THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
THE PLAYERS Stadium Course
Par: 72 (36-36)
Greens: Miniverde Bermudagrass; 4,500 square feet on average.
Rough: Bermudagrass with rye grass at 2.5”
Water Hazards: 24
Course Architect: Pete Dye (1980);
Winner’s Share: $1,800,000
FexExCup Points: 600 to the winner
Defending Champion: Tiger Woods, who is not in the field this week, outlasted David Lingmerth and Sergio Garcia for his second victory at TPC Sawgrass
Dates: May 8-11
Notes: 144 players will be cut to the low 70 and ties after two rounds; stroke play.
Recent History Lessons
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won 20 of 25 events of 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed (TWO), Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Bubba Watson (TWO), Russell Henley, Chesson Hadley, Matt Every, Matt Kuchar and J.B. Holmes have cashed for the red, white and blue. Australians Matt Jones, Steven Bowditch, John Senden and Jason Day along with South Korean Seung-yul Noh are the other five winners. It’s interesting to see Europe shut out past the half-way mark, especially in a Ryder Cup year.
With his victory at Zurich, S.Y. Noh joined Steven Bowditch, Matt Every, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler, Chesson Hadley and Matt Jones as the first-time winners this season. There were 12, first-timers in 40 events last year and we’ve had seven in 25 events in 2014. Martin Flores just missed out on joining this club last week at Wells Fargo.
Young Guns versus Prime Time versus Old Guys
Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and has since added two more wins to lead the FedExCup standings. He has been joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia, Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua, Kevin Stadler (33), at WMPO and Bubba Watson (35), joined them at Riviera. Matt Every (30), Steven Bowditch (30) and Matt Jones (33), all first-timers, won a three-week stretch before Watson chalked up win No. 2 of the season at the Masters. Matt Kuchar, 35, and J.B. Holmes, 32, have won two of the last three events on TOUR.
Scott Stallings (28), Patrick Reed TWICE (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29), Harris English (24), Jason Day (26) and Russell Henley (24) and Noh, 22, are the twenty-somethings on the board.
Jim Furyk tried to add his name to John Senden’s in the “Old Guys” group but finished one shot out of a playoff last week at Quail Hollow. Only four players in their 40s have won THE PLAYERS.
Pay Attention: It’s FREE!
This is the 41st edition of THE PLAYERS. This will be the 33rd edition at THE PLAYERS Stadium Club.
The only two winners to break their maiden on TOUR were Craig Perks in 2002 and Tim Clark in 2010.
The only two winners to hoist the trophy in their first event were Hal Sutton in 1983 and Perks.
The last 10 winners have been from America (4), South Korea (1), South Africa (1), Sweden (1), Spain (1), Canada (1) and Australia (1). #multinational
Only three of those champions, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott have won a major championship.
Adam Scott, 23 in 2004, is the youngest winner.
Fred Funk, 48 in 2005, is the oldest winner.
Since 1988 there have only been two playoffs as Sergio Garcia defeated Paul Goydos in 2008 and K.J. Choi knocked out David Toms in 2011.
There have only been three wire-to-wire champions. Greg Norman (1994), Steve Elkington (1997) and Hal Sutton (2000) hold this distinction.
No player has ever defended their title at THE PLAYERS. This streak will continue again this year as defending champion Tiger Woods is sidelined with a bad back and is not entered. You knew this.
Only five players have multiple victories at TPC Sawgrass:
Steve Elkington 1991, 1997
Hal Sutton 1983, 2000
Fred Couples 1984, 1996
Davis Love III 1992, 2003
Tiger Woods 2001, 2013
Rookies don’t fare well here as related to top 10 finishes. There have only been four of them in history to contend.
David Lingmerth T2, 2013
Jeff Quinney T6, 2007
Camilo Villegas T3, 2006
Fulton Allem T3, 1988
The course record is 63, last set by Roberto Castro in 2013 on Thursday en route to a T19 finish.
Greg Norman set the tournament record, 24-under-par 264 in 1994. He made one bogey. Don’t forget how good he was in his prime!
David Duval posted the highest winning score with three-under 285 in 1999. Don’t forget how good he was in his prime!
Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson are the only players on TOUR with multiple victories in the 2013-14 season. All three have a chance to add to their bounties this week.
As of Monday evening 46 of the top 50 players in the OWGR are scheduled to tee it up this week.
Tiger Woods (No. 1) is out injured (back).
Jason Day (No. 6) is out injured (thumb).
