Yes, Rory McIlroy is the No. 1 player on the PGA TOUR -- according to one statistic. (Lecka/Getty Images)
By Bill Cooney, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- It's finally here, THE PLAYERS Championship. Before the first tee is planted in to the turf, let's take a look at some notable stats from Derek Ernst's victory last week at the Wells Fargo Championship and look ahead to this week's event at TPC Sawgrass. Some stats may surprise you -- Rory McIlroy's rank in one category and Tiger Woods' scoring history here to name a few.
.825 Strokes gained-putting average for Sergio Garcia, which ranks 10th on the PGA TOUR. … Garcia’s putting continues to improve from past seasons. Once his nemesis, the putter has arguably become a friend. Garcia ranked 26th last season, up from T144th in ’11 and T159 in ’10. In 2013, Garcia is picking up 3.300 strokes on the field average per week.
No. 1 Rory McIlroy’s all-around ranking. … That’s right. Despite all the fuss over equipment changes and seemingly mediocre play in 2013, McIlroy ranks No. 1 on TOUR in all-around, which is calculated by adding the rankings of a player in the following categories: Scoring Leaders, Putting Leaders, Eagle Leaders, Birdie Leaders, Sand Saves, Greens in Regulation, Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy. Click here to see the all-around rankings.
1 Number of players that have birdied the 17th hole in all four rounds at THE PLAYERS. … The only person to accomplish the feat is Paul Azinger in 1987. Azinger finished sixth in the tournament.
9 Number of balls Bob Tway has hit into the water at No. 17 during THE PLAYERS since 2003, which is the most on TOUR. … There were 39 water balls on the island 17th last season out of 423 attempts, or 9 percent. The highest percentage of water balls came in 2007, when players hit an amazing 93 balls in the water (21 percent). Click here for more water stats on No. 17.
28 Number of aces in tournament history, which includes 24 at TPC Sawgrass. … The last hole-in-one came in 2008 by Robert Garrigus on the 13th hole. The last ace at the 17th was by Miguel A. Jimenez in 2002.
63 Tournament 18-hole scoring record at THE PLAYERS Championship. … The mark is shared by Fred Couples (1992) and Greg Norman (‘94). Couples carded the 9-under round in the third round, which included an eagle on No. 9, bogey on No. 15 and birdies at 16 and 18. He went on to finish T13. Norman, meanwhile, shot a 63 in the first round with a nine-birdie performance on his way to victory.
164 Spots that Derek Ernst moved up in the FedExCup standings by winning the Wells Fargo Championship. ... When Ernst defeated David Lynn on the first playoff hole at rainy Quail Hollow Club on Sunday, he grabbed his first TOUR win -- which gave him a spot at THE PLAYERS this week. It also moved him up to No. 32 in the FedExCup standings, which is led by Woods.
71.35 Career stroke average for Tom Lehman at THE PLAYERS, which is the lowest among players with at least 25 rounds played. … Lehman, who has played 62 rounds, never won THE PLAYERS. His best finish is second twice, in 1998 and 2005. He also has six top 10s in 17 tries. Defending champion Matt Kuchar ranks second (71.36, 25), followed by Woods (71.44, 55). Woods has one victory and four top 10s in 15 attempts at TPC Sawgrass.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS ARCHIVE
Week 2: Sony Open/Humana Challenge
Week 10: WGC-Cadillac/Tampa Bay Championship
Week 12: Arnold Palmer/Shell Houston Open
Week 13: Shell Houston/Valero Texas Open
Week 14: Valero/The Masters
Week 15: The Masters/RBC Heritage
TPC Sawgrass superintendent Tom Vlach stopped by for our weekly Insiders Hangout to discuss how he and his team prepare for THE PLAYERS Championship. Watch the video below to hear about his favorite memories, biggest challenges and secrets of working on one of the world's most famous golf courses.
Click here to see all of our PGA TOUR Hangouts, which have featured players like Steve Stricker, Lee Westwood and many more.
Tom Vlach, director of agronomy at TPC Sawgrass, expects the course to "play fantastic."
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
All those millions the PGA TOUR spent to overhaul the drainage at TPC Sawgrass seven years ago has delivered a huge return this week.
