Inside the Ropes
THE PLAYERS Championship
TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
THE PLAYERS Stadium Course
Yards: 7,215 as per the scorecard
Par: 72 (36-36)
Average green size: 4,500 square feet
Stimpmeter: 12.5 ft.
Water Hazards: 24
Course Architect: Pete Dye (1979); Redesign Pete Dye (2006)
Notes: Fairways are 419 Bermudagrass; Greens are Mini-Verde Bermudagrass; Rough is Bermudagrass.
Winner’s Share: $1,710,000 and 600 FedExCup Points
Defending Champion: K.J.Choi defeated David Toms on the first playoff hole.
Date: May 10-13
Notes: Richest purse in golf
The first Tournament Players Championship was played in 1974 and won by Jack Nicklaus.
The Tournament Players Championship was moved to TPC Sawgrass in 1982 and Jerry Pate was the first winner at the new venue.
In 1988 the tournament was re-named The Players Championship.
In the 30 years since the tournament has been played at TPC Sawgrass, only Hal Sutton (1983, 2000), Fred Couples (1984, 1996) and Steve Elkington (1991, 1997) have won multiple tournaments.
Nobody has successfully defended their title at TPC Sawgrass.
In the four previous events, two have resulted in playoff finishes. In 2008 Sergio Garcia defeated Paul Goydos and last year K.J. Choi defeated David Toms.
Since moving to TPC Sawgrass, half of the 30 winners have been major champions. The other 15 winners have not been major champions. Just seeing if you are paying attention…
Eight of the last 10 winners have NOT been major champions. Only Davis Love III (2003) and Phil Mickelson (2007) have been major champions.
Only Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002) have won THE PLAYERS in their first start.
Sticking with the trend of 2012, only 11 of 30 players who held the 54-hole lead have gone on to win THE PLAYERS. Déjà vu all over again!
Usually in this space I tell you who’s IN the field. This week, it’s easier to tell you who’s not. Of the top 50 OWGR players in the field, Nos. 4 Watson, 14 Schwartzel, 17 D. Johnson, 34 Bjorn, 44, Lawrie and 46 Anders Hansen are not playing for one reason or another. Quick editorial: If the TOUR does NOT require its members to play THE PLAYERS what’s the big deal about Bubba wanting to spend time with his new baby? It’s not like he withdrew after one round and cost somebody a chance at making the field. Relax, people.
There are 10 former PLAYERS champions in the field this week as well. Fred Couples, Davis Love III, K.J. Choi, Tim Clark, Sergio Garcia, Justin Leonard, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Tiger Woods.
In the 30 events played, 18 times U.S. players have won this event.
Seven of the last 10 winners at THE PLAYERS have been internationals. Phi Mickelson, Fred Funk and Davis Love III have been the U.S. winners.
Young Guns versus Old Guns
In 20 tournaments this season the “Young versus Old” argument now stands at 10-8-2 as Rickie Fowler cashes for the “Young” crew
For the “young”, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24) and Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29), Rory McIlroy (22), Justin Rose (31) and now Rickie Fowler (23) lead the way for the Young guys.
Mark Wilson (37) is joined by George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34) and Jason Dufner (35) in the “middle”.
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are flying the flag for the “old” folks on Tour.
Fowler’s win makes it three on the bounce for the U.S.A. crew and six of the last eight on Tour heading back to Luke Donald’s win at TC.
So What? So Let’s Dance!
Welcome to the THE PLAYERS Stadium Course. This Pete Dye layout is an excellent test of golf from tee to green and once you’re on the green, the fun just begins. Plenty of water and sand combined with plenty of doglegs will make driving the golf ball accurately a priority. Approaches into heavily-bunkered greens with water lurking will test these pro’s mettle throughout the week. Run-off areas, mounds, intricate bunkering are all parts of this Pete Dye challenge around the greens.
