PGA Tour Preview: The 17th Hole at TPC Sawgrass Awaits

Last Week

Despite not playing his best golf, Jason Day was able to hold onto his 54-hole lead and win the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte, NC. The relatively new greens played havoc with many in the field, including Tiger Woods, who couldn't get any momentum on the greens, despite a third round 68. The site of last year's PGA Championship and the 2021 President's Cup played every bit like the major championship caliber course that it is.

Aaron Wise was able to pull even for the lead after Day bogeyed the 13th and 14th, but the former PGA champion rebounded with birdies at 16 and 17, the first two holes of the vaunted "Green Mile." The rest of the players on the Tour should be a bit concerned that Day, now healthy, notched his second win of the season without really putting his game all together.

This Week

The Players Championship
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
TPC at Sawgrass - par 72
Defending Champion: Si Woo Kim - 10 under par 278

History

Jack Nicklaus won three of the first five Tournament Players Championship, as it was known from its inception in 1974 until 1987, when the current name was adopted. After bouncing around, the event was permanently moved to the Pete Dye designed TPC at Sawgrass with its iconic island green at the 17th hole. Despite a number of players winning multiple championships, no one has been able to repeat as champions. Aside from Nicklaus, the list of players to win the event more than once includes Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton, and Tiger Woods, all major champions.

The Players is commonly referred to "The Fifth Major," and I believe it's a valid stipulation. The field is by far the deepest and strongest of any tournament in the world. Typically, the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Rankings and the FedEx Cup standings are at TPC at Sawgrass. That means players that have played well for a couple of years and ones that have done well in the current PGA season are all there.

It's a close-to-full field event (144 players), the course is demanding, and the final three holes create drama and big changes on the leaderboard. The course itself ushered in the era of stadium golf, and if you've never sat at the 17th hole on a Friday afternoon of the Players, you need to make sure the experience ends up on your bucket list.

2018 Field

* Forty-nine of the top 50 in FedEx Cup points, although all 50 were initially entered (Paul Casey, 10th place, withdrew on Wednesday due to a back injury), 93 of the top 100

* Forty-nine of the top 50 in the World Golf ranking, although all 50 were initially entered (Paul Casey, 10th place, withdrew on Wednesday due to a back injury), 79 of the top 100

* Twenty-one countries represented

* Fifteen colleges have three or more former players represented: Georgia (8), Oklahoma State (4), Clemson (3), Georgia Tech (5), Alabama (4), Auburn (4), Florida State (4), UNLV (4), Arizona State (5), Arkansas (3), Cal-Berkeley (3), San Diego State (3), Texas (3), UCLA (3), Yonsei (3)

* Oldest Player: Scott McCarron (52)

* Youngest Player: Haotong Li (22)

* Major Champions (26): Tiger Woods (14), Phil Mickelson (5), Rory McIlroy (4), Jordan Spieth (3), Bubba Watson (2), Zach Johnson (2), Keegan Bradley, Stewart Cink, Jason Day, Jason Dufner, Lucas Glover, Martin Kaymer, Brooks Koepka, Geoff Ogilvy, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Justin Thomas, Lucas Glover, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson

* Total Tour Victories: 493 (Tiger Woods, 79)

* Total Major Victories: 50 (Tiger Woods, 14)

What to Look For

Based on history, we can safely assume that Si Woo Kim will not be lifting a second consecutive crystal trophy. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess, as sites like http://www.betandskill.com are tipping an open tournament. In the past 20 years, we've seen odds on favorite Tiger Woods deliver in 2001, just a couple of weeks before he collected his fourth consecutive major at the Masters Tournament during what is generally considered the best twelve months of golf in history. We've also seen Craig Perks, Stephen Ames, and Tim Clark walk off the 18th green with victory.

What we know is the pairings for the first two rounds will be entertaining and compelling. Woods will play with Phil Mickelson and Ricky Fowler, both former champs, as well. We will also see a group of bombers in Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, which will give us an idea of whether length will make any difference this week.

The other marquee pairing is Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Jordan Spieth, who will tee off in the opposite side of the draw from the Woods group. Earlier this week, Woods and Mickelson were verbally sparring during their respective meetings with the media. They both commented that going forward, they would welcome more opportunities to be paired together since it's no longer a necessity for the Tour to separate the two superstars.

This will be the final year for the May date for the Players. Next year, the tournament returns to its more traditional March slot, a couple of weeks before the Masters, with the PGA Championship moving to May. In May, the TPC at Sawgrass plays softer, with the warmer temperatures necessitating longer grass and more watering. In March, it plays firm and fast, the way the course was designed to be played. Even though the fairways are tight, driving the ball isn't what separates the players from each other. Iron play and a hot putter will make the difference this week, and virtually anyone in the strong field can get hot for three or four rounds and come away with a huge win.

Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on Amazon.com.

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