Little more than a day after storms dumped more than 10 inches of rain on the property in a 48-hour period, the Stadium Course was opened Sunday to pros wanting to get a head start on preparations for THE PLAYERS Championship.
And though the course remained closed to fans on Monday, practice rounds were fully available.
“They are the driest areas on the property,” Tom Vlach, director of agronomy at TPC Sawgrass, said of the fairways and greens.
“I’m not concerned about the golf course at all. It’s going to play fantastic. It’s these areas where spectators would be trying to get into bathrooms and drinks and all that. That’s where we need to focus our attention now.”
In anticipation of THE PLAYERS’ move to May, every inch of the Stadium Course was returfed to address drainage problems that came to the forefront during March’s often-squally weather.
Fairways were scalped, new drainage technology installed and a 6-inch layer of sand laid down before the new grass went on top. Underneath each green is a Precision Air suction system to pull the moisture out.
“We’re almost at tournament moisture on the greens already,” said Vlach, adding that mowers were on the fairways by midday Sunday.
“In the past, these fairways would be muddy. We’re going to be firm and fast by the time they tee off Thursday, which is unbelievable.”
Even with all the modern technology, more than a dozen pumps were needed to keep the lakes from overflowing onto the golf course. In addition, the canal that rings the property needed to be held back.
Metal levees were raised as high as they could go to hold the canal back, while pumps moved water from inner lakes to the canal at a rate of about 5,000 gallons per minute. Larger pumps – about 80,000 gallons a minute – then pushed the runoff to the Intracoastal Waterway.
“If we didn’t have these pumps, we would have been in serious trouble,” Vlach said.
Even so, a certain amount of overflow couldn’t be avoided. The ninth and 18th fairways suffered some minor flooding, and for a while the famed 17th green really was an island – a part of the walkway was under water.
Vlach also praised the Jacksonville Electric Authority, which made extra pumps available and manned the site during the overnight hours. “I can’t say enough about what they did for us,” he said.
The Stadium Course also caught a break late Saturday when a major cell passed just south of the course. Less than five miles away, that storm dumped some 3 inches of rain on areas near St. Augustine.
The biggest job facing Vlach’s crews after the storms was to rebuild each of the more than 80 bunkers on the course. Some 200 tons of new sand was laid down after they scraped off top layers that had been contaminated with silt.
Spectator areas, which don’t drain as well, required more work. In some places, crews were using backhoes to dig out the mud and replace it with gravel, with pine straw laid down over the top.
The hope is that when the gates open to spectators Tuesday, the place will look as though it went through a mild storm instead of the deluge that fell last week. And the good news is that the chance of rain is scant until Sunday’s final round.
“We’re staying positive,” Vlach said. “They can’t keep us down for long.”
Fan-favorite Matt Kuchar returns to defend his THE PLAYERS Championship title. (Ehrmann/Getty Images)
FIELD LIST: THE PLAYERS Championship
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
• COURSE: TPC Sawgrass (Stadium), 7,215 yards, par 72. Cut from 415 acres of wooded wetlands purchased for $1 by then-commissioner Deane Beman, architect Pete Dye created a layout that challenges all parts of a player’s game – often to perplexity. No two consecutive holes on the Stadium Course play in the same direction, doglegs were created in both directions and care was taken to offer both short and long holes of every par. No hole, though, gets more attention than its shortest – the 137-yard 17th over water to a green reachable only by narrow pathway from the back.
• FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 600 points.
• CHARITY: A total of 57 Northeast Florida charities receive donations from THE PLAYERS, including Wolfson Children’s Hospital, American Cancer Society, The Animal Rescue and Adoption Agency and Epilepsy Foundation of Florida. Last year, the event raised a record $6.5 million for charity, bringing its total to more than $52 million since it settled at TPC Sawgrass 36 years ago.
• FIELD WATCH: World No. 1 Tiger Woods and defending champion Matt Kuchar head what is typically one of the year’s strongest fields, though a handful of international standouts won’t play. Overall, the field features each of the top 30 in this week’s world rankings and 38 of the top 40. ... One more automatic berth is available for the winner of this week’s Wells Fargo Championship, if he hasn’t already qualified. … The FedExCup points list will be used to fill any available slots to bring the field up to 144 players. … Kevin Na (back), Darren Clarke (hamstring) and Paul Lawrie (neck) are among more than a dozen players who have qualified but won’t tee it up.
