Quick look at THE PLAYERS Championship
March 13, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
THE PLAYERS Championship preview
Drama. Excitement. Sublime golf. Yep, we’ve reached THE PLAYERS Championship. If you want to win at TPC Sawgrass you better have your A game. We are back in March for the first time since 2006 and with that comes new conditions to deal with. You think the final three holes provided theater before… wait till you see it in March winds. Get your snorkels out. But with the crème de la crème of the world of golf here we can guarantee one thing… this is going to be epic. Can Tiger make it three wins? Can Webb Simpson be the first back-to-back champ? Can the like of Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson break their Sawgrass curse? It’s all in front of us.
There is plenty of drama all around TPC Sawgrass, but if you are going to win THE PLAYERS you better be ready for the gauntlet of the last three holes. It opens with the 523-yard par-5 16th where two good shots set up eagle, but wayward ones get wet. Then you need to hold your nerve for the infamous 137-yard island green par-3 17th. Survive that and you have one of the toughest closing holes in golf. The 462-yard par-4 18th plays even tougher now we are back in March. In fact, in the last 12 PLAYERS held in March the field was +854 on the closing three holes. In the last 12 in May, they were just +227. Expect carnage!
TPC Sawgrass flyover compilation of No. 16, No. 17 and No. 18
The drivable 302-yard par-4 12th produced 11 eagles and 187 birdies last year as it tempted the field to make their move off the back of the par-5 11th. With a bunker on the left catching an errant lay-up and water on the left ready to claim bad shots of those playing aggressive, or those not showing precision after a lay-up, this hole brings plenty of eye-catching viewing.
From PGA TOUR meteorologist Wade Stettner: “Partly cloudy skies are forecast on Thursday with a high in the middle 70s and southeast winds at 12-22 mph. Dry weather is expected on Friday with the next chance of rain and thunderstorms arriving Friday night. Friday will be the warmest day of the week with afternoon temperatures in the upper 70s. A cold front will push through Friday night and winds will turn to the north for Saturday and Sunday. Temperatures will be quite a bit cooler this weekend with highs in the 60s and chances for scattered showers both Saturday and Sunday.”
For the latest weather news from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, check out PGATOUR.COM’s Weather Hub.
SOUND CHECKIt's a great tournament venue because it provides that excitement. Some of the greatest designed golf courses in the world wouldn't provide as much excitement as this has. So I think it's served its purpose and it's provided a lot of entertainment over the years.
BY THE NUMBERS
1 – Number of previous top 10 finishes at THE PLAYERS by the best three players in the world right now. Justin Rose is one from 15 starts, Dustin Johnson is 0 of 10 and Brooks Koepka is 0 from 4.
63 – The course record at TPC Sawgrass now held by eight players. Champion Webb Simpson and PGA TOUR Player of the Year Brooks Koepka joined Fred Couples, Greg Norman, Roberto Castro, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day and Colt Knost last year.
50 – Number of players in the top 50 of the FedExCup standings in the field. There are also 50 of 50 of the world’s top 50 players teeing it up.
264 – It’s now 25 years since Greg Norman shot 24-under to set the tournament scoring record. No one has come within four of that mark since.
32 – There have been 32 holes-in-one at THE PLAYERS, 28 of those since the permanent move to TPC Sawgrass. Eight of them have come at the par-3 17th island green, including the last ace in tournament history by Sergio Garcia in 2017.
22 – Number of rounds in the 60s for Sergio Garcia at THE PLAYERS. Has a chance to take the record he shares with Davis Love III and Nick Price. Adam Scott sits one behind with 21.
634 – Balls in the water in regulation play on the par-3 17th island green since 2003. The worst day in that time span was round 1 of 2007 when 50 balls found a watery grave.
Better Than Most: Two-time PLAYERS Champion Tiger Woods was reminiscing on his first title in 2001, in particular his third-round birdie on the par-3 17th island green. The infamous snaking putt from the top tier to the bottom hole location where Gary Koch used the iconic “better than most” line will forever live in PLAYERS folklore.
