The Players Championship: Everything you need to know about the key storylines, the course, and who to watch this week.
This year's contest marks the final time players will be teeing up at TPC Sawgrass for the Players Championship in May, before it moves back to its original March date in 2019.
With Tiger's return, a big battle for World No.1, several players already having multiple victories this year and some big name pairings setting up - there's plenty of storylines to watch this week.
The Race for World No.1
There are four players that could replace Dustin Johnson at the top of the World Rankings this week, but it looks pretty likely that Justin Thomas is set to gain the best in the world status following the Players Championship.
Thomas has already had two shots at overtaking DJ at the top this season, but even a MC at The Players could still see him reach the top of the rankings. DJ will have to finish 11th or better this week to have a chance at retaining the top spot, while Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm could all become World No.1 with a win at TPC Sawgrass.
Tiger Returns to The Players Championship for the first time in two years
Tiger Woods is returning to TPC Sawgrass for the first time since 2015, qualifying thanks to his 5 year invite following victory in 2013. The two time champion is also playing his second consecutive week after a disappointing T55 finish at Wells Fargo - a week that saw him 'hole nothing'.
Yet despite a frustrating outing with the putter, he is already looking ahead to the Players while acknowledging the work he needs to do to perform at a course that exposes every part of your game.
“It’s just one of those weeks and I’m on to the next week, which is nice,” he said. “That’s one of the great things about playing golf is that once the tournament is over you’re on to the next week.”
“I obviously need to do some practicing with my putter. I know those greens and I know those putts. You can’t get away with hitting the ball poorly on that golf course. I’ll still be grinding and working on my swing.”
“It’s one of those golf courses where when you’re on, it seems so easy because every one of the balls funnels into the correct spot. If you’re not on, then you’re always in the wrong spot and it’s a very difficult week.”
Big Name Pairings
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler headline one group as Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are paired together in another.
"I do enjoy it because we don't get to do it very often," said Woods about being paired with Mickelson. "We are normally paired up on the weekend if we are both playing well, and even that's a rarity. We've been going at it for the better part of over 20 years and it's fun for both of us to be able to do that."
Meanwhile, Rory seems to be happy he isn't on the same side of the draw as Tiger, an experience he had earlier this year and commented about the stress of the crowds. This time however, he's paired with guys he knows well - and says will be a comfortable group to play in.
"It's great - it is nice. I am happy to be that side of the draw," he said. "Obviously, talking to Rickie [Fowler} out there about being [him] being stuck with Tiger and Phil for the first two days!
"He is going to have quite the experience. To play with JT and Jordan will be a nice two days - two guys I know very well. It will be a comfortable group for all of us."
Notable Tee Times
Bubba-D Johnson- Koepka (8:05 a.m. ET Thursday/1:30 p.m. Friday)
McIlroy-Thomas-Spieth (8:27 a.m./1:52 p.m.)
Reed-Rahm-Matsuyama (1:30 p.m./8:05 a.m.)
Day-Stenson-Garcia (1:41 p.m./8:16 a.m.)
Tiger-Mickelson-Fowler (1:52 p.m./8:27 a.m.)
Who to watch: Betting Tips
The bad news for 2017 Champion Si Woo Kim is noone has ever gone back-to-back at The Players, but the good news is he has a top 10 and a runner-up finish is his last four starts. He did become the youngest ever champion here last year, so perhaps he can get it done, but given the strength of the field the stats aren't on his side.
Triumphed at the Wells Fargo Championship to notch up his second win of the season, and despite battling his game still fired a final round 69 to win by two shots. The takeaway? Day is playing well right now, and given he won here in 2016, he's a strong bet this week. Ranks 1st SG Putting, SG Total and Sand Saves, as well as 4th for Scoring Average.
There's no overlooking the phenomenal form Justin Thomas is in. Leading the FedEx Cup, Thomas hasn't finished worse than T22 since the WGC Bridgestone Invitational last August, and already has two wins this season at the CJ Cup and Honda Classic. His third chance to become World No.1 this week, and currently ranks 2nd in Scoring Average and 5th in SG: Tee to Green.
Excluding the Zurich Classic, Stenson has gone 4th-T6-T5 in his last three starts. Winner here in 2009 with a bogey-free final round, and since then his best result was T5 in 2013. Ranks 1st SG Approach to Green, Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation, as well as being inside the top 10 on tour for SG Tee to Green, SG Total, Scrambling and Scoring Average.
Followed up his T4 at the Masters with victory in his last start at the Open de Espana, and will be motivated knowing he could gain the World No.1 spot with a win this week. T72 on his debut here last year, but currently ranks first in birdie average and 4th for scoring average (actual).
