Power Rankings: THE PLAYERS Championship

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May 07, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

A kinder, gentler TPC Sawgrass? That's not as far-fetched a notion as it seems.

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The field of 144 that descends on what was once an annual equalizer at THE PLAYERS need only look back at the last two editions to find evidence that the famed par-72 layout designed by Pete Dye at the headquarters of the PGA TOUR doesn't necessarily have to win.

After 13 consecutive years of averaging over par, TPC Sawgrass checked in at 71.734 in 2010. It then landed on a clip of exactly 72.000 last year. Finding a culprit for the sudden vulnerability is tricky.

The tournament moved from late March to mid-May in 2007, coinciding with a major overhaul that included the introduction of a Sub-Air System under all 18 greens. Yet, it took four years before scoring dipped. Moreover, weather has been a non-factor as it relates to scoring comparisons.

Rather, a more intriguing reason for the trend toward red numbers has to do with the limited availability of hole locations due to complex factors connected to the evolution of the golf course.

"It got to the point where we could not provide as consistent green speeds as we wanted to," TPC Sawgrass Director of Agronomy, Tom Vlach, said in a press release issued by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). "We would have to dial it back on some to keep the locations. That is something we as a staff and the competitors do not want. By reducing the slopes, we can now have every green exactly the same speed and get more locations."

Vlach is referring to the modifications made to five greens. According to the GCSAA, this includes "40 percent" of the peninsula green at the 17th hole. Greens at the fourth, 13th, 16th and 18th holes also underwent some degree of a facelift. The aggregate changes could benefit scoring even more, but they also open the door for additional locations to punch holes. And that might counterbalance the prerequisite for experience in spots.

Over the years, course knowledge has played an integral role in determining a champion. Since Fred Funk emerged in his 15th appearance in 2005, the average number of starts of the seven champions is 9.57. All but Henrik Stenson, who won in his fourth trip in 2009, had already logged seven visits in the tournament prior to breaking through.

Infused in that angle is the premium of course management. Hitting greens in regulation is not an unfair challenge on the track, but scrambling for pars has been somewhat difficult, thus enhancing the need to pile up the birdie opportunities.

Of course, the gut check awaits at the do-or-die, par-3 17th. However, perhaps there is some solace for those approaching the tee. In the last three years, the hole has twice ranked as the easiest par 3 of the four at TPC Sawgrass.

Inclement weather is expected through Wednesday night. It abates by midday Thursday before reentering the picture on Saturday. The wind will again offer the most relevant test as it's expected to swing around and blow from an easterly direction beginning on Friday and lasting through the weekend.

