Major season has arrived! Well, almost. Known as the unofficial “fifth major,” The Players Championship tees off this week at the iconic TPC Sawgrass. After previously being played in May for the last 11 years, the event has moved back to March permanently starting this year.
This tournament will feature nearly all of the top golfers in the world. From Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy to Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, it will be a who’s who of elite talent at “The Players.” These golfers will also be competing for a share of the record-setting $12.5 million purse.
Before we take a closer look at the field and give the pick to win, here’s a little bit about the course and the recent history of this tournament.
Since 1982, the TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida has been the home of The Players. This Par 72 course is just under 7,200 yards, unusually small compared to the average course on Tour. But it presents many challenges to even the world’s best golfers.
For starters, there are a ton of doglegging holes, with no two consecutive holes that play in the same direction. The course boasts a ton of water hazards, deep British-style bunkers, and waste areas as well. The greens are considered among the smallest on Tour, and the Florida winds and stadium-style crowd will add on additional pressure to what is already considered an exceptionally difficult course.
Of course, no preview of TPC Sawgrass would be complete without mentioning the famous Hole 17. Surrounded by thousands of spectators on top of the action, golfers must treat this 137-yard Par 3 carefully, hitting their ball onto the iconic island green with no real margin for error.
The Players History
Given its level of difficulty, it’s no wonder that only six golfers have won this event more than once. Among them, only Tiger Woods with wins in 2001 and 2013 is competing this weekend.
Last year, Webb Simpson had a career weekend, shooting a 63 in the second round and leading by seven strokes going into Sunday to win his first event in four-and-a-half years. In addition, his winning score of -18 was the lowest at Sawgrass in more than 20 years.
Other recent winners include Si-Woo Kim in 2017, who at 21-years old became the youngest winner in tournament history, along with Jason Day in 2016 and Rickie Fowler in 2015.
With a field of 144, including many high-end players, here are some of the names to keep an eye on this week in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Justin Thomas – 16/1
Following the co-favorites Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, Thomas is the next man up, and with good reason. He’s currently second in SG: tee-to-green and first in scoring average and Par 5 scoring. He also has a ton of familiarity with Bermuda grass on the East coast, and a top-three finish here in 2016. Given recent form and pure talent, Thomas winning isn’t a crazy thought whatsoever.
Francesco Molinari – 20/1
It’s easy to feel good about Molinari, who is coming off of an impressive win at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. But he is going to a course that plays to his strengths, especially with his ability to post great greens-in-regulation numbers. And his history at Sawgrass backs that up, with four career top-10 finishes in eight appearances.
Xander Schauffele – 25/1
Last year, in his first appearance at this event, Schauffele finished tied for second place with a score of -14. He is now coming into this tournament as the FedEx Cup leader who sits second overall in the all-around. He’s also a great weekend player, when the pressure is truly on, scoring under par in all third and fourth rounds in his last 10 Tour appearances.
Ian Poulter – 50/1
Poulter is someone who can go overlooked in a deep field. He is coming into the weekend with four top-six finishes in his last five appearances and has a great track record at Sawgrass with two second place finishes and an 11th place finish last year. He’s currently 22nd in SG: tee-to-green, and if his putting can improve, can certainly be competing on Sunday.
Other big-names and value picks include Justin Rose (20-1), Brooks Koepka (20-1), Tiger Woods (25-1), Sergio Garcia (30-1), Patrick Cantlay (40-1), and Lucas Glover (60-1).
When it comes down to it, I believe Xander Schauffele has the right combination of skill, momentum, and mindset to overcome the challenges of TPC Sawgrass and win his first Players Championship.
The first round begins Thursday morning at 7:40 AM local time from Ponde Vedra Beach.