Power Rankings: THE PLAYERS Championship
4 Min Read
Written by Rob Bolton @RobBoltonGolf
All-time top shots from the pine straw at TPC Sawgrass
If the Florida Swing was a baseball team, then PGA National, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass and Copperhead would be its Murderers’ Row. It’s the hardest-hitting lineup of the season and there’s nowhere to hide. Every facet of the game is tested, and that includes the skills you can’t see – experience, patience, mettle and, oh, patience.
A field of 144 digs in against TPC Sawgrass this week. Scroll or swipe past the extended ranking of projected contenders for a breakdown of the course, how competitive balance is sustained and more.
RELATED: The First Look | Inside the Field
POWER RANKINGS: THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
Tuesday’s Draws and Fades will include reviews of Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Joaquin Niemann, as well as former PLAYERS champions Jason Day (2016), Si Woo Kim (2017) and Webb Simpson (2018).
Pardon the open, but you get it. Baseball is missed, pure and simple. However, the focus on the flagship event of the PGA TOUR in its own backyard always is sharp, whether it’s contested in March or May or March again.
This is the 40th edition of THE PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass. It’s pretty much the same stock par 72 capable of tipping at 7,256 yards that last year’s unique field of 154 played last year. Officially, the par-4 12th now reads 369 yards on the scorecard. That reflects an increase of 67 yards even though it recently has played to its current maximum. All variables considered, it can be drivable most days.
The entire property is overseeded. TifEagle bermuda greens are prepped to race to 13 feet on the Stimpmeter. That’s the norm, but as if the field needed more evidence to the old chestnut that ball-striking is at a premium on the Pete and Alice Dye design, the primary rough is half-an-inch taller this year at three inches.
Purely statistically, nothing screams ball-striking as a primary objective. TPC Sawgrass is entirely old school. It’s all about the eye test. Consider that water is in play quite a bit, just not everywhere, yet seeing it just about everywhere is a persistent reminder that, as the wise man once said, you can’t fake it around this place.
Overall, par is as important a score as dodging double bogeys and worse. En route to his title at 14-under 274 last year (during which the field averaged 72.421), Justin Thomas led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and par-5 scoring. Uh, that works!
Now we get to see if JT can reverse the curse.
The next to successfully defend his title will be the first. Heck, nearly a generation has passed since a defending champion has answered with even as strong as a top-15 finish (Adam Scott, T8, 2005).
The diplomacy of TPC Sawgrass most definitely rewards the best player of the week, but success over time tilts more towards coincidence and a larger sample size than it does mastering the test. Therein lies the beauty and the beast of THE PLAYERS.
The construct of the field also favors a different champion. It includes the entire class of the 2021 FedExCup Playoffs and, as of Monday afternoon, the top 65 of the FedExCup standings through The Honda Classic. Thomas Pieters is the only non-member of the PGA TOUR who qualified (via the Official World Golf Ranking).
For a variety of reasons, Bryson DeChambeau, Harris English, Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods are the only qualifiers who will not compete. Those who are committed are chasing the crown jewels of perks.
Among the broadest strokes, the champion will receive 600 FedExCup points, $3.6 million (of a $20-million prize fund), exemptions into the next three editions of all four majors and the maximum five-year PGA TOUR membership exemption.
If a winner isn’t decided in regulation, a three-hole playoff will ensue. Scores on Nos. 16, 17 and 18 will be totaled and compared. If still tied, a traditional sudden-death playoff will begin at the par-3 17th. If necessary, the par-4 18th would be next. Those two holes would alternate to determine the outcome.
Lest it be the Florida Swing without the impact of Mother Nature, which retreated into observation-only mode last year. This year, the weather will be a headliner. Rain and storms are likely all the way into Saturday. Moderate breezes will escalate to as high as 15-25 mph. Behind the energy is a massive cooling, so the tradeoff for Sunday’s scheduled finale is that it should be dry and mostly sunny, but the daytime high may not climb out of the mid-50s.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Draws and Fades
WEDNESDAY: Pick ’Em Preview
SUNDAY: Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Rookie Ranking
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.