Victor Dubuisson (No. 23) is out injured (shoulder).
Miguel Angel Jimenez (No. 33) just was married last weekend. Yep.
This Will Win You a Bar Bet
Scott Gump finished second to Duval in 1999. Give your mates 1,394,499 guesses to see if they can get that right!
Past Champions in the Field
2012 Matt Kuchar -13
2011 K.J. Choi -13
2010 Tim Clark -16
2009 Henrik Stenson -12
2008 Sergio Garcia -5
2007 Phil Mickelson -11
1998 Justin Leonard -10
Inside the Ropes
THE PLAYERS Stadium Course was designed by Pete Dye in 1980 with the idea of creating a fantastic track for both players and spectators to enjoy. In 1982 it started its run as host for the THE PLAYERS as Jerry Pate won the first title. Over the years, the Dye design has held up as his myriad of bunkers, water, mounding and small greens test every facet of the games of the very best on TOUR. At one point in history the 7,215 yards were considered one of the longest, most difficult tasks on TOUR. These days, the set-up requires more finesse, shot-shaping and quality decision making.
Over the years Justin Leonard, Stephen Ames, Fred Funk and Tim Clark have combined those facets to ultimately overcome the course and the field. So have Adam Scott, Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Anytime a Pete Dye course is in play, a multitude of styles will have a chance to contend. Short game wizards and short hitters and bomb-and-gougers alike will have to navigate plenty of blind shots, multiple doglegs that require the golf ball to move both right-to-left and left-to-right. There holes that require target golf. There are holes that provide plenty of risk-reward shots; there are plenty of holes where risk is out of the question. With one of the best fields in golf on one of the classic courses, it’s really no surprise that there has not been a repeat winner. There are too many moving parts AGAINST repeating!
THE PLAYERS changed their playoff structure this year to incorporate the final three holes in stroke play as opposed to sudden-victory beginning on the island green at No. 17. Assuming they’ll have enough daylight to get this accomplished, I’m totally stoked to see whoever is left standing on Sunday to have to navigate this stretch TWICE. That, my friends, is awesome stadium-theatre golf!
As for the course itself, it will yield its fair share of birdies and bogeys. Since 2000 only TWO champions have outside of the top 20 in GIR (Mickelson, T24, 2007; Choi, T21, 2011). Of those champions, eight finished fourth or better so this will definitely qualify as a second-shot course.
With a prize pool of $10 million riding it will also test the nerves of the games’ best. Over the last seven years, we’ve seen the pressure of Sunday and the closing holes wipe out players’ hopes. In 2007 54-hole leader Sean O’Hair finished 11th. In 2008 Paul Goydos fell in a playoff. 2009 saw Alex Cejka finish T9. Lee Westwood found T4 in 2010. Graeme McDowell, who had won the U.S. Open the summer before, finished T33. Kevin Na had problems even drawing the club back in 2012 and could only manage T7. Nobody will forget that Sergio Garcia, tied with Woods at the time last year, put back-to-back balls in the water on No. 17 on Sunday. Just for good measure he made double on No. 18 to finish T8.
That’s brutal any way it’s analyzed.
This year, another angle will come into play and not by design. After a cold, wet winter in north Florida, not all of the greens at the Stadium Course are 100%. A “too-aggressive” chemical treatment didn’t work out the way that was desired has retarded the growth and rebound of five of 18 greens. The course, according multiple reports, was not allowed to play practice rounds last weekend which is usually standard operating procedure. As practice rounds began on Monday, the course still had Nos. 4, 11 and 12 completely closed off to the players in order to get them in the best shape possible for tournament play on Thursday. Parts of Nos. 9 and 14 were also having trouble but were up and running on Monday. Garry Smits suggested on Twitter (@gsmitter) that he was told that the greens will be surprisingly good come the tournament. This will be the story of the tournament if they are not ready for the biggest cash prize in golf!
Come Sunday, I believe a premium TOUR veteran will be holding the lead late and will hold his nerves with pars on the final two holes. No. 17 is just a wedge; No. 18 is a beast of a driving hole with water down the right and trees down the left. The second is no picnic either so I’m guessing we won’t see any youngsters not named Jordan Spieth bisecting that fairway and green. Experience around here also matters as the smallish greens suggest that there are only a finite amount of pin placements and those who have been around the block should be aware of the idiosyncrasies involved when they burn out Sunday. If a handful of greens continue to be an issue the premium putters will have a strike against them. It should be another great ride!