The Players Championship’s status as the unofficial ‘fifth Major’ has been questioned in recent years, we have the tee off times as all of the world’s best players line up this week to play for golf’s biggest prize fund.
For most of its history this tournament was dominated by home players, but the balance has shifted and six of the last ten winners have come from outside of the United States.
The TPC at Sawgrass is an idiosyncratic, fiendishly tricky venue, famous for the seventeenth hole, the ‘Island Green’, a 78 foot green almost entirely surrounded by water. The course isn’t long by modern standards and favours accurate players who can shape the ball both ways and scramble well. The frequently strong winds are an added complication and plenty of course experience is a must.
In The Bunker
Rory McIlroy came close to missing the cut in the Wells Fargo Championship, before mounting a third round charge, as he did when winning that event in 2010. But I don’t think we can take that as evidence that he is poised to strike. His second round 76 last week came after a 77 at Augusta, a third round 74 in Houston and a last day tournament-losing slump at the Honda Classic in March. At the moment his tendency to throw in at least one bad round per tournament makes him a risky proposition, particularly at relatively short odds of 15/1.
There have been few more consistent players on the PGA Tour this season than Matt Kuchar and he finally earned his reward for some excellent performances with victory at the RBC Heritage, which came courtesy of a superb final round 64. That was his fourth straight top five finish and he could hardly be in better form going into a tournament that he won in 2012. Back him to repeat that triumph at 18/1.
Sergio Garcia is another former winner of this event who is worth sticking with this week. He began the year strongly, winning the Qatar Masters and has continued to show sparkling form, recording three top ten finishes in four tournaments going into the Masters. He had a disappointing time in Augusta, but he should be refreshed after three weeks off and he should fare well at a course where he has managed four top-tens, including an eighth last year. Back him at 22/1.
Henrik Stenson had a slow start to the year, but has been improving steadily, with a top ten finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a fifth at the China Open two weeks ago, and he could be poised to strike. His record at Sawgrass is excellent, with four top tens, including his victory in 2009 and his fifth last year. Back the super Swede to claim his first title of the year at odds of 25/1.