Known as the Tournament Players Championship until 1988, The Players Championship, or The Players as it is commonly known as, is dubbed the fifth major by most American commentators though on this side of the Atlantic it is viewed as a marquee PGA Tour which attracts a very strong field. This year’s tournament is no exception in terms of field strength with the top 10 ranked golfers in the world in the field and also the 4 current major champions.
TPC at Sawgrass’s Stadium Course plays host to the event and has done so since 1982 when it was moved from Sawgrass County Club. The Stadium Course, designed by Pete and Alice Dye, is famed for the 17th hole named “Island Green” which provides the iconic image of the event and also the most daunting tee shot on the course, since 2003 there have been 481 balls in the water which equates to 11% of all shot attempts at 17. The course itself is typical of a Pete Dye designed course, well bunkered and with plenty of risk/reward opportunities, all 4 par 5’s are moderate in length by modern standards so provide a good scoring opportunity and with 8 of the last 10 renewals being won with a score of -10 or better, it is certainly a course which favours players who can make plenty of birdies.
Sawgrass has been hit a band of heavy rain and the course has been closed to the public to allow it chance to drain in time for the start of the event. Forecast for the four days of competition is set fair with warm temperatures, light winds and the only light rain is forecast to fall on Thursday afternoon and during spells on Sunday. Conditions should be prefect for scoring and similar to those experienced last year when Matt Kuchar recorded a two stoke victory to gain the biggest victory of his career. His victory came just a month after his 3rd place finish at The Masters which represents his best performance in a major and it was his first victory since 2010 when victorious at The Barclays which lends weight to the fact that, despite names like Stephen Ames and Henrik Stenson seeming like surprise winners, all recent winners have experienced victory in a highly ranked non-major championship prior to their Players victory.
As this the first article being published for clean-club.co.uk, I will provide a guide as to how the articles will work in terms of highlighting players to follow for a tournament. Each week I will reflect on the chances of the big name players in the week’s tournament and I will also highlight 5 players I feel are somewhat under the radar but capable of having a good week., I will also name the player I think most likely to win the event in question. Clearly this week there is no shortage of big name players but much of the attention will inevitably be on the games three biggest names, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson and it makes sense to reflect on their individual chances as a starting point.
Tiger Woods will be making his first appearance since his controversial 4th place finish at The Masters, I am not going to go over old ground and discuss the drop incident in any depth, the decision was made and Tiger didn’t win the tournament so I don’t feel it an issue now. Tiger’s record at Sawgrass is patchy, he has never missed the cut but he has withdrawn from the event on two occasions. He has won the tournament on one previous occasion but it is clear that it is not a course he consistently plays well at. That said you have respect Tiger and his form this year has been sublime and it will be interesting to see how he plays after a 4 week break. I think he will be in contention this week but I don’t think he will win ultimately.
Its unlikely that Rory McIlroy will be thinking about victory this week right now, his main focus will be on making the cut, something he has failed to do at Sawgrass in his three previous appearances. That is surprising when you consider that Rory has won a PGA Championship and FedEx Playoff event on Pete Dye designed courses and also has a 3rd place finish at another PGA Championship held at a Dye course. However Sawgrass is a course that Rory doesn’t feel suits his eye and his two previous visits have come on the back of a victory and playoff defeat at Quail Hollow but he hasn’t followed that up at Sawgrass where he hasn’t shot an under par round. As far as his game is concerned, he is nearly there but that has been the case since Doral in March and the click is taking longer than he had hoped to arrive. I think he has a chance of breaking his cut duck but its hard to say with any conviction that he will be in contention for victory this week.
Big Phil comes into the week off the back a faltering finish at Quail Hollow that saw him make two bogies in his final three holes to fall out of the lead and miss out on the playoff ultimately won by Derek Ernst but in fairness he did play those holes in the worst of the inclement weather. The faltering finish aside, it was a solid preparation for this week and having topped the putting stats at Quail Hollow, he will confidence in a part of his game that has let him down in recent events. He won The Players in 2007 and he sounded confident of repeating the feat in his post event interviews at Quail if playing well off the tee. He has to be considered one of the main contender for the title but it was a similar scenario for The Masters and he threw in a shocker and he has been inconsistent this year but I do feel he will be challenging for win come Sunday afternoon.
