The Players Championship may not be officially recognized as a major tournament, but it has the look, feel, field and stakes to be just that. At Pete Dye's difficult, but beautiful, TPC Sawgrass layout, the best golfers in the world will tee it up with the biggest purse of the 2013 season on the line.
Five inches of rain engulfed the course this past week, but the grounds crew has apparently done a phenomenal job at getting the venue back into optimal condition, according to PGA star Dustin Johnson:
Dustin Johnson @DJohnsonPGA
I can't believe how much water they've drained out of Sawgrass at @THEPLAYERSChamp!!! Kudos to the grounds crew for getting the course ready5/6/2013, 5:51:36 PM
600 FedEx Cup points will be awarded to the winner—matching the reward given to major champions— which makes this one of the truly marquee events on the PGA Tour.
Matt Kuchar is the defending champion, but this event has produced different winners in the past 19 years—and no one has ever successfully pulled off back-to-back victories in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Smart money would not be on Kuchar this time around, especially with so many fellow star competitors vying for the coveted trophy.
Below is all the information you need to know ahead of this outstanding showcase of elite golf as well as the top groups to watch during the first two rounds.
Note: All statistics and information, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of PGATour.com.
When: Thursday, May 9, to Sunday, May 12
Where: TPC Sawgrass; Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Tee Times: First group starts at 7:15 a.m. ET. A complete list of tee times for the first two rounds is available at PGATour.com.
Purse: $9.5 million
FedEx Cup Points: 600
For more information on the course, including layout and a description of each hole, click here.
TV Schedule (h/t PGA.com)
Thursday: Golf Channel 1-7 p.m. ET
Friday: Golf Channel 1-7 p.m. ET
Saturday: NBC 2-7 p.m. ET
Sunday: NBC 1-7 p.m. ET
Groups to Watch
No. 19: Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson
It's so difficult to choose the best trios out of this field simply because of the quality throughout, but this group unquestionably makes the cut.
These are three of the most dynamic personalities on the Tour, and it should make for some extremely entertaining golf. McDowell's demeanor exudes swagger, as he'll begin to confidently stride up the fairway when he knows he's struck a brilliant approach to the green.
McDowell is one of the more accurate players off the tee in the world, but he brought up a good point on Twitter when he got wind of his group for the first two rounds:
Graeme McDowell @Graeme_McDowell
0818 Thursday and 1328 Friday this week with @bubbawatson and @Keegan_Bradley. I'll be hitting my second shots first me thinks. #longball5/7/2013, 5:35:28 PM
As fiery as anyone in golf today, the young American stud Bradley is always an exciting player to watch. Given his brilliant iron play and length, he should fare well, especially if the course is still a bit dampened.
Then, of course, there's Watson, whose "Bubba Golf" tactics are the envy of many. Watson can work the ball in both directions with the best who have ever played the game.
That can sometimes be a problem, but it's also what makes Watson so compelling. Given that all three of these men have won major championships within the past three years, it's feasible that at least one of them will be in contention.
No. 21: Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker
Speaking of majors, the two most recent winners of those prestigious events in McIlroy and Scott, respectively, will be paired with the wily veteran Stricker, who is one of the better players in the world without a major title.
Scott won the Players Championship in 2004 at the age of just 23—the youngest champion in the event's history.
Though he hasn't broken par in six rounds at TPC Sawgrass, there is reason to believe that the recently turned 24-year-old McIlroy will recover from those past disappointments this week.
At the Wells Fargo Championship, McIlroy was No. 1 in the tournament by finding 77.78 percent of greens in regulation (h/t CBS Sports). Had his putter even been remotely functional, he would have won running away.
Still, a top-10 finish is good for McIlroy and gives him positive momentum entering a venue he has not managed to make it to the weekend at.
As for Stricker, he's definitely taken on a lighter schedule in 2013—but it's yielding extremely positive results.
He's only played five events on Tour, but three of them have been top-five finishes, and his GIR percentage of 73.33 is particularly exceptional. Stricker has also been very accurate off the tee and continues to roll it as well as ever.
Both Scott and Stricker have been out of action since The Masters, so it will be interesting to see how they bounce back. McIlroy, on the other hand, will look to stay in the groove he's established with his long game while looking to hole just a few more putts to put himself in contention.
No. 33: Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker
The past three years Woods has played here: two withdrawals and a tie for 40th. That's not exactly an encouraging track record, but now that Woods is healthier both physically and mentally, expectations should be on him to fare much better.
His only win came back in 2001 amidst the most dominant stretch of his illustrious career. Two victories preceded his tie for fourth at The Masters, where an unfortunate carom off the flagstick and subsequent improper drop essentially dashed his chances at a fifth green jacket.
Other than that, Woods played well enough to win for the third start in a row. Don't be surprised if that is again the case here.
If the course conditions do indeed play normally, look for Snedeker to be a huge factor come Sunday.
Snedeker isn't the longest player, but he has a well put together, compact swing that allows him to be a strong iron player. Plus, he can bail himself out of almost any trouble with his nearly unmatched putting prowess.
This course isn't particularly long, and judging from Snedeker's comments leading up to Thursday, he seems comfortable on this track:
As mentioned before, the likelihood of Kuchar pulling off a repeat is remote at best. Kuchar has the requisite consistency, mettle and all-around game to thrive here, but apparently these wins don't come in twos.
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