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      Power Rankings: THE PLAYERS Championship

    • Phil Mickelson struggled on Sunday and is still searching for his first top-10 finish of the season. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) Phil Mickelson struggled on Sunday and is still searching for his first top-10 finish of the season. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

    Argue all you want about THE PLAYERS Championship being dubbed the unofficial fifth major, but there's no debate that this tournament is truly and comprehensively the people's major. It pins all of the needles for modern-day golf entertainment. From the venue to the prize money to the field to the elevated status of its champion, the flagship event on the PGA TOUR delivers.

    From the perspective of the 144 golfers competing for the winner's share of a record $10-million purse, TPC Sawgrass is exactly what they think it is. It may be funky in spots, but it's right out there in front of them. It's one of the reasons why ball-strikers are labeled as favorites year-in and year-out. See the target; hit the target.

    En route to his second PLAYERS' title a year ago, Tiger Woods ranked T11 in total driving and T3 in greens in regulation. That combination slotted him third in ball-striking. He won by two strokes despite finishing a distant 38th in strokes gained-putting. Woods led the field in par-5 scoring average (4.25) and bogey avoidance (five bogeys, one double). The smattering of first-timers in the field would be wise to subscribe to this formula as scoring on the set of four par 5s is imperative.

    The world's top-ranked golfer isn't able to defend as he continues to recover from back surgery to relieve a pinched nerve, so the tournament will extend its record of never having a repeat winner in consecutive editions. This week's marks its 41st contest.

    TPC Sawgrass is a standard-issue, par 36-36--72 that can stretch 7,215 yards. It averaged +0.323 strokes to par last year. Of course, even the most casual of golf fans are probably familiar with the par-3 17th hole that's listed as 137 yards on the scorecard. What even avid fans may not know is that it's the easiest par 3 on the course even though it was the ninth-toughest hole last year. Because the green is surrounded by water, the fine line between success and failure is obviously evident, a dynamic that translates to its scoring. No. 17 led the par 3s in par breakers last year with 79 birdies. Meanwhile, it's 31 double bogeys and worse fell one shy of matching the combined doubles/worse of the other par 3s.

    Seasonable conditions are in store all week. Temperatures into the 80s will accompany moderate winds. Expect gradual cloudiness into the weekend when a reasonable chance for rain enters the picture.

    Power Rankings: THE PLAYERS Championship

    Rank

    Player

    Comment

    1 Matt Kuchar Matt Kuchar

    Shed his final-round demons with a closing 64 to win the RBC Heritage by one. Four straight top fives. Won THE PLAYERS in 2012.

    Shed his final-round demons with a closing 64 to win the RBC Heritage by one. Four straight top fives. Won THE PLAYERS in 2012.

    2 Luke Donald Luke Donald

    First start since a runner-up at Harbour Town. Three top 10s in last six starts. Seven straight cuts made at PLAYERS; top 20s in last three.

    First start since a runner-up at Harbour Town. Three top 10s in last six starts. Seven straight cuts made at PLAYERS; top 20s in last three.

    3 Zach Johnson Zach Johnson

    Quiet T14 at Quail Hollow, his seventh top 25 of 2013-14. Firing throughout his bag. Six top 25s in nine tries at TPC Sawgrass.

    Quiet T14 at Quail Hollow, his seventh top 25 of 2013-14. Firing throughout his bag. Six top 25s in nine tries at TPC Sawgrass.

    4 Sergio Garcia Sergio Garcia

    As close to horse for a course as it gets at TPC Sawgrass. Ten straight cuts made; four career top 10s including win (2008). T8 last year.

    As close to horse for a course as it gets at TPC Sawgrass. Ten straight cuts made; four career top 10s including win (2008). T8 last year.

    5 Jim Furyk Jim Furyk

    Sterling form meets home game. No worse than T20 in last five starts; solo second at Quail Hollow. He's 14-for-18 (8 top 25s) at PLAYERS.

    Sterling form meets home game. No worse than T20 in last five starts; solo second at Quail Hollow. He's 14-for-18 (8 top 25s) at PLAYERS.

    6 Rory McIlroy Rory McIlroy

    The top-10 machine added another at Quail Hollow (T8). Five on the season. Fourth in adjusted scoring. T8 last year at TPC Sawgrass.

    The top-10 machine added another at Quail Hollow (T8). Five on the season. Fourth in adjusted scoring. T8 last year at TPC Sawgrass.

    7 J.B. Holmes J.B. Holmes

    Outside world's top 500 in mid-March, but now 68th after Wells Fargo win. Five top 20s in last six starts. Four top 20s at TPC Sawgrass.

