Frequently referred to as golf's fifth major, the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most unique and high-stakes stops on the PGA Tour. As the 2013 event approaches, it's worth looking at who could be poised for a breakthrough in this marquee showcase of truly elite golfing talent.
A different player has won this event for the past 19 years, so it's fairly safe to rule out defending champion Matt Kuchar and any past winners in Ponte Vedra Beach in the field.
Who will be this year's fresh trophy bearer come Mother's Day? Below is a breakdown of the top candidates to get it done.
Note: All stats and prior tournament information, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of PGATour.com.
A solo sixth last year and a tie for fourth in 2011 make Donald an ideal player to count on this week. A strong short game is necessary at TPC Sawgrass, as well as course management and knowing where to put the ball.
The aforementioned encouraging results show that Donald knows the course well and leaves himself in ideal position to score well even when things are appearing to go south.
It's surprising that Donald, a former world No. 1, has yet to win in 2013. A tie for 25th at The Masters was sandwiched between his best two performances of the year—a joint fourth finish at the Tampa Bay Championship and a top-three at the RBC Heritage two weeks ago.
An extended layoff should have Donald fresh for contention, as his game looks to be rounding into better form recently after a not-so-pretty start to his campaign.
Donald still ranks just 160th on Tour in greens in regulation, and his putter hasn't been quite as hot as usual overall.
However, all those numbers are trending in the right direction, so look for Donald to be a significant factor. If he can't win any of the four official majors just yet, perhaps this is the stepping stone he needs.
The veteran, like Donald, doesn't intimidate with his length but relies on precision to get the job done. Plus, he lives in the area and knows Sawgrass as well as anyone.
That familiarity has never translated to a win for Furyk, though it has netted him plenty of solid finishes in the past. It's been a solid but not spectacular 2013, and a final-round 78 in the RBC Heritage leaves a bad impression.
Having said that, the two weeks away from the course and home environment he always has to prepare for this event should help immensely—even if his best finish in the past four years is a T-25.
As discussed before, past champions have never successfully defended, and few have won twice overall. That doesn't stop Shane Bacon of Yahoo! liking Sergio Garcia, but he also likes Furyk—self-deprecation aside:
Furyk must figure out his flatstick, since he ranks just 97th on Tour in strokes gained putting. This is the place where he can do that, because he is so accustomed to how the ball rolls on this specific course.
As long as his long game is in better order and he keeps hitting fairways at his current 71-plus percent clip, there should be at least a decent chance of Furyk being in the thick of contention on Sunday.
Similar to his English compatriot Donald, the majors continue to be elusive for Westwood, though to be fair, he has been far closer on many more occasions.
Having said that, Westwood has never won this event, and it's about time that he did. A 22-time winner on the European Tour, it's critical that Westy takes better advantage of his opportunities on this side of the pond now that he's here full-time.
The window to win all these massive tournaments is closing slightly on the 40-year-old, whose brilliant rounds of 67 and 65 to open the 2010 Players Championship had him in prime position. Unfortunately, he faded with a 74 on the final day, dropping him to a tie for fourth.
It just so happens that his most recent result was precisely that—at the Wells Fargo Championship. Had his putting been slightly better, it could have easily been his third PGA victory.
Perhaps partially as a result of that, he has adjusted by putting a new putter in the bag this week, as documented by PING Golf:
Westwood still had an encouraging showing at Quail Hollow, and before that, he had a tie for eighth at The Masters and a top 10 at the Shell Houston Open. His game is definitely trending upward, and he's played spectacularly at Sawgrass before.
Don't be surprised if it's Westwood with the trophy at the end of this tournament, because he's long overdue for a win anywhere, much less on one of golf's most significant stages.