The closing stretch of holes 16 through 18 make for a grandstand finish year in and year out. Hole 16 is a par five that can be eagled if you have the nerve to handle the approach shot over water without putting it over the green into more water. Or short in the bunker. Or long and left into the gallery where you’re forced to chip back across the green towards the trouble. It’s not a guaranteed birdie or par but it’s definitely dramatic. Once you collect your thoughts and breath after playing three, four, five or six shots on 16 it’s off to the signature hole 17. Sure it’s only 130 or so yards but the island green can play tricks with your mind. The swirling winds in the late afternoon can also play tricks on your golf ball. Unless you are Craig Perks, trailing by two shots on the 17 tee usually means you are playing for second place. K.J. Choi joined Perks by making birdie on 17 on Sunday last year before going on to win in the playoff. The 18th hole has been extended over time to keep up with the technology. Hitting iron off the tee to ensure you hit the fairway makes for a difficult shot of over 220 yards into 18 green. Taking a driver on 18 to shorten the shot into 18 sounds great on paper; yet water runs the length of the fairway down the left side. Down the right side are trees and rough that make it difficult to hit the green in regulation with your second ball. The second shot has water on the left and mounds short, right and long. Other than that, it’s a pretty easy finishing hole. Any birdies here will feel like gaining two shots on the field. David Toms made a 17-footer here last year to force the playoff.
And as we saw last year and in 2008, if multiple players survive this four-day test of weather, elements and golf, they head back to 17 tee to start the playoff. Bring your “A” game and your nerves this week. Oh, and make sure that ball-striking is your forte.
THE PLAYERS Championship ranked 23RD out of 51 courses on Tour as most difficult in 2011, which includes the four majors.
It’s Mother’s Day weekend so let’s wish all the moms out there a fantastic weekend. I hope they don’t mind watching some golf come Sunday afternoon! I know my mom enjoys it!
Just like Mom, we love them all the same, some just a little “differently” than the others.
Lee Westwood: Known as one of the best ball strikers in the world, Westwood also has the numbers to back up that claim. He’s currently first on TOUR in GIR and fourth in the ball striking category. His recent play has shown that the numbers do not lie. After winning the Ballantine’s Championship in South East Asia, Westwood hauled his game halfway around the world to Charlotte, NC to finish T5 after a 68-66 weekend. He also did this with a new caddy on the bag after his usual caddy injured his knee playing football. If the combination of jet lag and a new man on his bag didn’t bother him last week, I believe he’ll be more than ready to claim his first PLAYERS this week. In six events this year Westwood has finished in the top five four times. His worst finish was T29 at the WGC-CC after he opened with 76. His recent history at THE PLAYERS suggests he’ll be just fine as the last time out in 2010 he finished T4. Remember when Chubby Chandler had Westwood and McIlroy both not play THE PLAYERS last year? Let’s give Bubba Watson a break, shall we?
Rory McIlroy: I sound like a broken record but every time this youngster tees it up he has an above average chance of winning. His record on TOUR this season backs up that thought process. In five events McIlroy has finished second, WIN, third, T40 and P2 last week at WFC. I understand his record at TPC Sawgrass is poor (CUT, CUT) but I cannot overlook the way he’s hitting the golf ball in 2012. Even though he was T65 in driving accuracy last week he still managed T5 GIR. He was huge off the tee with multiple drives over 330 yards littered throughout his round. Heck, on the playoff hole he was 20 yards ahead of Rickie Fowler with his three-wood. Fowler hit driver and is ranked 34th in driving distance on TOUR. The current world No. 1 is looking to keep his spot as Luke Donald and Lee Westwood will be breathing down his neck this week.
Justin Rose: Notice a trend here yet? No offense to the American players who have won six of the last eight TOUR events, but some of the best iron players and ball strikers are located across the pond. After winning at the WGC-CC at Doral, Rose has continued his excellent play. In his last three events, Rose has finished T15, T8 and T10 and has half of his 12 rounds in the 60’s. Rose was singled out by his coach Sean Foley as being the best iron player he’s seen on TOUR in 2012. Good enough for me as he has Hunter Mahan and Tiger Woods in his stable as well.
