For all of its consistency over the years, TPC Sawgrass vis-à-vis its architect Pete Dye sure knows how to burn images into your memory bank. There are some achievements in golf that still don’t seem real no matter how much time has elapsed. Many have occurred at the site of this week’s THE PLAYERS Championship.
But there’s a difference between Hal Sutton’s “Be the right club, today,” from the 2000 edition. That’s a timeless demand. Instead, consider how Craig Perks concluded the tournament two years later with two chip-ins sandwiching a devilish, long-range conversion en route to eagle-birdie-par and his only PGA TOUR title in 202 starts. Then-defending champion Tiger Woods describe Perks as “unbelievable.” What the Kiwi manufactured still is.
During his opening round in 1999, Fred Couples joined this unusually exclusive club when he flew his third into the cup for a par-3 at the 17th hole. When downloading that tape, even when you know what you’re going to see, common sense refuses to budge for a moment.
And so on.
Rickie Fowler added his exploits at TPC Sawgrass to the highlight reel a year ago, but instead of a singular shot, it was the aggregate that defies belief. Buried in the eighth-to-last pairing in the final round, he closed birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. He and Kevin Kisner then outlasted Sergio Garcia in the scheduled three-hole playoff before Fowler emerged with a statement victory in sudden death with a birdie at 17. For the week, he circled birdies in five of six trips through the alleged knee-knocker. It was triumph by a thousand cuts, if you will. His 5-under to walk off regulation is the lowest any winner on the PGA TOUR has scored on holes 15-18 since data was first collected in earnest in 1983.
Fowler now ventures out on a different kind of precedent: successfully defending a title at TPC Sawgrass. It’s never happened. But what makes it possible is the same phenomenon that has prevented it. Dye’s extreme test is one of the most consistent the world’s best see every year. And because the world’s best line up, well, depth favors the field.
Oh, and so much for its label as a ball-striker’s track. Fowler ranked a middling T43 in fairways hit and T51 in greens in regulation on the par 72 last year. However, he was second in converting his relatively limited scoring opportunities into birdies or better. That lifted him to fifth in strokes gained: tee-to-green. It also didn’t hurt that his average measurement on approach tied for third-shortest. TPC Sawgrass tips at 7,215 yards.
Once the tournament is in the books, all 18 greens are going to be replanted with TifEagle Bermudagrass (They’re currently MiniVerde Bermuda). It’s the same surface recent Dye creations Austin Country Club and Harbour Town featured for the first time, and Copperhead and Bay Hill debuted before that. Numerous other on-site improvements are also planned at TPC Sawgrass, but the other most relevant to the competition will be an updated par-4 12th hole, which will be drivable in 2017. Weather pending, the course will reopen for business in mid-November this year.
Standard-issue conditions are expected for most of the tournament. Moderate winds will help defend the course throughout. A reasonable threat for rain and boomers enters the picture on Friday. Daytime highs will be seasonable (mid-80s).
POWER RANKINGS: THE PLAYERS
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 1 Rory McIlroy 2 Rickie Fowler 3 Sergio Garcia 4 Henrik Stenson 5 Hideki Matsuyama 6 Justin Rose 7 Jordan Spieth 8 Jason Day 9 Zach Johnson 10 Chris Kirk 11 Louis Oosthuizen 12 Bill Haas 13 Billy Horschel 14 Adam Scott 15 Kevin Na 16 Branden Grace 17 Danny Willett 18 Daniel Berger 19 Francesco Molinari 20 Martin Kaymer
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week's event. Look for the following features later this week:
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Fantasy Insider, Comfort Zone, Sleepers
THURSDAY: Most-picked players
* = Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM's Expert Picks, which also publishes on Tuesdays.