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).