The PGA Tour moves back into Florida this week in the beautiful surroundings of Ponte Vedra Beach, just south of Jacksonville, for THE PLAYERS Championship at the famed TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.
Outside of the majors, TPC is perhaps the next-highest priority event on the tour for the pros who are well aware that the $9,500,000 pot makes it the most lucrative event in the entire PGA season. The winner’s share is a staggering $1.7 million.
Indeed, if there is a “fifth” major, TPC is it.
Action begins on Thursday in North Florida, with the Golf Channel providing exclusive TV coverage for the first two rounds before NBC gets involved for Saturday and Sunday action.
K.J. Choi is the defending champion but is hardly entering TPC Sawgrass in top form, without a Top 10 finish this season since the initial event way back in early January at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, when finishing fifth. Choi hasn’t finished better than 24th in any event since, and ended up 39th last week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
At 90/1, Choi is regarded as a heavy longshot this week.
The Don Best odds screen, however, notes several others with better chances this week, including the favored Rory McIlroy, priced at 10/1 to win. All of the other familiar tour names, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, will be present for an event none of high-profile players choose to skip.
TPC Sawgrass is a unique “target golf” venue that doesn’t require great length off of the tea to succeed. Accuracy is more important at Sawgrass, as players sacrifice distance to be on the correct side of the fairway to attack the accessible pin positions. Heading into the weekend, let’s take a look at some of the players to watch and their prospects at TPC Sawgrass. Pre-tourney odds to win are listed in parentheses.
Rory McIlroy (10/1): As mentioned above, the favorite for this event and all others that he chooses to enter these days. Befitting the new top rated golfer in the world. Although out of contention at The Masters when finishing 40th, McIlroy has finished in the top three of his other four PGA stops this season, including a win at the Honda Classic in early March. It is worth noting, however, that last year’s US Open champ McIlroy has missed the cut at the last two TPC events he has entered at Sawgrass (in 2009 & 2010; he skipped the 2011 tourney).
Luke Donald (14/1): Never to be dismissed, the consistent Donald has made six of seven cuts this season and has three top six finishes, including a win at the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook-Copperhead at Palm Harbor in mid-March. Donald was also solid in his last event, the Zurich Classic three weeks ago in New Orleans, when finishing third.
Phil Mickelson (22/1): Lefty has a pair of wins at TPC in 2007 and 2009 and is looking in dangerous form as usual, with three top four finishes in his last seven starts. Mickelson also has a win this season at Pebble Beach, and expect him to be among the contenders on Sunday.
Tiger Woods (25/1): The win in late March in Arnie’s event at Bay Hill is looking a long way back in the rear-view mirror these days. In his two tourneys since, Tiger was nowhere at The Masters (finishing 40th) and missed the cut last week at Quail Hollow, inviting the usual speculation as to what might be wrong with his game. Before dismissing Woods, however, note that win at Bay Hill and a second-place finish at the Honda Classic within the past two months. It’s been feast or famine for Tiger this season.
Ernie Els (50/1): Looking for a “live” longshot play? Consider the veteran Els, who has enjoyed something of a renaissance thus far in 2012 with three top 10 finishes in nine starts and near-wins at both the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and last week’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans. Els’ iron game is back at a top level, reflected in hitting 70.8 percent of the greens in regulation, rankling 16th on the Tour. His putting (ranks 38th) has also been more than adequate.
Ricky Fowler (50/1): Not a bad price for a fellow off a win, as Fowler outdueled McIlroy and D.A. Points in sudden-death at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship. Fowler’s long game might not translate at Sawgrass, and his putting has been erratic (he’s 127th in tour putting stats) throughout the season, but he can be very dangerous when putting things together as he did last week at Quail Hollow.
Ian Poulter (80/1): An outsider to be sure, but has hinted at a breakthrough in recent events. Poulter has finished in the top 15 in three of his last four starts worldwide and netted a third-place finish at TPC Sawgrass in 2009.
John Rollins (110/1): A bit erratic in recent events, trading two missed cuts with three top 20 finishes, including a seventh two weeks ago at New Orleans. Sits first in the Tour in driving stats and 30th in greens in regulation. Not likely fazed by TPC Sawgrass after a respectable 13th place finish in 2010.
Others to watch: Hunter Mahan (30/1), Adam Scott (33/1), Sergio Garcia (40/1), Kyle Stanley (125/1).