Players Championship 2013: Hottest and Coldest Golfers Heading into Tournament
With the richest purse in golf, The Players Championship offers the kind of star power that is typically reserved for majors, which shouldn't be all that surprising since this tournament is hailed as the unofficial fifth major.
The top 30 players in the world are scheduled to compete at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. You can view the full field via PGATour.com.
This classic Pete Dye stadium course challenges the complete game of players. It requires accuracy off the tee and in approaches, and the hard and fast greens require a deft touch.
This is terrible news for anyone coming into this tournament struggling with any facet of their game, as Sawgrass will expose those struggles.
I'll offer up a look at three players who should definitely be worried about their game heading in, and although this course may even have the hotter golfers a little worried too, I'll highlight a few players who are coming in on top of their game.
*All stats via PGATour.com.
Cold No. 3: Jason Dufner
Jason Dufner is hitting fewer greens in regulation and not putting as well as last year. This is a fatal combo.
So, it should be no surprise that, after a breakout year where he claimed his first two Tour victories, Dufner is struggling.
Dufner has yet to record a top-10 finish in his 10 PGA events this year, and he's missed two cuts. This is in stark contrast to his close to last season where he had eight top 10s in his last 16 events.
Despite his struggles, he is still 12th in driving accuracy. However, that accuracy isn't doing him any good, as he is just 51st in greens in regulation. He was seventh last year.
Dufner has never been a good enough short-game player to make up for a poor approach game, and he won't get back to his consistent ways until he makes strides in that area.
Hot No. 3: Graeme McDowell
Look out for Graeme McDowell this week. With his accuracy and short game, he has the ability to take this tournament, and his recent form certainly suggests he will be in contention.
McDowell's last time in tournament action saw him surging up the leaderboard to win the Heritage as he managed the high winds of the final round while others could not.
Sure, McDowell missed the cut at Augusta in his tournament prior to that, but Augusta does not fit his game well, and in the four tournaments he played leading up to the Masters, he had three top 10s.
He hasn't found much success at this tournament—he didn't even make the cut last year, and his highest finish here is 26th. Still, considering he is seventh in driving accuracy and sixth in strokes gained-putting, he is due to improve on those results.
Cold No. 2: Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson hasn't picked up a win this year, but he was playing solid golf.
Until the Masters.
Entering Augusta as the defending champ, Watson has big expectations, a ton of attention and extra responsibilities. It all showed as he finished in 50th. That was just his second finish outside of the top 18 in his first six PGA events of the year.
Watson rebounded nicely from the Masters with a 15th in New Orleans. However, he couldn't keep that momentum going, as he missed the cut at the Wells Fargo.
That is two poor showings out of his last three tournaments, and even at the Zurich he only had two under-par rounds.
Watson has been struggling to keep his drives in the fairway. Of course, this is nothing new for the booming player, but it is alarming considering he is hitting just over six percent less fairways this year, while also coming up 16 yards shorter in his driving distance.
These problems have been worse recently as he's posted his two lowest driving accuracy tournaments of the year his last two times out.
None of this bodes well for Watson this week.
Hot No. 2: Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia is on the verge of picking up his first win of the year. He's been playing far too well not to, ranking third on the Tour in scoring average.
The problem for Garcia is nothing new. He has a nasty tendency to blow it at the most inopportune times. Take the Masters for instance. He shot himself into the lead with an opening-round 66 only to follow that up with a 76 in the second.
He still wound up eighth.
Garcia, who withdrew at Bay Hill due to injury, has played six PGA events this year, finishing 17th or better in all six.
He can thank his putter for that. Garcia has always been a wonderful ball striker, but his putter is streaky. Over the last two years, he's made big strides with his flat iron, and he is currently 10th on Tour in strokes gained-putting.
Garcia won this tournament in 2008 and has four top-14 finishes here since 2006. I'm looking for him to add a fifth this year.
Cold No. 1: Hunter Mahan
Hunter Mahan has turned terrible.
He was cruising along in solid form to begin the year. He even had a two-week stretch where he finished eighth at the Northern Trust Open, and then almost successfully defended his title by coming in second at the Accenture Match Play Championship.
Five weeks later, the guy suddenly couldn't make a cut. Mahan missed the weekend at the Houston Open, then at the Masters. He was cut after the third round at the Heritage and finished in 91st, and he was 73rd last week after again getting cut following the third round.
So, at least he is trending up a bit.
In his last 17 rounds, Mahan has as many rounds (one) in the 80s as he does the 60s, and in his last eight, he is a combined 28-over.
Mahan is still doing a decent job of hitting fairways off the tee, but all other facets of his game have been slipping, and he's been bad on and around the greens. I don't expect this slide to end anytime soon.
Hot No. 1: Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods hasn't been in action since his disappointment at the Masters. Actually, I should say "disappointment."
For any other golfer, a fourth at Augusta is nothing to complain about. However, this is Woods were are talking about, and a higher standard must be applied to him. And I have been applying one to him for this list, but I still had to put him No. 1. After all, he's won 50 percent of his PGA events this year.
At the center of it all has been his putter. While he's made nice strides with distance control, it is the fact that he leads the Tour in strokes gained-putting that has really helped him find the kind of success he has this year.
He's going to need more hot-handed work with the flat-iron at this tournament.
This week will be an interesting test for Woods. While he was second here in 2000 and won in 2001, he has just one top 10 since.
Woods cooled off a bit with the putter at Augusta, and it will be interesting to see how he looks on these fast greens after a long layoff. This will be a good test for Woods as Sawgrass will also challenge him to be smart off the tee, where he has struggled this year.
This should be good preparation for the approaching U.S. Open for Woods, and a good indicator, for us, of he will fare at the next official major.