“It was a crap iron shot, first of all,” Woods joked about the moment.
“The truth is that I had a little teach before that putt. We had a delay there on the 17th tee and Fred Funk was playing right in front of us. He hit it up on the top shelf and he four-putted the hole and so I saw how fast it was as it came over the rise and as it started going to the right, how much it picked up speed."
“He almost putted it off the green. In fact he did putt it off the green. So I knew how quick it was, so I gave it a little bit more. It broke left a lot at the top with the old green. It broke left a lot at the top and then it just snapped at the right."
“I hit my spot and I was just hoping that it would take the break because I saw Fred's, how much it went to the right at the end, and my putt was not going right. I'm like, would you start breaking. And as soon as it started to break, I'm like, stop breaking. And then it caught the low side of the hole and went in.”
Bombers Love March Move: During the last 12 years of PLAYERS Championships in May, the winners list fails to identify a specific type of player as being advantaged, other than those who came in with some form in their approach game. But as we return to March those who seem the most excited appear to be the great drivers of the golf ball. There are some significant numbers that support their confidence. Read all about the move to March and the affect it could have here.
Day and Tiger dismiss injury concerns: Former PLAYERS champions Tiger Woods and Jason Day were high profile WD’s from last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard. But both have declared themselves ready to return to competition at TPC Sawgrass. Woods has overcome a neck complaint and has employed a putting coach to combat the fact he had six three-putts in each of his last two tournaments.
Day had four injections in his back injury in a bid to get right this week. His thoughts can be found here.
Thomas chases history: Nine-time PGA TOUR winner Justin Thomas has less than two months remaining to join Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Jack Nicklaus as one of the four youngest players in PGA TOUR history to reach 10 career wins.
Woods holds the record (23 years, 6 months, 4 days), while Nicklaus is the third-youngest to reach 10 wins (24 years, 3 months, 12 days); Thomas, who will be 25 years, 10 months, 18 days on Sunday could pass Rory McIlroy who was 25 years, 11 months, 29 day win he crossed the 10-win threshold.
Thomas is four for four in making the cut at THE PLAYERS including a T3 in 2016 and T11 last season.
“THE PLAYERS is the PLAYERS, it's such a huge event everybody knows it's a huge event, everybody knows it's a major… I don't think can you go wrong calling it one or not calling it one, THE PLAYERS is THE PLAYERS,” Thomas said of his enthusiasm for the week.
“There's every person in this field would be very, very content with holding the trophy at the end of the week."
“I took quite a bit of time off last week, just trying to relax and just get rested and get the body feeling right. I feel like I've played better than maybe my results show here, so this is a place that I do get excited to come to."
“I'm just excited about playing in this tournament because it's always a blast.”
Koepka Keeps It Simple: PGA TOUR Player of the Year Brooks Koepka has kept his preparation limited in an effort to better his four previous trips to THE PLAYERS. Without a top-10 to his name Koepka does come into this seasons event at TPC Sawgrass off the back of a final round course record tying 63 last year. “It's an important week. I'm trying to treat it like a major… not out there grinding all day every day, trying to fine-tune everything,” the 5-time PGA TOUR winner said. “The major weeks I just go play nine holes and come and hit a few balls and then I leave. I keep it very simple. I'm trying not to be tired.”
Simpson looks to be first to defend: PLAYERS Champion Webb Simpson is hopeful he can be the first player in tournament history to defend the title. But he knows it will not be easy. “You're dealing with a lot of different stuff here and certain winds in the morning; it shifts in the afternoon,” Simpson explained as to why the champs haven’t been able to replicate glory.
“I just think there's more factors, there's more intricacies to this golf course, so some years you might come in playing OK, get poor bounces or couple bad club selections here or there, wind comes up on 17… it's largely due to the fact that you just have so many different types of winners and it's hard to know who is going to play well this week.”