Ah yes. THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass. The one they call the 5th major. And ya, it's all caps. THE PLAYERS. Don't ask me why, it just is.
We're at one of golf's most iconic venues. Behind the eden that is Augusta National, this is the most well known annual stop on the PGA Tour. It's their premier event, as the Tour's main headquarters reside right here in Ponta Vedra Beach. It's also the single event (East Lake notwithstanding) where the Tour gives out the most coin - a record purse of $20 MILLION is up for grabs, including $3.6M to the winner.
For comparison's sake, the Masters is only giving out $11.5 million. So yeah, this is a big one where you're sure to see a lot of hubbub about the guy late on Sunday whose lipout on the 72nd hole costs him $450k,
Justin Thomas was the big winner here last year, going 64-68 on the weekend. What most remember is the way he hit these sick nasty rope hooks late on the back 9 Sunday.
Lee Westwood held a 2-shot lead going into Sunday and found himself paired with Bryson DeChambeau, who he had just dueled (and lost by a stroke to) the previous week at Bay Hill. It was a chance for him to notch the type of elite W that's eluded him so many times in majors, but I guess narratives are narratives for a reason. He struggled off the tee from the jump and it was JT (and not Bryson) who capitalized.
Last year's leaderboard and recent winners….
TPC Sawgrass is one of Pete Dye's greatest masterpieces and easily his most well known. Those who know the game well know a Pete Dye design immediately when they see one and this course exemplifies everything they tend to feature - long fairway bunkers, bulkhead-lined greens protected by water, and thoughtful holes of a variety of lengths. His objective was often to make his golf courses visually imposing and this course has that by the truckloads.
It's also an immaculate golf course. I had the pleasure of going to last year's tournament and the property is glorious. Perfectly manicured and every little detail tended to a T. I haven't had the delight of going to a Masters (plz send me Dave or anyone else…) but I have to imagine the condition of this golf course is the next best thing. And the range… chef's kiss. Look at this place.
Sawgrass measures 7,245 yards and is your traditional par 72 with par 36 on each side. It's not terribly long, but there are a good handful of holes where driver may not be the play off the tee. The 4th is probably the best example of that. All four par 5's are reachable in two, with the 583 yard par 5 9th being the most challenging with trees protecting the green short left and some bodacious grass bunkers to the right. The finishing 18th is a menace, one of the most intimidating final tee shots in all of golf that always makes for great drama. They always play it up on TV how scary it is, but you really cannot grasp how small the margin of error is until you see it in person.
What I find most interesting is that this course historically does not favor any one type of golfer. It's extraordinarily balanced. Bombers have won here, ball-strikers have won here, guys with incredible short games and hot putters have won here… there's hardly one area of expertise to target. Since THE PLAYERS moved to this course in 1982, no golfer has ever defended his title and no one has ever won here 3 times. Only Tiger, DLIII, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton, and Freddie Couples have won here twice. Nobody should be walking on to the property this week thinking that they own the place. If you play good golf, you'll have a chance and if you don't, you won't. Crazy how simple that is, right?
Best Hole - 17th Hole, Par 3 137 yards
I mean, could it really be anything but the island green? It's one of golf's most iconic holes. I think its status as "one of a kind" is a little bit overblown (PGA West #17 says hi), but in terms of the stage that it's on and what's at stake, there might be nothing better in golf. The stadium atmosphere surrounding the lake delivers on TV and I'm fired up to say that I'll be there on Friday and Saturday.
So many great moments here over the years:
"Better than most"
Freddie's birdie in '96.
Rickie's epic showing in '15 (who has fallen so far that he's not even in the field this week)
And so many more.
Can't wait to watch the havoc unfold.
Yikes. Posted Tuesday and Wednesday to show that this course is gonna be soft. Scoreable though? That wind suggests otherwise. Frigid temperatures for Florida on Sunday too. Ton of rain throughout the week might make this a Monday finish. What a weird forecast.
Wall to wall golf baby!!! Including practice round coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday!!!
Tour is really going on all in on THE PLAYERS. It's on site at their HQ so it makes sense. NBC takes us home this week.
We're lucky enough to have some MONSTER featured groups this week. Oooo mama.
For a long time the prize here was Waterford crystal, which I guess was nice and shiny and all, but at the end of the day it's just a hunk of crystal.
Starting in 2019 with Rory's win, they unveiled a new trophy that takes after the logo for THE PLAYERS, which is an awesome and easily recognizable logo.
What I learned last year is that the face on the trophy is actually a composite grafting of the previous 38 champions? Pretty whack.
Where this trophy really brings it is the fact that the player is standing on an outline of the 17th island green.
BAM. That's an instant 2 point boost to what was already a very solid trophy. I'm giving this trophy a 9.2/10. You won't want to swap it out for a hockey guy on top.
This field is obviously STACKED. Premier event of the year and $20M up for grabs will do that. World #1 Jon Rahm is the current favorite at the Barstool Sportsbook at +1200. There's so many big names behind him and like I said before, one of the beauties of Sawgrass is that it doesn't necessarily favor one type of player. But that makes it extraordinarily tough to handicap. And as evidenced by my API pick (Rory) shitting down his leg last weekend, I just cannot catch a break right now. So you've been warned.
I'm going with Viktor Hovland +2000. For a guy who has won twice this season (and another W in Dubai)m that number is too good to pass up. Especially coming off of a T-2 last week at the API where a better bounce on the 72nd hole might have gotten him into a playoff. A T-4 in his previous start at Riviera doesn't hurt either. Brilliant ball-striker at a course that seems to reward that kind of thing. The Hov has a handful of wins to his name since turning pro a couple years ago, but he doesn't really have a top tier one yet. He's gonna get one this year, whether it be here or a major or something on the level of the Memorial Tournament. I'm banking on it coming here.
Patrick Cantlay To Win +2000 - Another guy I'm bullish on taking a big trophy this year. Rahm is really the only guy who's played better than him the past year. His T-33 at Riviera was his worst start since a T-11 all the way back in early August.
Dustin Johnson To Win +3500 - DJ has really let off the gas since winning the Masters, which is more than fair. He's in danger of falling out of the World Top 10 for the first time since his comeback from that um… "suspension" back in 2014. Every time he's looked to be asleep at the wheel over the years, he's sprung back to life. Fall 2020 is a great example of that. He'll be back soon. Might as well cash in when he does.
Tony Finau To Win +8000 - The disrespect!
Brian Harman Top 10 +900 - T-3 here last year after back to back 69's on the weekend. Dude played with big balls and I'll always remember him for that. T-8 in the PLAYERS before that.
Talor Gooch Top 10 +600 - Gooch has sneaky been one of the best players on Tour all year. Big 2021 Sam Burns vibes from him
Zach Johnson Top 10 +1800 - Every year there's an old fart that finds himself into contention here at this tournament. Westwood last year, Furyk a couple years before that… ZJ just might be that guy. Guy has built a career on winning in shit weather conditions. He won't win but no reason why he can't make the leaderboard.
Xander Schauffele FOMO Pick To Win +2800 - X is officially my guy who is too due not to take week in and week out. I actually really like this number at this course too.
That's all I got. Tell your friends. And enjoy THE PLAYERS.