Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course
Yards: 7,215 as per the scorecard
Par: 72 (36-36)
Greens: Mini-verde Bermudagrass; 4,500 square feet on average
Rough: Bermudagrass at 2.5”
Water Hazards: 24
Course Architect: Pete Dye (1980)
Winner’s Share: $1,710,000
FexExCup Points: 600 to the winner
Defending Champion: Matt Kuchar held off Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Martin Laird and Ben Curtis by one shot to win his first PLAYERS.
Dates: May 9-12
Notes: 145 man field will NOT include Scott Langley after Derek Ernst’s win last week at Quail Hollow. He is now the first alternate.
THE PLAYERS began in 1974. This is the 32nd edition of THE PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass.
There have been 28 different winners in 31 events heading into this season. The only multiple winners in this event are Hal Sutton (1983, 2000), Fred Couples (1984, 1996), Steve Elkington (1991, 1997) and Davis Love III (1992, 2003).
No player has ever defended their title.
Only Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002) have won THE PLAYERS in their first attempt.
Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, is the youngest winner at THE PLAYERS as he won the 2004 title at 23 years, 8 months and 12 days. It was only his 41St TOUR event, a record number of events by any PLAYERS champion.
Of the 31 champions, 15 have won a major championship.
There are 10 former champions in the field this week.
Matt Kuchar 2012
K.J. Choi 2011
Tim Clark 2010
Henrik Stenson 2009
Sergio Garcia 2008
Phil Mickelson 2007
Adam Scott 2004
Davis Love III 2003, 1992
Tiger Woods 2001
Justin Leonard 1998
Only K.J. Choi (T21) in 2011 and Phil Mickelson (T24) in 2007 are the only two players since 2000 to finish outside the top 16 in GIR. Strike your balls well this week, gents.
In 2013 10 of the 18 stroke-play events this season the 54-hole leader (or co-leader) have gone on to victory. This is the SIXTH week in a row where the 54-hole leader(s) have not held up their end of the bargain as Phil Mickelson faded to third and Nick Watney leaked to T10.
The winners on TOUR have been Johnson (28), Henley (24), Gay (41), Woods THRICE (37), Mickelson (42), Snedeker (32), Merrick (30) Kuchar (34),Thompson, M (27) Brown (29), Streelman (34), Points (36), Laird (30), Scott (32), G-Mac (33), Horschel (26) and Ernst (22). The young folks (30 and younger) now have eight victories; the 30-somethings have nine victories, and the “old folks” (40 and up) have their two wins. This week’s “great hope” for the Old folks was 54-hole leader Mickelson.
Rank and File
As of Monday morning, 46 of the top 50 in the OWGR are playing this week. All 30 of the top 30 OWGR and FedExCup leaders are playing this week. Based on the prize pool, they should be!
TPC Sawgrass was designed by renowned architect Pete Dye in 1980 and became the full-time home of THE PLAYERS in 1982 as Jerry Pate took home the trophy. Each year, this tournament boasts the best field and largest paycheck on TOUR and this year is no different. As I mentioned before, 45 of the top 50 players in the OWGR are here this week and they competing for prize purse of $9.5 million. That’s some coin and part of the reason it is described as the “fifth major”.
After ranking 19th out of 49 courses used last season on TOUR, TPC Sawgrass presents a very interesting challenge to players and caddies alike. Over the 30-plus years, only four players have won multiple championships and NOBODY has gone back-to-back. This is strange because the same course is used year in and year out. This is strange, yet interesting all at the same time because they use the same course each season. Take a look at the winners, for example. Woods, Mickelson, Scott and DL III are guys who are household names who hit it a mile. Tim Clark, K.J. Choi and Fred Funk, all winners in the last 10 years, always hit first. Kuchar and Garcia can compete anywhere with their short games. Any style, any year is possible at this course and that’s what makes this field, because of its depth, impossible to project and why multiple victories are rare around Ponte Vedra.
Here’s what’s going to be needed this week to have a chance to test your nerves on the final four holes come Sunday. Players will have to be able to work their golf ball both ways off the tee and from the fairway. Dye mixes in plenty of doglegs for tee shots and approach shots so neither a fade nor a draw is preferred this week. The greens aren’t very large on average so if players are not premium iron players, their short games must be on point. As we have seen on many Dye courses already this season, players must be comfortable pitching, chipping, putting or using hybrids from off the green into pin placements that make you think. Once on the greens, the Stimpmeter will be running over 12’ so those who struggle with the putter might struggle in general if they are not hitting it close.
