway.. To the left, a fairway bunker and large oak trees crowd the small second shot landing area. The green is narrow and slopes severely from the front to the back right. A severely steep bunker guards the left side and the backside of the green. This can make or break an outward 9.

No. 12, Par 4, 302 yards

Redesigned in 2017. players can go for this hole, but it’s not without its perils. A lake guards the left front of the hole, so a player going for the green has to contend with that. An overcooked drive will be in the water. There is a large bunker the players will need to clear on the left side of the fairway. There is a landing area that stretches 100 yards to the green over the bunker. The green slopes severely towards the water, so good approaches and chips will be at a premium

No.16, Par 5, 523

This short par 5 will give many players the opportunity to reach the green in 2. A fairway wood or long iron will be required for the second shot. There is water on the right, a bunker front right and a challenging landing area with trees on the left where up and down can be tough. The pin on Sunday is usually in the front right portion of the green inviting players to go at it but with the fear factor of going in the water or the sand, though the sand can be managed for the most part, but the players could be short sided in the bunker making for a difficult up and down. A birdie here will be necessary for a player leading the tournament or in contention. An eagle would be exceptional as danger lurks on the next hole.

No. 17, Par 3, 137 yards

This is arguably the most famous hole in golf. The island hole requires the player using anywhere from an 7 to 8 iron to a sand wedge depending on the wind. It’s March, so it’s more windy with winds at 10-15 all weekend, but good weather overall. But the wind WILL be a factor and with the pressure ramped up to the max, this will test the player’s nerves and fortitude. Should be a fantastic watch on Sunday.

No.18, Par 4, 462

An awesome finishing hole, the most exciting in golf besides the majors. If the leader or contender survives the island hole, this hole presents another massive challenge off the tee. Water runs all along the left side of the hole, and with wind gusting right to left that could be problematic. There’s an oak tree 280 yards out on the right and if the player hits it right, he’s going to have to contend with the trees where a bogey is certainly in the cards. You’ve just got to hit it straight or hit it right to left without contending with the water. Players might try to cut it over the lake, but that could turn out to be costly. The second shot will be highly pressurized, and is critical to winning the tournament. If the leader gets it on, and he’s not close, he’ll have to 2 putt to win, and that’s no guarantee, as 2 putts from distance are challenging. After the elite and treacherous 17th, the 18th leads to spectacular drama.


Weather

Pretty nice. Sunny most days with a chance of showers Saturday. Highs in the mid to high 70’s Thursday and Friday, a little cooler on Saturday and Sunday with temperatures in the mid 60’s. That could impact shots on 17 with the cooler March air. Winds at 10-16 will be a factor.

TV:

Thursday-Friday: 12-6 PM CT, Golf Channel

Saturday: 1-6 PM CT, NBC

Sunday: 12-5 PM, NBC


Winner

This is maybe the most unpredictable tournament in golf. This stat is pretty telling. Dustin Johnson, 10 starts, 0 top 10’s. Justin Rose, 15 starts, 1 Top 10. Brooks Koepka, 4 starts, 0 Top 10’s. Justin Thomas, 4 starts, 1 top 10.

It doesn’t favor the power hitter. It’s more about accuracy and the short game.

All those guys will be in the hunt. I don’t like Tiger’s chances. His neck kept him out of the Arnie and he struggles physically these days. His putting has been pretty lousy too lately. He had 66 putts in the last 2 rounds at the WGC Mexico Championship. He’s working with a putting coach now, Matt Killen, who’s worked with guys like JT and J.B. Holmes and has had reasonable success with them. I don’t see that being enough for Tiger this week. I don’t see Phil in the hunt either.

While it’s an unpredictable tournament, I’ve got to predict it, so I’ll go with the hottest player in the world right now, and, as my man Walter Pittman says, I’m going to take a big bowl of-

Francesco Molinari

Like Molinari to be hoisting the trophy Sunday evening at TPC Sawgrass (Photo, Golf Digest).

Like Molinari to be hoisting the trophy Sunday evening at TPC Sawgrass (Photo, Golf Digest).

College basketball conference championship predictions

SEC Tournament

Semifinals, Noon and 2:30 PM CT Saturday, ESPN

In the semis, I like the Auburn Tigers to defeat the LSU Bengal Tigers, 76-74. The Auburn Tigers are hot going 3-0 in March with victories over State and UT at home and a road victory over the Crimson Tide, and the upheaval at LSU with the Will Wade suspension will be too much for the Bengal Tigers to overcome.

In the other semi, I like the Kentucky Wildcats to reach the finals again defeating the Tennessee Vols, 70-67.

Championship Game

Sunday, Noon CT, ESPN, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

I think it’ll be great to be an Auburn Tiger on Sunday. Pearly and the Tigers defeat Kentucky after losing twice to them during the regular season. It’s really hard to beat a team 3 times. Just ask No.1 Gonzaga, which had crushed Saint Mary’s in the regular season both times only to lose last night in the West Coast Conference Championship game, 60-47. Like Pearl and the Tigers.

Auburn 78, Kentucky 76


Pearl and the Tigers capture the SEC Championship (Photo, Sports Illustrated).

Pearl and the Tigers capture the SEC Championship (Photo, Sports Illustrated).

ACC Championship

Saturday, 7:30 PM CT, ESPN,

Spectrum Center, Charlotte

Virginia 72, Duke 70


BIG Ten Championship, United Center, Chicago.

Sunday, 2:30 PM CT, CBS

Michigan 72, Michigan State 68

BIg 12 Championship

Saturday, 5 PM CT, ESPN, Sprint Center, Kansas City

Texas Tech 62, Kansas State 58

PAC-12 Championship

Saturday, 9:30 PM CT ESPN T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

Arizona State 82, Washington 80