Power Rankings: THE PLAYERS Championship
Rank Player   Comment
Lee
WESTWOOD
His nine appearances at TPC Sawgrass span 13 years (1998-2010). That record is flanked by three top-10s, including a T4 two years ago. Low man on the weekend at Quail Hollow en route to a share of fifth place. Leads in greens in regulation.
Rory
MCILROY
Form over the last eight months abolishes any concern over his 0-for-2 record at TPC Sawgrass. Led the field at Quail Hollow in distance off the tee (330.9 yards) and birdies (23). Ranks 20th in greens hit, first in the all-around and 17th in scrambling.
Luke
DONALD
Took the week off after a solo third in New Orleans where he played last 55 holes in 19 under with one bogey. Currently leads the PGA TOUR in scrambling. Making his 10th start at TPC Sawgrass where he shared fourth last year. Co-runner-up in 2005.
Hunter
MAHAN
Seventh appearance. Only multiple winner on TOUR this year. Ranks fifth in greens in regulation. Scrambling clip is at a career-high 61.08 percent, good for 46th overall. Placed a personal-best T6 at this event last year.
Jason
DAY
Steady week at Quail Hollow (T9) where he carded a 69, three 70s and ranked fourth in strokes gained-putting. Par or better in every round in last year's PLAYERS, finishing in a tie for sixth place. Ranked inside the top 25 in all relevant stats for the week.
Zach
JOHNSON
Prime candidate for a win at TPC Sawgrass. Making his eighth appearance. Has missed just one cut and posted four top 25s, including a T12 last year. Runner-up at Harbour Town just four weeks ago. Ranks ninth on TOUR in scrambling.
Ernie
ELS
The professed lover of Pete Dye tracks returns to competition following his playoff loss in New Orleans where he carded just three bogeys all week. Ranks 16th on TOUR in greens hit and 30th in scrambling. Four top 10s in 18 appearances at THE PLAYERS.
Steve
STRICKER
Six top 25s in 15 starts at this event, including a T12 last year. Had last week off following a solo sixth in New Orleans, his fourth top 10 in seven starts this season. Sits seventh on TOUR in greens in regulation and 13th in scrambling.
Jason
DUFNER
Back in action following his breakthrough victory in New Orleans that was also his seventh top 25 in 11 starts this year. Ranks 30th on TOUR in greens hit, fifth in the all-around and 15th in scrambling. Led the field in GIR en route to a T6 here last year.
Sergio
GARCIA
First in all-time earnings at TPC Sawgrass. He's 10-for-12 with a win in 2008, a solo second in 2007, a T4 in 2002 and last year's T12. First start this season since a share of 12th place at the Masters. Sits 14th on TOUR in the all-around ranking.
Matt
KUCHAR
Making his eighth appearance at THE PLAYERS. He's recorded three top 20s, the most recent of which was in 2010 (T13). Hasn't competed since sharing 13th place in San Antonio three weeks ago. Currently 23rd on TOUR in greens hit and 23rd in scrambling.
Nick
WATNEY
Solo eighth last week was his first top 10 in a stroke-play event this year. Held outright lead after 36 holes. Making sixth appearance at TPC Sawgrass where he's finished T17 (2010) and T4 (2011). Led after 18 holes last year. Ranks 15th on TOUR in greens hit.
Webb
SIMPSON
With a T13 and solo fourth the last two weeks, he's officially climbed out of his mini-slump. However, there's residual concern on his closing ability. Currently 12th on TOUR in actual scoring average, but his split in the final round (72.40) slots him 135th.
Francesco
MOLINARI
Arrives on the coattails of a come-from-behind victory in Spain where his bogey-free 65 on Sunday was the low round of the tournament. Top 20s in his last seven starts, six of which were stroke-play format. Solo ninth here in 2010.
Ben
CURTIS
Remains on fire since winning in San Antonio. He's backed it up with a T13 in New Orleans and T5 in Charlotte. If he had enough rounds logged to qualify, he'd rank fifth on TOUR in greens hit, second in Strokes Gained-Putting and 25th in scrambling.
Justin
ROSE
Seemingly stymied at TPC Sawgrass where he's 4-for-8 with just one top 40 (T22, 2009). However, he's posted top 15s in his last three starts this season and ranks third on TOUR in greens in regulation, fourth in the all-around and 16th in scrambling.
Phil
MICKELSON
Hasn't missed a cut here in his last 10 appearances, but since winning in 2007, he hasn't cracked the top 15. Ranked T5 in greens hit at Quail Hollow last week where he finished T26. Currently 42nd on TOUR in GIR and second in scrambling.
Ryan
MOORE
Shared fifth place at the Wells Fargo Championship, his third top 10 in his last four starts. Hasn't missed a cut in five appearances at TPC Sawgrass, but hasn't logged a top 25 either. Currently 34th in the all-around ranking.
Rickie
FOWLER
Fresh off his maiden victory on the PGA TOUR. Ranked T2 in fairways, T5 in greens and T21 in putting at Quail Hollow. That chased a T10 in New Orleans. He's 0-for-2 at TPC Sawgrass, but now that he's shed the monkey of a non-winner, he belongs here.
Brian
DAVIS
He's kept the pedal depressed for the better part of his last five starts, posting four top 15s including last week's T9 in Charlotte where he led the field in putting. Not the best fit for TPC Sawgrass, but he shared fifth place in 2009.

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