5 Under The Radar
Toms has decent record at Sawgrass since the tournament was moved to its current position in the calendar with two top tens and playoff defeat to his name in the last 5 years. Arguably that record is as good as anyone who is teeing it up this week, he has made a habit of putting in a decent performance in one or more of the main tournaments of the year. His form hasn’t been spectacular this year, his best performance so far is his tie for 13th at The Masters but one area that has been constantly strong for him as been his accuracy off the tee and that is a something that is key at Sawgrass. He has struggled with his putter so I completely agree with his decision to bypass Quail Hollow due to the green conditions, another decent finish at Sawgrass looks a possibility in my eyes.
Stenson won this title in 2009 when long time leader Alex Cejka slumped to a final round 79, it remains the biggest win of his career. Amazingly it wasn’t until November last year that he recorded his next victory when claiming the spoils in the South African Open. He has followed that victory up with a good start to the season with a 2nd place finish in the Houston Open, a top 20 finish at The Masters and a top 10 finish at Bay Hill. A missed cut at Quail Hollow last time out may not look ideal preparation but it was no different to his previous visits there. His game looks in similar shape to how it was when victorious in 2009, he is finding consistent form on the greens, so often his nemesis, he also retains his strong tee to green game. I can see him having a very big week.
Continuing the theme of past winners, Tim Clark has emerged from a difficult period of injuries to show glimpses of the form that he showed when claiming victory at Sawgrass in 2010. He was second to Russell Henley on his first start of the year in Hawaii and finished tied for 11th as The Masters which matched his performance at the PGA Championship last August. Clearly the freedom of being able to play without pain and the confidence gained from making decent performances in the last two majors is having a massive impact on Tim’s mindset and this is reflecting in his body language on the course and it is filtering through to his performances. I wouldn’t have him pinned down as a possible winner but I can see him making another top 20 finish at least.
Davis is a player I always look out for on leaderboards stateside particularly when playing in Florida as he has solid, if somewhat unspectacular, form when playing in the sunshine state. He has bounced back from early missed cuts in 2013 to play very solid golf and show up a number of times on leaderboards including a 6th place finish at Houston and has a top 5 finish at Sawgrass to his name already. His main issue this year has been to put it together over four rounds, he has been guilty of letting an average round turn into a bad round and this has impacted on his final position in tournaments. The biggest draw for me this week aside from the Florida factor is his play last week on the par 5’s where he was -7 which was above the average for the field and if he replicates that this week on arguably easier par 5’s then he will be easing a lot of pressure on his scoring on par 3’s and 4’s. He can be a wild card to throw into the mix but he might surprise a few this week.
Moving away from the theme of solid course form, Chris Kirk is a player I think could make waves this week despite having no previous form at Sawgrass. His main performance of note this season was his second place finish at Pebble Beach to a rampant Brandt Snedeker where drove the ball beautifully and showed a great touch on the greens. This hasn’t always been the case for Kirk in terms of his putting but his putting was much improved at Quail Hollow despite the obvious terrible state of the greens there. He has shown some form on Pete Dye courses, with a top 15 finish last year at Crooked Stick and a decent showing at TPC Louisiana when struggling on the greens. He is a tough player to predict when he is going to put in a big performance but there have been plenty of signs in the last few tournaments that he is close to putting it all together for four rounds. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at the business end of the leaderboard on Sunday.
And the winner is??
There are a number of players not already covered who I would give big chances to, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson have all been knocking on the door or winning big events in the last 12 months and I would give them big chances this week but I am going to plump for Nick Watney who has been playing with real consistency in his last four tournaments and but for two poor rounds at Augusta and Quail Hollow would have had much better results to show for it. He was 4th at Sawgrass two years ago and the signs are there that he is in the form that show him win twice at the back end of 2012. Nick Watney is my pick for this weeks winner.