Players Championship 2012: Key Players to Watch This Weekend

Carlos TorresContributor IMay 8, 2012

McIroy is back after skipping the tournament last year.
McIroy is back after skipping the tournament last year.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Players Championship is finally here and the action starts this Thursday at 7:15 a.m. ET from the Stadium course in the TPC at Sawgrass.

The tournament known unofficially as the fifth major, always draws a top field and is contested over a world-famous and grueling course. 

The par-three 17th hole is arguably one of the most recognized signature hole in all of golf. And after players get past its beauty, they start seeing and realizing the difficulty that comes with it.

It's the course's biggest challenge, on a course fill with plenty of them.

The reward for being the last survivor on the course on Sunday is taking home a fat $1.71 million check. That is the winner's share of golf's biggest purse of $9.5 million.  

Nine of the top 10 players in the world will be present to contend for it. Bubba Watson (fourth) is the only player absent from that group. He is taking some time off to be with his recently adopted son.

Among the other notable players missing the tournament are 2011 Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and Dustin Johnson who is still struggling while recovering from his injured back.

But there are plenty of top players present, let's take a look at some of the key players to watch this weekend:

Rory McIlroy

Tee Time 1:49 p.m. ET (Tee #1). The world's top ranked player is back after skipping the tournament last year and is looking to make the cut for the first time.

Luke Donald

Tee Time 1:39 p.m. ET (Tee #1). World's second ranked player. Finished T4 last year and comes fresh off finishing third in New Orleans, he could regain the top spot this week. 

Lee Westwood

Tee Time 1:39 p.m. ET (Tee #1). Like McIlroy, he didn't play last year. Last time he played here he finished T4 and is coming off three straight top five finishes including his T3 at The Masters.

Hunter Mahan

Tee Time 8:39 a.m. ET (Tee #10). He is the only two-time winner this year and is leading the FedEx Cup in points. He finished T6 last year and when he is on he can pour it in bunches.

Tiger Woods

Tee Time 8:39 a.m. ET (Tee #10). The former world top ranked player is struggling to find his game. This is a tough course to find it, but it will be interesting to see him try.

Phil Mickelson

Tee Time 1:49 p.m. ET (Tee #1). Lefty won here in 2007. He is a player that rides high on emotions and can certainly use the one from his Hall of Fame induction on Monday. 

K.J. Choi

Tee Time 8:18 a.m. ET (Tee #10). Does not have a top 20 finish in his last 11 tournaments. But he is the defending champ is back trying to become the first player ever to win it back-to-back. 

Rickie Fowler

Tee Time 8:39 a.m. ET (Tee #10). Finally broke through with his win last weekend at Quail Hollow. He is on the rise as he finished 10th before in New Orleans, interesting to see how he follows up his big win.

Louis Oosthuizen

Tee Time 8:29 a.m. ET (Tee #1).  The sun is asking him to cool down. He finished third in Houston, second at The Masters and then won at Malaysia, his second win overseas this year. Must watch player.

Jason Dufner

Tee Time 1:39 p.m. ET (Tee #10). Finally got that long awaited first win after knocking on the winner's door several times. He has been very consistent showing atop the leaderboards, can this be his fist big win?

Ben Curtis

Tee Time 1:39 p.m. ET (Tee #10).  The 2003 Open champ is on fire. He won in the Valero Texas Open, then finished T13 in New Orleans and T5 last week at Quail Hollow. We might be witnessing the comeback player of the year.

Keep and eye on

Ben Crane (Tee Time 8:18 a.m. ET, Tee #1) and Aaron Baddeley (Tee Time 8:08 a.m. ET, Tee #1). They both have consecutive top 10 finishes in recent appearances in this tournament and could breakthrough this year.