The good news for the players is birdies are usually the order of the day here as the average winning score over the last 10 years has been just a tad over 13-under-par. The lowest score was 271 by DL III in 2003 and the highest score was Garcia’s 283 in the wind in 2008. Birdies on the first 16 holes will be necessary and avoidance of bogeys on Nos. 17 and 18 will secure steady rounds. Pete Dye’s courses tests the patience of veteran players and caddies, let alone young up-and-comers. He tricks your eye; he tests your accuracy and he provides plenty of risk-reward. This is one of my favorite tournaments on the season due to its unpredictability and usual decent theater on the weekend.
Let see who’s going to factor this week.
Top 10, Plus TWO
It’s quite a large event this week so we’ll swell it up a bit
Lee Westwood: For the second year in a row, he sits atop my rankings for THE PLAYERS. He now has 10 tournaments under his belt here and his game is peaking right now. After T10 at Houston, he hit the top 10 again at Augusta (T8) before staking his best finish of 2013 with T4 last week at Charlotte and that was with 72-72 weekend. Known as one of the premium ball-strikers going, his short-game has improved this season as well as he’s eighth in scrambling and 63rd in total putting. His best finishes here are T4 (2010), T5 (1998) and T6 (1999).
Luke Donald: He missed three of his first four cuts here but his one make was T2. Donald will be playing his 11th PLAYERS in a row and has finished sixth and T4 in his last two outings at Sawgrass. He’s made 37 of his last 40 cuts on TOUR and finished T3 at Pete Dye’s Harbour Town the week after the Masters. His short game and accuracy off the tee have paid the bills here over the years.
Jim Furyk: The Ponte Vedra Beach resident has played this course once or twice so he knows every bounce, hop and bobble that is out there. He’s also one of the most accurate drivers of the golf ball around and that doesn’t hurt either. He’s made 13 cuts in a row and 14 of 17 lifetime at Sawgrass. Ten of those 14 made cuts have resulted in T30 or better.
Tiger Woods: He only has one top 10 in last 10 appearances after his 2001 victory but he does have three wins in 2013 and has been striking the ball awfully well. He’s leading the TOUR in strokes gained-putting and scoring. I’m going to stop typing now.
Justin Rose: In five stroke-play events this season his worst finish is T25. His worst rounds were 74 and 75 on the weekend at Augusta that led to said T25. He’s first in sand save percentage, second in total driving and sixth in GIR. It’s shocking that he hasn’t had better success at Sawgrass as he’s looking for his first top 10 in his 10th start.
Graeme McDowell: Another great player who has struggled to crack the code at Sawgrass, GMAC learned a valuable lesson in 2011 when he led after 54 holes only to fall apart with 79 on Sunday. His accurate tee ball will put him in plenty of A positions to attack pins and if he misses greens, he’s No. 1 on TOUR in scrambling and No. 6 in strokes gained-putting. He’s coming off a win at Harbour Town his last time out.
Rory McIlroy: He led the field in GIR last week in Charlotte but was almost dead last in putting. He’ll be excited to see hot, fast greens this week and should enjoy the challenge of a course that has eaten his lunch. He’s never broken par in three attempts and hasn’t made the cut in those three attempts either. If his ball-striking was that good in those conditions last week, I’ll be anxious to see how well he hits it in perfect weather.
Phil Mickelson: Howdy, Phil! You can’t possibly play great two weeks in a row, can you? ANSWER ME! Since he won here in 2007 his best finish is just T17. He hit it so well last week it was almost criminal that he lost. I have no idea what he’ll do this week as per usual but I am just as curious as you are. #phrakenconfused
Sergio Garcia: He’s coming off his worst stroke-play event of the season, T16 at Wells Fargo, in six events. The 2008 champ is making his 14th start and has three top 10s in those events. He’s 50th in GIR and 10th in strokes gained-putting. I would have bet those numbers were reversed but it has led him to third-best on TOUR in scoring.
Matt Kuchar: The defending champion has banged out 10-for-10 this season and has six top 25s on top of his victory at the WGC-Match Play. His ball-striking numbers are off this year but his scrambling and putting have picked up the slack to grind out four top 10s.
Adam Scott: Some of you will feel that’s he’s too low here but all he did the last time out was win the Masters. He did the full media circuit and bent an elbow or two (who could blame him? Not me!) so I’m not sure where he is on the golf course. The 2004 champ has too much talent to omit but I doubt his feet have touched the ground since the playoff at Augusta. He leads the TOUR in scoring and par five scoring so he also has that going for him, which is nice.
Keegan Bradley: The only blemish on his season was his third round 82 at the Masters. He also has five top 10 finishes and 7 total in the top 25 in 10 weekends this year. He’s the complete player as he rates favorably in most categories to check in at 15th in the all-around. I like the fact that he’s been at par or better in five of eight career rounds here (two events only).