Louis Oosthuizen: The last time we saw Oosthuizen he was the victim on Bubba Watson’s unbelievable snap-hook wedge at Augusta on the second playoff hole. Louis made his bogey, Watson made his par and the rest is Masters history. Oosthuizen dusted himself off and flew halfway around the world to win for the second time in 2012 at the Maybank Malaysian Open. It’s a nice consolation prize but there’s no point in consoling the man who has two wins, P2 and a third in eight events in 2012. He’s the best ranked ball striker on TOUR in 2012.
Hunter Mahan: Mahan currently sits fifth in GIR and eighth in driving accuracy on TOUR which makes for an excellent combination around these parts. Mahan has also proven he can win on TOUR doing so twice already in 2012. After last week’s let down, Mahan should relish his memories of the last two years at TPC Sawgrass as he finished T6 and T17. “The Golf Boys” have proven they are hot this year and no one has been hotter than Mahan.
Ten more who will make Mom proud on Mother’s Day
Graeme McDowell: The last of the 11 of the last 30 players to not hold the 54-hole lead at THE PLAYERS, McDowell shot 79 in round four last year to finish T33. After making six bogeys and a double (his THIRD of the week) McDowell still managed T4 GIR and T24 driving accuracy. He played his last 19 holes in 2011 NINE-over par. He has recently ridden the wave in his last three events finishing T63 SHO, T12 the Masters and T57 at Zurich. He’s first in driving accuracy and 24th in GIR. I would think GMAC will be excited to get back to TPC Sawgrass and give her another shot.
Steve Stricker: After a two-tournament stretch of disappointment, Stricker is looking to add to his sixth-place solo at Zurich here at TPC Sawgrass. Stricker is 7th in GIR and 27th in driving accuracy and just for good measure he’s 13th in scrambling just in case he misses a green or two. In his last two outings here he’s finished T12 in 2011 and T22 in 2009. As long as his back/neck/shoulders are feeling healthy, there is no point leaving 49 consecutive-cuts made on the bench this week.
Adam Scott: The last time we saw Adam Scott stateside was when he was blistering Augusta National to the tune of 66 on Sunday of the Masters to finish T8. After taking a couple of weeks off he also played in the Ballantine’s Championship and went even lower with a 68-65 weekend to finish T12. It looks like we have a closer on our hands here! The 2004 PLAYERS champion has two other top 10 finishes here with a T8 in 2005 and T6 in 2007. Even though he’s 106th in driving accuracy, Scott ranks eighth in GIR.
Jim Furyk: The local resident, one of many this week at THE PLAYERS, has played this course a few times both in tournament play and for fun. It’s surprising that he hasn’t hit the winner’s circle in his 16 tries. The good news is he has hit the top 25 seven times and the top ten three times. With his T26 last week (no rounds par or above!), it was Furyk’s worst outing in five tournaments. In Furyk’s last 20 rounds, 18 have been par or better. Those rounds led to finishes of P2, T11, 11th, T8 and T26 last week. Webb Simpson played pretty well on his home course last week!
Luke Donald: I know, I know, how is the world’s No. 2 player this far down the list?! Donald currently is ranked 113th in GIR this season on TOUR. He makes up for this by seemingly getting up and down from everywhere (first in scrambling, fourth in strokes gained-putting) around the greens. Having to make four and five footers all week long can put stress on the ol’ putter so that’s why Donald is “down” here. Donald has made the cut here six of nine times and his best finishes are T4 last year and T2 in 2005. He finished third at Zurich last time out.
Webb Simpson: Simpson currently sits third with 18 consecutive cuts made on TOUR. When his flat stick is rolling, he’s awfully hard to contain as he’s hit the top 10 four times in 2012. Simpson is 22nd in GIR even though he is 132nd in driving accuracy and that will help him contend this week if the driver misbehaves. After only having one top 10 in six starts, Simpson is rounding into form with T13 at Zurich and fourth last week WFO. His record here is nothing short of awful, T69, CUT and CUT in his only three appearances but his recent form suggests he’ll be fine this week.
