The First Look: THE PLAYERS Championship
March 08, 2019
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- March 08, 2019
Webb Simpson wins THE PLAYERS Championship
Reigning FedExCup champion Justin Rose and defending THE PLAYERS champion Webb Simpson top the marquee as the PGA TOUR’s flagship event moves back into its original March slot, ready to take on a TPC Sawgrass likely to show a different side than entrants have become used to seeing in recent years.
Dustin Johnson returns after a two-week layoff after winning the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, among dozens of pros getting their first look at TPC Sawgrass in March. No such concerns for two-time winner Tiger Woods, though neck woes that led him to miss the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard could be.
FIELD NOTES: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am winner Phil Mickelson is in line for his 26th start at TPC Sawgrass, moving the Hall of Famer into a tie for No. 6 on the all-time list. Jay Haas and Davis Love III share the record for most starts with 29. … Vijay Singh, 56, who made a run at eclipsing Sam Snead as the TOUR’s oldest winner before placing sixth at The Honda Classic, is in as winner of the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship. … Cameron Champ, who won in Mississippi last fall, and rising European Tour stars Matt Wallace and Eddie Pepperell are among this year’s rookie class at THE PLAYERS. … One additional berth is available for the winner of this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, if not already qualified.
FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 600 points.
STORYLINES: THE PLAYERS returns to its March roots, where it was held for its first 33 editions. That means a different look, with rye overseed providing more defined fairways and rough lines, and potentially more fickle weather than was seen in May. … Johnson, who pulled away to a five-shot romp in Mexico, hopes to sustain the momentum at a venue where his best finish was 12th two years ago. … Woods’ status bears monitoring after taking himself out of the Bay Hill lineup. After tweaking his neck in Mexico, he said treatment back home had yet to produce the desired result. … A similar watch goes out for Jason Day, who withdrew after six holes at Bay Hill with back problems. … THE PLAYERS continues to wait for its first back-to-back winner. The closest anyone has come is Woods, who lost a duel with Hal Sutton in 2000 and won it in 2001. … Simpson was the third winner in the past five editions to close out a 54-hole lead, joining Jason Day (2016) and Martin Kaymer (2014). Before that, seven straight winners came from off the pace. … A total of 54 balls hit water last year at No. 17, slightly above the average for the tournament’s 12 years in May (47.8). The record is 93, back in the inaugural May edition in 2007.
COURSE: TPC Sawgrass (Stadium), 7,189 yards, par 72. Once 415 acres of wooded wetlands bought for $1 by then-commissioner Deane Beman, the Pete Dye design has thrived as a complete test that plays no favorites. Dye took pains to ensure no two consecutive holes play in the same direction, doglegs were carved out in both directions and both short and long holes are offered at every par. A recent tweak is a drivable par-4 at No. 12, where both fairway and green slope toward a water hazard on the left. No hole gets more attention, though, than its shortest – the 137-yard 17th over water to a green connected to land only by narrow rear pathway.
For those visiting Florida’s First Coast, must-play courses include TPC Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.), Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort (Amelia Island, Fla.) and World Golf Village (St. Augustine, Fla.). Book your reservations via TeeOff.com.
72-HOLE RECORD: 264, Greg Norman (1994).
18-HOLE RECORD: 63, Fred Couples (3rd round, 1992), Greg Norman (1st round, 1994), Roberto Castro (1st round, 2013), Martin Kaymer (1st round, 2014); Jason Day (1st round, 2016); Colt Knost (2nd round, 2016); Webb Simpson (2nd round, 2018); Brooks Koepka (4th round, 2018).
LAST YEAR: Simpson ended a 4 1/2-year dry spell in resounding fashion, tying the tournament’s 54-hole scoring record on the way to a breezy four-shot romp. A TPC Sawgrass record-tying 63 helped propel Simpson to match Greg Norman’s three-day total of 19-under 197, making a closing 73 virtually irrelevant. Simpson’s only real blemish came on the 72nd hole, as his approach skittered across the 18th green and into the water on the way to double bogey. The victory was Simpson’s first since 2013 in Las Vegas, a stretch of 107 PGA TOUR starts. Jimmy Walker, Charl Schwartzel and Xander Schauffele shared second after a trio of 67s. Woods held a share of second after six birdies in the first 12 holes of his final round, but faded to a tie for 11th.
HOW TO FOLLOW
TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday, 2-7 p.m. (NBC). Sunday, 1-6 p.m. (NBC). DIRECTV subscribers also will have access to bonus coverage of featured groups, dedicated coverage at No.17 and a ShotLink channel.
PGA TOUR LIVE: Thursday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. (featured groups), 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (featured holes). Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. (featured groups), noon-7 p.m. (featured holes). Sunday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (featured groups), noon-7 p.m. (featured holes).