Four 2012 wins represented between two 'Golf Boys' and TigerMay 09, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The last two PLAYERS Championships for Tiger Woods ended early with Woods withdrawing due to injury both times.
Tee times Tee times for Rickie Fowler-Tiger Woods-Hunter Mahan are at 8:39 a.m. ET Thursday on No. 10 and 1:49 p.m. ET Friday on No. 1. Click here for all tee times.
Fowler and Woods have never been paired together on the PGA TOUR, though they have played together a few times at The Medalist in Jupiter, Fla., where both are members.
"We enjoy each other, and I enjoy practicing with him and being around him," said Fowler, who is coming off his first career win last week. "Obviously Hunter, the third party of our pairing, we've had some good times together."
While Woods didn't finish the tournament in either of his last two trips to TPC Sawgrass, he has won here once before, in 2001. Since then, however, Woods has just one top 10 in the event with an eighth-place finish in 2009.
Mahan hasn't had much success here, but he played progressively better each of the last few years, tying for 71st in 2009, 17th in 2010 and a career-best sixth last year.
"I've always liked this place," Mahan said. "I think it suits me pretty well just because it is a ball-striker's place."
To Mahan's point, he ranks fifth in greens in regulation -- not to mention eighth in driving accuracy.
Now that Fowler has gotten win No. 1 out of the way with his victory in Charlotte, he's hoping he can match his bandmate -- Mahan is the only player on TOUR this season with multiple victories.
"I've been playing well the last couple weeks," Fowler said. "I feel like I can continue to play well and draw off the last two weeks and continue to have a good season and focus on my other goals that I had for the year: Making it to the TOUR Championship, and giving myself a chance to play on my second Ryder Cup team."
A victory here would certainly guarantee that.
Rory McIlroy returns to TPC Sawgrass after skipping last year's tournament, and he does so as the top-ranked player in the world.
Tee times Tee times for Rory McIlroy-Phil Mickelson-Steve Stricker are at 1:49 p.m. ET Thursday on No. 1 and 8:39 a.m. ET Friday on No. 10. Click here for all tee times.
While McIlroy has missed the cut in both his appearances at THE PLAYERS, he comes into this year's event having finished in the top 3 in four of his five starts on TOUR, which includes a win at The Honda Classic.
McIlroy has also added a new club to his bag for this week, swapping his 5-wood for a 2-iron.
"Sacrificing some distance for me, it makes the targets a little bigger, and I don't mind going into a green with a 7-iron instead of a 9-iron," McIlroy said. "If you're hitting your second shots from the fairway here, it makes it a lot easier."
Mickelson has had mixed results here. He won in 2007, tied for third in 2004 and eighth in 1998, but only once in the last three years has he finished in the top 30 with a tie for 17th in 2010.
"I haven't really changed my strategy too much on this golf course because it's pretty straightforward," he said. "The course hasn't changed over the years. It gives you an opportunity on the par 5s to take advantage of them if you play them properly. There's some holes you've got to be defensive. It's not just stand up and hit it as far as you can, that's why there's a lot of 3-woods and 5-woods off the tee.
"Even though I have won, my record is not what I would have liked. I believe I can perform a little bit better on this golf course than I have."
Similarly, this will be Stricker's 16th PLAYERS. He's missed the cut seven times, however, and has just one top-10, a tie for sixth in 1999.
Watch: Tiger Woods interviewPrior to THE PLAYERS, Tiger Woods talked about his continuing swing work and his thoughts on the famous 17th hole at the Stadium Course. Interview Watch: Rickie Fowler interviewRickie Fowler met the media at THE PLAYERS and discussed getting the monkey off his back the week prior at Quail Hollow. Interview Watch: Hunter Mahan interviewIn his session with the media at TPC Sawgrass, Hunter Mahan discussed the challenge of the Stadium Course. Interview Watch: Rory McIlroy interviewRory McIlroy hasn't had a great history at THE PLAYERS and talked to the media about a bag change that he hopes can change that. Interview Watch: Phil Mickelson interviewOne day after his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Phil Mickelson met the media at THE PLAYERS. Interview More featured groups DONALD-HAAS-WESTWOOD
1:39 p.m. ET No. 1, 8:29 a.m. ET No. 10
Donald has played tag with McIlroy atop the Official World Golf Ranking and comes into this week ranked second after moving back to No. 1 following his victory earlier this year in Tampa. Westwood, meanwhile, is coming off a sizzling final round in Charlotte, where he went out in 30 before shooting 66 to tie for fourth. He also tied for fourth here a year ago. Haas, like Donald, has also won this year with his victory coming at Riviera. CHOI-CLARK-GARCIA
8:18 a.m. ET, No. 10, 1:28 p.m. No. 10
This is a trio of past winners here. Choi won last year, Clark the year before and Garcia in 2008. Clark, however, has seen limited duty since his breakthrough victory here after undergoing elbow surgery last season. Garcia's victory here, by the way, was his last on the PGA TOUR. SIMPSON-BRADLEY-KUCHAR
8:29 a.m. ET, No. 10, 1:39 p.m. No. 1
All three in this group have come close to winning this year. Simpson led for most of last week's event in Charlotte before finishing fourth. Kuchar, meanwhile, has four top-10s this year, and Bradley was the victim of a 43-foot birdie putt by Haas in the playoff at Riviera.
This is also just the eighth start of the year for the 45-year-old, who has four top 10s, including a win in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a tie for sixth in his last start, which was at New Orleans two weeks ago.