Last teed up at the RBC Heritage and finished T16 after his T10 at the Masters, and is going to need to finish T11 or better to keep hold of his No.1 ranking. Has five top 10s in his last eight starts and ranks 1st in SG Tee to Green, Off the Tee and Scoring Average. Best finish at The Players is T12 in 2017.
Spieth put two balls in the water on consecutive holes to miss the cut with playing partner Ryan Palmer in his last start at the Zurich Classic, but he also finished 3rd at the Masters and T3 at the Houston Open the week before that. He's had a mixed relationship with this tournament, having almost won in 2014 before missing the next three cuts, but given he's currently ranked 2nd in SG tee to green and 3rd in greens in regulation right now, we think he has a good shot.
DeChambeau is on hot form just now, having finished in solo 4th at the Wells Fargo Championship after a T3 at the RBC Heritage, a T38 at The Masters and a 2nd place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Ranks inside the top 15 on Tour for Scoring Average, SG Total, Off The Tee, Tee To Green and for Total Driving.
Another top 10 for Mickelson last week makes it his fifth in eight starts, including his victory at the WGC Mexico Championship. Winner here in 2007 and making his 25th appearance in the tournament, Lefty has plenty of experience on this course. Ranks 2nd in SG Putting, 8th Scoring Average, 3rd Birdie Average and currently sits 3rd in the FedEx Cup.
Following his first major victory at Augsta, The Masters champ finished T7 at the Zurich Classic with partner Patrick Cantlay, before finishing T8 at last week's Wells Fargo Championship. No real outstanding playing stat, other than he's had six consecutive top 10s in a row!
Champion here in 2015 after a dramatic playoff, Fowler comes in to The Players Championship following a T21 at Wells Fargo after falling a shot short of his first major victory at The Masters, which was his second Top 5 of 2018. Ranks 12th Scoring average, 10th in GIR and 5th in Scrambling.
Finished T16 at Wells Fargo in his first apparenace back after the second Masters near miss of his career, and he seemed fairly confident heading in to this week. "It's just [about] tightening up a few areas," he said. "I saw enough good in there this week [at Wells Fargo] to give me encouragement going into next week". He's had a victory and three other top 10s in 2018, and given has had three top 10s and a T12 at The Players Championship, could be a real chance for McIlroy this week.
Was T12 at The Masters and had a good performance with Henrik Stenson at the Zurich Classic before a tough final round. Three top 10s in his last six starts, and could make it to World No.1 with a win this week. Ranks in the top 10 on Tour for Scoring Average, Birdie Average, SG Total and SG Putting.
Wednesday 9th May
Live at The Players, Sky Sports Golf (19:00)
Thursday 10th May
Full Coverage: Sky Sports Golf (18:00), Sky Sports Main Event (23:00)
Friday 11th May
Featured Groups: Live PGA Tour, Sky Sports Golf (12:30)
Full Coverage: Sky Sports Golf (18:00), Sky Sports Main Event (22:00)
Saturday 12th May
Featured Groupus: Live PGA Tour, Sky Sports Golf (13:30)
Full Coverage: Sky Sports Golf (19:00), Sky Sports Main Event (22:00)
Sunday 13th May
Featured Groups: Live PGA Tour, Sky Sports Golf (14:30)
Full Coverage: Sky Sports Main Event (19:00), Sky Sports Golf (19:00)
The course Si Woo Kim triumped at last year was a new-look TPC Sawgrass, which had undergone an extensive transformation following Jason Day’s victory in 2016. Resurfaced greens, new bunkers and new water hazards greeted the players, along with what was meant to be a risk/reward driveable par four at the 12th completed by Steve Wenzloff– only it didn’t quite turn out the way designers had hoped.
Before the hole was altered it was a short, dog-leg-left par four where players would take either a 2-iron or 3-wood and then pitch on to the green. And while the aim was to get player to take out the driver, the majority of the field opted for to lay up and wedge it on in 2017, posing the risk too great to bother going for the green.
According to a report in Reuters, it’s the only hole that has been altered for the tournament this year “with a few minor changes designed to encourage more players to go for the green with their tee shots.”
One aspect of the course that won’t be so severe a test is the areas likely to pose a hazard, as a hurricane last September knocked down hundreds of trees, while the rough hasn’t grown as densely as they had hoped due to the weather conditions.
“We don’t want mega-rough,” Cox told Reuters. “Yes, I’d like it a little bit more dense and punishing but unfortunately we can’t control the weather.”
“We’ve lost an awful lot of trees,” Cox added. “We’ve embarked on a fairly aggressive tree-replacement programme.”
One of the other things players will content with this week is the infamous closing stretch at TPC Sawgrass, which includes the par-three 17th hole, simply known as ‘Island Green’. Despite its short length, it’s a hole that has seen more than its fair share of drama over the years.