Sergio Garcia: Garcia has made 10 of 12 cuts at THE PLAYERS and is the 2008 champion. He has hit the top 10 three times at TPC Sawgrass including finishing second in 2007. Garcia’s experience around this track combined with his solid ball striking acumen will make him a contender this week. His last time out at the Masters he finished T12. He should be fresh and ready to go.
Matt Kuchar: The trend continues as Kuchar sits 18th in driving accuracy and 23rd in GIR in 2012 plus he’s been excellent when the competition has been its toughest. Kuchar finished T5 WGC-Match Play, T8 WGC-CC and T3 at the Masters so a big field won’t bother Kuchar this week. In his last four outings here Kuchar’s best finishes are T13 in 2010 and T14 in 2009. Kuchar finished T13 at VTO his last time out and has made 16 consecutive cuts.
Francesco Molinari: In six events this season the Italian has not finished worse than T19 at the Masters. He comes to North Florida off a win last week at the Open de Espana where he closed with a nasty 65. He hit 15 greens on Thursday when only six of the 78 players in his flight broke par. How about that then? He’s currently hitting over 80% GIR according the stats on the European Tour. He was CUT here last year but was ninth in 2010.
Nick Watney: After showing signs of life last week at WFC I’m throwing Watney right back into the fire. In his last two outings at THE PLAYERS, Watney has finished T4 and T17. Throw out Watney’s triple last week and he’s sitting pretty nicely heading into the back nine. He was T11 in GIR and made 20 birdies so that’s progress. Watney is T15 in GIR this season so he has that going for him as well, which is nice.
J.B Holmes: Bomb and gouge is alive and well. Whatever you do, don’t look at Holmes’ numbers off the tee and GIR. This is the true definition of a “horse for course” pick as Holmes has overpowered TPC Sawgrass last year finishing T6 while only hitting T52 in GIR. In 2010 he was T8. In 2008 he was T10. In 2007 he was T16. That’s good enough to be on the sleeper list.
Ryan Moore: When 44 of the top 50 golfers in the world are playing in the event, the golfer that is ranked 69th can be defined as an outsider. Moore hasn’t been playing like an outsider as he’s hit the top 10 in three of his last four outings, T5, T8, 88th and T4. I hope I’m not a week late to this party but I was weary after his 85 at SHO and how he would react after that. He has hit the top 10 twice. Asked and answered that. Moore has made the cut in all five career starts with his best finish being T27 in 2008.
Davis Love III: Another long hitter with an excellent record here DLIII is looking to build on his T12 last year and T4 in 2010. The Ryder Cup Captain has a full-plate as he gets ready for Medinah later this year but there is something about TPC Sawgrass that always gets his juices flowing. In 22 career starts DLIII has seven top 10’s. Hey, it’s a long-shot!
Robert Garrigus: He’s finished T2 and P2 earlier this season and the last two times around he’s been T13 RBC and T15 WFC. He currently ranks eighth in GIR even though he’s 146th in driving accuracy. It doesn’t hurt that he’ long off the tee and he’s 11th in birdie average. Hang on tight for this ride as he has only made one cut in three appearances.
Bud Cauley: Young Cauley has been on my radar for most of the 2012 season. The Jacksonville, FL native has made 10 of 13 cuts including back-to-back top 10’s at API and SHO. This is also a “home game” for Cauley as he has been reported to have played this course over 100 times. We always have a streettttttttttttttch pick every week so this week it’s the kid who’s all-around game is ranked 35th in 2012.
