The Players Championship is the title golfers crave more than any other outside the four major championships. It is known as the fifth major due to the quality of the field. There is an identikit of potential winners and the qualifiers this week include Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy. Since 1982 the event has been played at the TPC at Sawgrass, a course that puts a premium on accuracy over distance and often identifies a winner from the top draw.
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Here are the criteria that players require to stand a chance of winning the most prestigious regular tournament anywhere in the golfing world:
A winner in the States
A player with Ryder Cup or President’s Cup experience
Made the cut in the last tournament played
Made the cut at Sawgrass the previous year
Already the winner of a major or World Golf Championship event
Despite several shock winners of the Players Championship over the years the identikit has been a useful guide. In actual fact the profile would apply to many majors over the last ten years but course experience at Sawgrass is a key element. It is a demanding challenge in benign conditions but the degree of difficulty goes through the roof when the wind blows. It is as much a test of temperament as skill because it means so much to beat the best field of the year.
The TPC at Sawgrass rewards accuracy from both tee and fairway as water is in play on many holes and the greens are generally well protected. The rough can be penal particularly after a wet spell but the spectacular beach-like fairway bunkers pose few problems. If it’s dry during the early rounds by Sunday many of the greens will be scorched and fast. The weather forecast for the Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida area suggests there won’t be much rain this week. Rose and McIlroy have the game and character to maintain their form and focus when conditions are really tough.
Sawgrass is renowned for its famous 17th, a par 3 with an island green, but the hole actually causes few problems in calm conditions. Much tougher is the closing 18th, which yields a relatively small number of birdies over the weekend. It is traditionally the hardest hole and no relief after the pressures of the previous test. Any player in contention who navigates the last two holes in par will be a worthy winner. Our two standout European Ryder Cup players have not won the Players Championship yet but have all the key factors in their favour this week.
Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer are previous champions at Sawgrass from Europe in the last decade. The average winning score over the last ten years is 12 under in a range from five under to 16 under. There have been three playoffs in that spell and other winning margins ranging from one to four strokes. The most recent multiple champion is Tiger Woods but sadly the former world number one is injured yet again and retirement could come soon. Three of the last ten winners have also won the Open Championship. Garcia beat Paul Goydos in a playoff in 2008. Since the start of the century eight winners were from the States and nine were overseas players.
The week will be a test of mentality for Rose in particular. He wasted a great opportunity to win the Masters but it always seemed like Garcia’s day at Augusta last month. Rose faltered at the most crucial time and Garcia was good enough to take advantage. If Rose never wins the Masters Tournament he will look back at 2017 and think what might have been. He can gain some compensation by contending this week and could win the title players desire most after the four major championships.
McIlroy would like to have the Players Championship on his CV. Any player aspiring to be the best in the field will want to win the events that attract the strongest fields. Beating all his peers on a demanding course appeals to McIlroy’s sense of his status in the history of the sport. He only needs to win the US Masters to complete the career Grand Slam that only five players have achieved. McIlroy and Rose both have the right profile to get in the mix and potentially win the 2017 Players Championship.
Back next Thursday.
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