The Players Championship is the most prestigious golf event of the year after the four major championships. The winner is usually a former or future major champion but there was a huge upset when Kim Si-woo was the winner last year. However, order can be restored this week and Justin Thomas has the profile for a championship known as the fifth major due to the quality of the field. Each-way punters may be interested in Tommy Fleetwood at bigger prices.
In the past the Players has been held before the US Masters which is the first major of the season. In moving to the current date there is now a run of five months in which one of the five biggest events of the season are played. The best players focus on these events and structure their year to peak in the weeks that matter most and this week is one of those. After the majors the WGC events are lucrative and carry the most ranking events but the Players Championship tops them for prestige.
Since 1982 this huge global tournament has been played at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Verde which is where the PGA Tour headquarters are located. Many professionals live in the area and the stadium course was designed and located with convenience in mind. TPS Sawgrass is also a good viewing course with natural hills and embankments surrounding the greens. It’s the perfect setting for one of the very best tournaments in the sport.
TPC Sawgrass was put together with spectating in mind and is the work of the renowned designer, Pete Dye. With water in play on several holes and penal rough it rewards accuracy off the tee and the fairway because the greens are among the smallest on tour. The course is famous for the 17th hole with an island green but the par 4 holes generally provide the sternest test. Despite the demands of the 17th the last hole is often the toughest on the course.
The average winning score over the last 10 years is 12 under in a range from 5 under to 16 under. There have been three playoffs in that spell and two one shot winning margins. There have been eight winners from the United States this century and the only multiple champion since 2000 is Tiger Woods. Ten champions since 2000 have won a major and Si-woo is the lowest world ranked winner in this spell. The last and only British winner was Sandy Lyle in 1987 and he also won two major championships.
Justin Thomas is the current US PGA Championship holder and currently at number two in the world rankings, behind Dustin Johnson. If he wins this week Thomas could reach the pinnacle of the sport for the first time. Sawgrass is not a good fit for Johnson’s game as he tends to overpower courses with his long driving. Rory McIlroy is one of the best drivers in the world but his medium length putting often lets him down. Jon Rahm does not have the experience on the course to contend and his game is not the perfect fit. Thomas has all the attributes to get in the mix.
Fleetwood excels on courses that demand straight hitting rather than drives over great distances. The Southport born player is number three for greens in regulation on the European Tour. He has contended in majors and is now at number 14 in the rankings. Fleetwood has the temperament and game to win at this level and with Thomas is one of the players to back against the field.