Maybe Father’s Day Instead
Golfers I am taking a pass on this week
Tiger Woods: There. I said it; or rather typed it. You wanna blindly take him, go ahead. This isn’t a course for a first-round pick with a two swing thoughts swirling in his head. His last two outings have been T40 and CUT. If this was any other player on TOUR, you would run away like a scalded dog. Woods hasn’t broke 70 in his last eight rounds. If I am trying to win a league I can’t take him this week. His recent history at THE PLAYERS includes back-to-back WD’s and only ONE top 10 since his win in 2001. There are too many other players playing too well right now. This is going to be the dilemma moving forward: When to try and catch Tiger on a “hot” week. I tried at the Masters. You can try this week.
Phil Mickelson: Congratulations to LEFTY on his induction to the World Golf Hall of Fame! I’m not even corny enough to believe that Mickelson will win this week after his induction. Heck, part of me ventures to guess the only reason his IS playing this year is because of his induction. Remember kids, that’s pure speculation on my part, no more, no less. This isn’t one of Mickelson’s recent favorite tracks. Since his WIN in 2007, Mickelson has finished T21, T55, T17 and T33 last year. Mickelson is coming off a solid week at Quail Hollow where he was T5 in GIR but all the distractions of entering the Hall of Fame put me off this week.
Keegan Bradley: He finished T4 SHO and has slowly faded over the last three weeks finishing T27, CUT and CUT at WFO last week. He only has one round in the 60’s in those eight rounds. I’ll give Bradley another week to get his game together and then I will be back on board.
Jason Dufner: Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Dufner on their nuptials last weekend! I wonder if he hit balls or went on a honeymoon! I know I had a couple cold ones on my honeymoon and didn’t have a care in the world about what was going on around me. Seemed like yesterday, right, dear? Dear? Anyhow, the field is too loaded this week to jump on a newly-wed no matter his record at this course (T32, CUT and T6 last year).
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: THE PLAYERS (Glass’s Picks)
Group 1: Lee Westwood
Group 2: Louis Oosthuizen
Group 3: Bud Cauley
Group 4: Davis Love III
Ned said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He’s had documented success in Yahoo!’s game for years. Even if you’re confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read. Now, Ned also provides us with his Golf Channel fantasy game selections as well!
Full Disclosure: I am NOT Ned! He’s smarter and better looking!
Luke Donald-- Last year Donald was money in the bank to play well each week. The story has been different this year, but he looked good last time out at the Zurich Classic where he finished in third place.
Adam Scott-- He has been playing well this season on a very light schedule. Scott has three top-10s in ten starts at THE PLAYERS and he won the championship in '04.
Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson
Lee Westwood-- Westwood has been playing great golf recently and last week he tied for fifth place at the Wells Fargo on a course that he doesn't have a good history on. He has had success at TPC Sawgrass with three top-10 finishes in nine starts.
Rory McIlroy-- I don't like the fact that he has failed to make the cut at THE PLAYERS in two attempts, however he has played so well over the last year that I can't see how you at least have him on your bench.
Ernie Els-- Els has played very well in his last five tournaments and his playoff loss in New Orleans was his third top-five finish in his last five starts on the TOUR. He loves Pete Dye courses and he has four top-10s in 18 starts at TPC Sawgrass.
Jason Day-- Day seemed to be rounding into form last time out when he tied for ninth place at the Wells Fargo. He tied for sixth place at last year's PLAYERS, which was only his second career start here.
Hunter Mahan, Tiger Woods, David Toms, Chris Stroud, Ian Poulter, Rickie Fowler
Jason Dufner-- He has played well all season and last time out he won his first PGA title at New Orleans. Dufner did have success at last year's PLAYER, when he tied for sixth place.
Ben Curtis-- Curtis hasn't had a lot of success at TPC Sawgrass, but he has been on fire his last three starts on the TOUR, which includes a championship at the VTO.
Francesco Molinari, Ben Crane, Henrik Stenson, Aaron Baddeley
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: THE PLAYERS (Ned’s Picks)
Group 1: Lee Westwood
Group 2: Jason Dufner
Group 3: Ben Curtis
Group 4: Kevin Stadler
“And another thing…”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at NOON, ET. They will be breaking down the field at THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.