Due to its positive reception the first time around, the Power Rankings for THE PLAYERS Championship covers the entire field of 144 at TPC Sawgrass.
The full-field format that we launched for the Masters hit the target, so this weekly preview material will reprise for the final three majors of the season as well. This means that all Sleepers that are usually found in their stand-alone space are also below for these special events. The Fantasy Insider column will still run, but it'll be abridged.
This page opens as usual with 20 in the traditional ranking. Beneath it are numerous groupings of the remainder of the field, details on the course and its latest changes, defending champion Si Woo Kim, the weather, my writing schedule and as much space as you want and need for discussion and a Q&A.
Power Rankings: THE PLAYERS Championship
20 Hideki Matsuyama 19 Jon Rahm 18 Adam Hadwin 17 Chesson Hadley 16 Sergio Garcia 15 Louis Oosthuizen 14 Jordan Spieth 13 Kyle Stanley 12 Dustin Johnson 11 Francesco Molinari 10 Ian Poulter 9 Justin Rose 8 Webb Simpson 7 Patrick Reed 6 Zach Johnson 5 Henrik Stenson 4 Rory McIlroy 3 Rickie Fowler 2 Justin Thomas 1 Jason Day
For a guy who has earned so much attention on the West Coast Swing and points elsewhere, his devil-may-care style doesn't cater to the hazards of TPC Sawgrass. That he prevailed here in 2007 easily is one of the most underrated victories of his Hall of Fame career. As he sizes up the latest course modifications, he's attempting to turn around a slate that warrants lowered expectations in his 25th appearance. Since 2013, he's just 1-for-5 with a T41 last year. Of course, 2018 has shaped up as everything but, so something will give for the 48-year-old.
Just about any other week and the 22 golfers in this section could populate the Power Rankings proper and few would gripe about their inclusion. For the handful still building cachet on the game's biggest stage, their appearance below has more to do with surging form upon arrival than success or experience at TPC Sawgrass. Meanwhile, the household names sprinkled in have earned their benefit of the doubt due to enough recent form or having proven that they can tame TPC Sawgrass, just not both.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (* - debutant; # - second appearance)
Matt Kuchar (winner: 2012)
Si Woo Kim (defending champion)
Tiger Woods (winner: 2001, 2013)
Adam Scott (winner: 2004)
Martin Kaymer (winner: 2014)
Rafa Cabrera Bello
When it comes to THE PLAYERS Championship, Sleepers are relative due to the depth of the field. Similarly to Challengers above but sans the punch of familiarity, they conjoin here as having either especially strong recent form but with little experience at TPC Sawgrass or whiffs of recent form with a body of success on the course.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (# - second appearance)
This smattering of 27 includes a boatload of experience but it's been a while since it translated into success at TPC Sawgrass if at all. Failure to perform could be due to a poor fit as a general profile or it could very well boil down to the absence of a comfort level and understanding of how to adjust to this course with danger lurking everywhere. The two first-timers are on the rise but have exhibited enough inconsistency to warrant patience. To that end, their inclusion here is a relative endorsement.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (* - debutant)
Paul Casey (4-for-11, two top 20s)
Tony Finau (0-for-2)
Charley Hoffman (8-for-11; zero top 20s)
Sean O'Hair (6-for-11; all three top 40s are top 25s, but none since 2011)
Scott Piercy (2-for-7; both cuts made are top 25s)
Charl Schwartzel (5-for-7; zero top 25s)
Kevin Na (5-for-11; all three top 35s are top 10s)
Jason Dufner (7-for-9; one top 30)
Ryan Moore (8-for-11; zero top 25s)
Ryan Palmer (4-for-12; both top 55s are top 25s)
Bubba Watson (6-for-10; zero top 35s)
Kevin Streelman (5-for-9; both top 50s are top 20s, but none since 2013)
Brandt Snedeker (3-for-9; both top 45s are top 15s, but none since 2013)
Gary Woodland (3-for-6; only top 25 was a T11 in 2014)
Martin Laird (4-for-8; both top 65s are top fives, but none since 2013)
Brian Gay (6-for-14; one top 30)
Bill Haas (6-for-11; one top 20)
James Hahn (3-for-5; zero top 25s)
Jamie Lovemark (2-for-2; zero top 60s)
Matthew Fitzpatrick (0-for-2)
Ben Martin (2-for-3; one top 25)
Jhonattan Vegas (3-for-5; only top 40 was a T7 in 2012)
Sung Kang (2-for-2; zero top 25s)
Patton Kizzire (1-for-2; solo 76th)
Chris Stroud (5-for-7; both top 30s are top 15s, but none since 2011)
Every tournament consists of golfers who haven't played well in it before or recently, don't have enough experience to lift expectations, arrive dealing with a known physical injury or simply are in poor form. The following 38 check at least one of those boxes and don't suggest to be categorized elsewhere.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence
Charles Howell III
Harold Varner III
Ted Potter, Jr.
