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
1 Matt Kuchar 2 Luke Donald 3 Zach Johnson 4 Sergio Garcia 5 Jim Furyk 6 Rory McIlroy 7 J.B. Holmes 8 Adam Scott 9 Kevin Na 10 Lee Westwood 11 Jimmy Walker 12 Jason Dufner 13 Phil Mickelson 14 Jordan Spieth 15 Henrik Stenson 16 Justin Rose 17 Keegan Bradley 18 Bubba Watson 19 Brendon de Jonge 20 Hunter Mahan