    Outside world's top 500 in mid-March, but now 68th after Wells Fargo win. Five top 20s in last six starts. Four top 20s at TPC Sawgrass.

    8 Adam Scott Adam Scott

    Ten years since his title at TPC Sawgrass, but arguably playing better than ever over last two. Top 20s in last two trips to TPC Sawgrass.

    Ten years since his title at TPC Sawgrass, but arguably playing better than ever over last two. Top 20s in last two trips to TPC Sawgrass.

    9 Kevin Na Kevin Na

    Six top 20s and two missed cuts in last eight starts; T18 at Wells Fargo. T3 at TPC Sawgrass in 2009; T7 in last appearance in 2012.

    Six top 20s and two missed cuts in last eight starts; T18 at Wells Fargo. T3 at TPC Sawgrass in 2009; T7 in last appearance in 2012.

    10 Lee Westwood Lee Westwood

    Surprising missed cut last week in the wake of a win in Malaysia, but fits profile for success at TPC Sawgrass. T4 in 2010; T8 last year.

    Surprising missed cut last week in the wake of a win in Malaysia, but fits profile for success at TPC Sawgrass. T4 in 2010; T8 last year.

    11 Jimmy Walker Jimmy Walker

    Missed the cut in Charlotte, but he's entitled to a hiccup. T8 in Masters' debut in previous start. T15 in last year's PLAYERS.

    Missed the cut in Charlotte, but he's entitled to a hiccup. T8 in Masters' debut in previous start. T15 in last year's PLAYERS.

    12 Jason Dufner Jason Dufner

    Four top 15s on the season, including three in last four starts. T6 at TPC Sawgrass in 2011. Just one red number post-cut in five trips.

    Four top 15s on the season, including three in last four starts. T6 at TPC Sawgrass in 2011. Just one red number post-cut in five trips.

    13 Phil Mickelson Phil Mickelson

    Hasn't connected cuts made since February, but has six top 20s on the season, including T11 at Quail Hollow. PLAYERS champ in 2007.

    Hasn't connected cuts made since February, but has six top 20s on the season, including T11 at Quail Hollow. PLAYERS champ in 2007.

    14 Jordan Spieth Jordan Spieth

    First-timers tend not to succeed at TPC Sawgrass, but he's exempt from that concern. T2 in Masters' debut. T12 in last start at Hilton Head.

    First-timers tend not to succeed at TPC Sawgrass, but he's exempt from that concern. T2 in Masters' debut. T12 in last start at Hilton Head.

    15 Henrik Stenson Henrik Stenson

    The 2009 champ has a total of four top 10s and another two top 25s at TPC Sawgrass; T5 in 2013. T5 in last start in China two weeks ago.

    The 2009 champ has a total of four top 10s and another two top 25s at TPC Sawgrass; T5 in 2013. T5 in last start in China two weeks ago.

    16 Justin Rose Justin Rose

    Course history hurts spot here. He's 5-for-10 at TPC Sawgrass with zero top 20s. Solo fifth at Wells Fargo is fourth top 10 in 2013-14.

    Course history hurts spot here. He's 5-for-10 at TPC Sawgrass with zero top 20s. Solo fifth at Wells Fargo is fourth top 10 in 2013-14.

    17 Keegan Bradley Keegan Bradley

    Extremely inconsistent round to round, but still has three top 10s and another five top 25s this season. T8 in New Orleans in last start.

    Extremely inconsistent round to round, but still has three top 10s and another five top 25s this season. T8 in New Orleans in last start.

    18 Bubba Watson Bubba Watson

    TPC Sawgrass isn't his cup of tea, but gets respect of six top 10s in nine starts this season. First competition since winning the Masters.

    TPC Sawgrass isn't his cup of tea, but gets respect of six top 10s in nine starts this season. First competition since winning the Masters.

    19 Brendon de Jonge Brendon de Jonge

    Clawed back from an opening 80 at Quail Hollow to place T6 for his first top-15 finish of the season. T15s in last two PLAYERS.

    Clawed back from an opening 80 at Quail Hollow to place T6 for his first top-15 finish of the season. T15s in last two PLAYERS.

    20 Hunter Mahan Hunter Mahan

    Misfiring of late in the wake of a hip/back injury, but has top 20s in three of his last four trips to TPC Sawgrass.

    Misfiring of late in the wake of a hip/back injury, but has top 20s in three of his last four trips to TPC Sawgrass.

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