• 72-HOLE RECORD: 264, Greg Norman (1994).
• 18-HOLE RECORD: 63, Fred Couples (3rd round, 1992), Greg Norman (1st round, 1994).
• LAST YEAR: On a day in which challengers rose and fell all afternoon, Matt Kuchar staved them all off for a two-shot victory that was the biggest of his resurgent career. Kuchar carded a 2-under-par 70, wresting the lead from Kevin Na late on the front nine and enduring threats from Luke Donald, Martin Laird, Zach Johnson, Ben Curtis and Rickie Fowler. A three-putt bogey at No. 17 opened the door for Fowler, who birdied the 17th and struck his approach to 4.5 feet at No. 18. But the youngster’s birdie try went wide, allowing Kuchar to seal his fourth PGA TOUR victory with a two-putt closing par.
• STORYLINES: Woods, with three wins in 2013, tries again to solve a course that may have given him the most fits among those he regularly plays. He owns just one top-10 finish since his lone PLAYERS win in 2001, with injury forcing him to withdraw twice in the past three editions. … New Masters champion Adam Scott makes his first appearance since giving Australia its historic first Green Jacket. Fans also may recall he’s a former winner at Sawgrass, winning THE PLAYERS in 2004. … World No. 2 Rory McIlroy makes his fourth visit to Sawgrass, still seeking to break par. He’s missed the cut all three times, with a scoring average of 74.0.
• SHORT CHIPS: An average of 49.3 balls have splashed into the water at No. 17 in the six editions since THE PLAYERS moved to May. That includes a first year of 93 in 2007, when a wind-whipped first day put 50 into the pond. Last year saw 40 water balls. … Paul Azinger (1987) is the only man to birdie No. 17 in all four rounds. Johnson Wagner birdied the first three days last year, then parred. … Since the date change, every champion has come from behind on the final day. The last man to take a 54-hole lead all the way to the winner’s circle was Stephen Ames (2006).
• TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 2-7 p.m. ET (NBC).
• RADIO: Thursday-Sunday, noon-7 p.m. ET (SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio).
Water creeps up the walkway to the 17th green at The PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on Friday. (PGA TOUR/Chris Condon)
The PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is all set for next week's PLAYERS Championship, but Mother Nature isn't quite ready. Heavy rains have soaked Northeast Florida since Thursday morning, with more than six inches falling so far in Ponte Vedra Beach. That means rising banks along the famous island green par-3 17th hole.
Rains have forced changes to the early schedule at THE PLAYERS, but forecasts look good for next week's tournament rounds -- sunshine and no deluges.
Click on the thumbnails below to view more images of the 17th at TPC Sawgrass during Friday's rains.
The scoring has certainly slowed down here in the afternoon wave of the second round, but the fact is the course remains get-able. That’s evident by Heath Slocum and Ben Crane, who are 4 and 3 under, respectively, as they play the last handful of holes in their round.
Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about it, according to tournament director Mark Russell.
“The biggest thing is the rain,” Russell said. “It’s been ultra humid and there’s no wind. We want it to firm up, but there’s not much you can do when it rains.”
One thing that can be done is to use the course’s Sub-Air to suck the moisture out of the greens, something Russell said has been done, but without much success.
“It’s so humid, the grass just kind of puffs up,” Russell said. “We set the course up as difficult as it can play, but fair.”
Maybe so, but as Russell noted, the weather hasn’t exactly cooperated. When it rains it apparently pours.
“We’re not Al Gore and the global warming folks,” Russell said. “I wish we could change the weather.” -- Brian Wacker
If you thought the scoring was particularly low on Thursday, you were right on.
It marked the lowest first-round scoring average (71.103) at THE PLAYERS since 1993. It also puts in perspective the 2-under 70s shot by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
The rain that softened the course on Tuesday and Wednesday mixed with favorable conditions (calm winds) on Thursday set up for a harmless TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course.
Surely, it will get tougher. -- Nick Zaccardi