In 2017, Si Woo Kim became just the second golfer in tournament history to prevail in his second appearance, but he was the first to do it at TPC Sawgrass. (Al Geiberger turned the trick in the second edition of the event in its only spin at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth in 1975.) So, it's logical to give each of these 10 another year's worth of experience.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence
Byeong Hun An
Tyrone Van Aswegen
Augusta National Golf Club has a few more decades of tradition than TPC Sawgrass, but the two tracks share a stingy similarity. Just as there have been only three first-time participants to prevail at the Masters (two of which in the first two editions), only three of the 44 winners of THE PLAYERS Championship connected for victory in their debuts. And when you eliminate Jack Nicklaus at Atlanta Country Club in the inaugural edition in 1974, you're left with only two in 36 contests at TPC Sawgrass – Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002). Last year's debutants were led by Alex Noren at solo 10th. The 17 of the 20 first-timers in this year's field who don't appear in a previous section are slotted below.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence
Hao Tong Li
NOTE: Graham DeLaet, Luke Donald, Brandon Hagy, Jim Herman, Morgan Hoffmann, Seung-Yul Noh and Camilo Villegas are the qualifiers who didn't commit for various reasons.
It probably always will be illogical that Si Woo Kim prevailed at TPC Sawgrass last year. On a course that demands precision, he had anything but that upon arrival, ranking near the bottom in almost all acceptable measurements to define and explain performance. He then closed with a bogey-free 69 for a – of all things – comfortable three-stroke margin to become – of all things – the youngest winner in the 36 years the track has hosted the PGA TOUR's flagship event. This isn't what course creator Pete Dye envisioned, but it's what any worthy course can produce.
Last year's scoring average on the par 72 tipping at 7,189 yards was a nine-year high of 73.291. Unlike Kim's achievement, that wasn't surprising after significant upgrades and modifications were in play for the first time. Included in the changes was the introduction of TifEagle bermudagrass greens running at about 13 feet on the Stimpmeter, as they will again this week.
New greens need two or three years to settle into an identity for the long-term, so this year's field should improve on last year's eight-year low in greens in regulation (11.08 per round) and the tournament's longest average in proximity to the hole (42 feet, one inch) in the ShotLink era (2002-present). Those led to nine-year basements in both converting birdies or better after hitting GIR (28.49 percent) and scrambling (51.26 percent).
Kim placed T23 as a first-time participant in 2016, so it's clear that TPC Sawgrass fits his eye. He kept in front of him off the tee (eighth in distance of all drives and T15 in fairways hit) and put on a clinic around and on greens. He led the field in scrambling and was perfect on 57 tries from six feet and in, 17 of which were outside three feet.
The most noticeable of this year's adjustments occurred at the 12th hole. After an awkward foray as a potentially drivable par 4, the landing area adjacent to the water on the left has been lifted and flattened to reduce the chances of a tee ball rolling into the hazard, the primary rough on that side is wider as an additional defense and the fairway bunker was elongated nearer the green. The right side of the fairway was also opened to accentuate the value of that angle of approach.
The thickest rough everywhere is down one-quarter of an inch to two-and-one-quarter inches. There are also new trees on multiple holes, some as a result of trees felled by Hurricane Irma last September, and pine straw has replaced rough in spots.
After a dozen years with a May date, THE PLAYERS Championship will shift back to March in 2019. So, this will likely be the last time that the field experience the relative heat and humidity on tap this week. Daytime highs in the mid- to upper 80s are expected. Breezes will be light to moderate and may freshen with a slight increase in the threat for inclement weather on the weekend.
Whatever the weather, among the windfall of perks for the winner will be 600 FedExCup points, a five-year PGA TOUR exemption and $1.98 million. The total prize money is a record $11 million.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton reviews and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Facebook Live, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf presented by SERVPRO, which also publishes on Tuesdays.