The Players Championship: Sleepers That Could Surprise This Weekend

Carlos TorresContributor IMay 9, 2012

Ernie Els has been playing vintage golf lately. He is one to watch this weekend.
Ernie Els has been playing vintage golf lately. He is one to watch this weekend.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The 2012 Players Championship at Sawgrass begins tomorrow with a whopping $9.5 million up for grabs, which includes a fat check of $1.71 million for the winner.

The unofficial fifth major is the richest golf tournament in the world, surpassing all four majors.

A total of 144 players will take the field tomorrow at the Stadium Course and most of the world's top 50 players are present. It promises to be a very contested tournament as many players come riding good streaks into the tournament and should deliver as such.

There is plenty of incentive to watch golf's unofficial fifth major. Starting with the fact that the world's No. 1 ranking could change hands for the sixth time in 11 weeks, depending where Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald finish on Sunday.

McIlroy skipped the tournament last year, but comes back as the world's No. 1 and ready to make the cut on his third try here. You know what they say, third time's a charm. I guess being from Northern Ireland should help him with the charm thing.

K.J. Choi is the defending champ. Before winning last year he had never fared better than T16, and has a tough task ahead as no champion has ever repeated in the previous 38 editions.

Tiger Woods is coming off missing the cut for just the eighth time as a professional on the PGA Tour. This came last weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. He's struggling with inconsistencies in his game and could use a win or good finish here as a confidence boost.

He returns to play at The Players after not being able to play the last two years due to being injured.

But while there is plenty of reasons to look forward to watching the top players go for the win here, there are some players flying under the radar that are worth a look.

Let's take a look at some sleepers that have either been close here in the past or are playing well coming into the tournament and are worth noting. If any of them win, you shouldn't be surprised as you read about them here first.


Chris Stroud

The former Lamar University standout has two top 10s and three top 15 finishes this year and was in contention in New Orleans early. He is a rising player who the past two years has finished T10 and T12 in The Players. Keep an eye on him. 

Bud Cauley

The Rookie of the Year candidate is making his Players debut, but is a Jacksonville native who has played this course countless times and feels comfortable on it. He has two top 10s and three other top 20s this year. Maybe the home course advantage can work his way.

Ryan Moore

He has not been successful here, but is riding a very good streak to this tournament. He has three top 10s in his last four starts, and was in contention for three rounds before fading at Quail Hollow last weekend. He can ride the hot hand this weekend and have his breakthrough finish.

Aaron Baddeley

He has not enjoyed much success this year, his only top 10 finish this year was his fourth place finish at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. However, the last three times he has played here he finished T9, MC, and T6. This is a course that rewards accuracy and putting excellence, Baddeley has both.

Ben Crane

He started the year red hot but has cooled down since, but on his last four starts here he has finished T6, T5, T4, and T45. That stretch from 2008-10 shows he can play here. Besides, he is the only member of the Golf Boys that hasn't won this year. This could be his turn to shine.

Ernie Els

He is coming off a heart-breaking playoff loss to Jason Dufner at the Zurich Classic, but he seems on a mission to be a contender again and has four top-fives and a T12 in his last six starts.  He is peaking again at the right time. At this tournament he has four top 10s in his 18 career starts.

Jim Furyk

The local neighbor is on the rise this year. After his second-place finish at the Transitions this year, his next three tournaments he finished T11, 11, and T8 before his T26 last week.

He has finished in the top 10 here three times in his last eight starts. Furyk could use his recent improvement and local course knowledge to win here.

Sergio Garcia

The 2008 winner is rejuvenated and knows how to play the Stadium Course. In his last six starts here, he has four top 15 finishes including his win in 2008, and a runner-up finish in 2007. He comes in fresh as well, with this being his first start since his T12 finish at The Masters. Look out.