Players Championship 2012: Rickie Fowler and 5 Favorites Who Will Disappoint
A big tournament inevitably brings a great deal of scrutiny for the game's premier players.
Sure, the Players is not a major championship, but it's almost as important and is a tournament where the best in the game are expected to step up.
The media and fans will ponder aloud whether marquee names can play well and prove themselves on the big stage. Can these players handle the heat? Will they fold when their need to be in form is greatest?
Unfortunately, golf is not a simple game and the favorites don't always perform as they wish. While a few will most likely find themselves on the first page of the leader board at Sawgrass on Sunday, others will falter and leave the Stadium Course disappointed at their poor play.
Pre-tournament predictions don't always pan out as expected, but nonetheless here is a list of five favorites who are most likely to fade this week.
This group won't be happy with their scores and come Sunday (or Friday) evening, these players will be going back home frustrated at the state of their games.
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Injuries derailed this 29-year-old after his stunning rout at the 2010 Open Championship, but in 2012 he has returned to form.
The South African "King Louis" has already won twice on the European Tour this season and has had quite an April leading into the Players.
His strong April play started at the Shell Houston Open, where he held the 54-hole lead before falling to third with a final-round 75.
The next week was even better. At the Masters (a pretty big tournament), Oosthuizen stormed into the lead on Sunday and only lost out after bogeying the second playoff hole.
Oosthuizen moved up one more spot the next week in Malaysia, winning the Maybank Malaysian Open by three shots.
So, indeed the former Open Champion is playing quite well. That will end at Sawgrass.
Despite his recent success, Oosthuizen won't show up this week. He has little experience at the tournament (with only one start) and didn't show much promise in said appearance (a 71-76 start and a Friday boot).
Yes, he is a different player now, but Oosthuizen should struggle at a course he has seen little of.
The South African won't start off his May as well as he did in April, but he should turn up again rather soon in what has been a fantastic 2012 season for him thus far.
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Unlike Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia has had plenty of experience and success at this tournament.
The Spaniard has competed in the Players double-digit times and has finished in the top five on three occasions.
His shining moment was in 2008, when he defeated Paul Goydos in a playoff for victory.
But Garcia won't find that success this week. The same course that gave him the biggest win of his career hasn't been quite so generous since.
Garcia hasn't recorded a top-10 since that monumental win and if it weren't for a final-round 65 last year, he wouldn't have a top-20.
The 32-year-old's strong finish to the 2011 season, which included two victories, hasn't carried over to 2012 either.
In eight starts, Garcia has two top-five finishes but hasn't sniffed the winners' circle. He has made all of his cuts, but making cuts doesn't exactly qualify as stellar play.
Garcia had a chance after 36 holes at Augusta to prove himself and contend for a green jacket. A third-round 75 crushed his dreams and failed to lift him out of his 2012 lull though.
Garcia will likely stay in his rut at TPC Sawgrass. He is much improved from 2010 (possibly the low point of his career), but lacking the consistent play expected of a world-class player, Garcia won't find the game he displayed here four years ago.
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Mr. Consistency in 2011 isn't quite so unflappable a year later.
Luke Donald is still the No. 2 ranked golfer in the world, yet hasn't been the same man who won both the PGA and European Tour money titles a season ago.
In that 2011 campaign, the Englishman won four times and posted a remarkable 19 top-10 finishes in 25 starts.
Donald hasn't had a bad 2012 - a win and another top-three is pretty good in most players' books - but with three top-10s (and top-25s) in seven starts he hasn't exactly inspired anyone with his play.
The 34-year-old does have some good vibes on this course. In 2005, Donald held the 54-hole lead at this tournament only to finish a shot out of a playoff the next day with a final-round 76.
It won't be enough seven years later. Donald will continue his up-and-down season at Sawgrass and will fly under the radar once again.
However, watch out for Donald later in the season and don't be surprised if he regains that 2011 consistency and form at some point. For now though, Donald's game isn't quite all there and Sawgrass will make sure he knows it.
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The burst out star of the 2012 season is definitely Hunter Mahan.
After a lackluster start, the 29-year-old has really turned on his game, winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February and the Shell Houston Open just a month ago.
Mahan's great potential is finally coming to fruition in 2012. For years one of the game's premier ball-strikers, Mahan has now developed an impressive short game that has made him one of the most well-rounded players.
Mahan has already started that process with a lackluster T53 finish a week ago in Charlotte. A similar finish wouldn't be unexpected at Sawgrass.
In addition to the general regression players see after big victories, Mahan hasn't had many great performances at Sawgrass in the past.
There was a top-10 last year, but besides that, Mahan has barely made a splash at the Players.
Despite his success so far this season, Mahan has still been somewhat inconsistent. He has three top-10s in nine events and has rarely showed form outside his two victories.
Mahan is now one of the game's best players, but that far from guarantees him a high finish at Sawgrass.
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If you skipped over the Hunter Mahan slide, this may come as somewhat of a surprise.
Rickie Fowler, after all, did just win his first PGA Tour event, getting a huge monkey off his back in the process.
However, it is very rarely wise to pick a player the event after he wins. A victory takes a lot out of a player, leaving them little energy to work with the following week.
Considering the magnitude of Fowler's win, it would be reasonable to give him a break if he doesn't perform well at Sawgrass.
He has already missed the cut in both of his appearances at the Players, so without all of his focus there in his third stab, expecting him to contend would be a reach.
The 23-year-old has a great deal of talent and should have a great career on the course. This week at Sawgrass though, he'll just be one of the favorites walking off the course disappointed at his performance.