With that cascade of thunderous rain cleaned up and the course fully ready for action, the PGA Tour's unofficial fifth major gets underway Thursday as the top stars in the world descend to Florida for the 2013 Players Championship.
The Players Championship isn't officially recognized as a "major" by the PGA, but you would never know that by looking at the pageantry involved. Carrying a $9.5 million purse and awarding 600 FedEx Cup points to the winner—equivalent to a major championship—the promotional vehicle surrounding this event always feels top-notch.
Unsurprisingly, that means just about every top player in the world has already arrived at the legendary TPC Sawgrass course for Thursday's opening round. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are all in action, as is Masters winner Adam Scott. Matt Kuchar won the event last year and will try to become the event's first repeat champion.
And with pairings being announced earlier this week for Thursday and Friday's round, the excitement surrounding the opening rounds is palpable. Some of the week's biggest names have already been paired with one another as Kuchar and Woods make up arguably the most notable threesome with Brandt Snedeker.
With that in mind, let's take a look at a complete breakdown of all the coverage information you need to know for Thursday's first round.
Thursday Course Information
Tee Times: Begins at 7:15 a.m. ET
Course Location: TPC Sawgrass; Players Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Course Information: Par 72 (7,215 yards)
Thursday Television Information
|12 p.m. - 7 p.m. ET||Live Coverage||Golf Channel|
|9 p.m. - 12 a.m. ET||Repeat Coverage||Golf Channel|
Notable Group Tee Times
Starting at Hole No. 1
|8:18 a.m. ET||Derek Ernst|
|8:39 a.m. ET||John Merrick|
|1:18 p.m. ET||Ian Poulter|
|1:28 p.m. ET||Phil Mickelson|
|1:39 p.m. ET||Sergio Garcia|
|1:49 p.m. ET||Tiger Woods|
Starting at Hole No. 10
|8:08 a.m. ET||Rickie Fowler|
|8:18 a.m. ET||Graeme McDowell|
|8:39 a.m. ET||Adam Scott|
|1:07 p.m. ET||Ben Curtis|
Davis Love III
|1:18 p.m. ET||Bill Haas|
For all of Thursday's tee times, go here.
Groups to Watch
Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk (8:08 a.m. ET)
There may be No. 1 players current and former in other groups, but this early morning threesome should spark one weekend contender. The only question is who.
Fowler is one of the more under-covered players heading into this tournament. The 24-year-old comes in at 50-1 odds on Bovada's sportsbook to win outright this weekend despite finishing tied for second behind Matt Kuchar a year ago. Had it not been for a few betrayals from his short stick, Fowler may have taken his first semi-major.
What's more, 2013 has again shown Fowler has prodigious, if inconsistent, talents. He finished third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and then followed that up with a decent three-round showing at the Masters before falling apart on Sunday. After Augusta, things kept on that rocky road for Fowler, and he finished five-over at last week's Wells Fargo Championship.
It will be interesting to see which version of the young man comes out in Thursday's first round. If he sprays a solid score, he might find himself in the hunt come Sunday.
Still, if Fowler's five-over finish at Wells Fargo sounds familiar, it's because that's the exact score Mahan posted last week as well. The 30-year-old Mahan has been playing arguably the worst golf of his prime, having finished no better than a tie for 73rd since the Arnold Palmer in March. He was cut from the Masters and has looked nothing like the player who finished second at the Match Play Championships.
As for Furyk, it almost goes without saying that he'll be somewhere hanging on the fringes of the leaderboard. At 42 years old, Furyk is still one of the game's most respected players and is always in contention at the TPC. He has a few top-five finishes in his career arsenal with a 75 in Round 3 being the only thing that kept him from winning in 2006.
Overall, this is a group full of guys ostensibly on the fringe of winning. Even with Mahan struggling, the entire field knows he can turn it on in an instant.
With the way things have been going, though, we'll probably get a good idea Thursday morning which (if any) of these three are going to make noise this weekend.
Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker (8:39 a.m. ET)
One of the better players and people on the PGA Tour, Stricker's consummate professionalism has been at the forefront this year. He notoriously helped Tiger Woods get a feel for his putter earlier this season, which essentially forced him to a second-place finish at Doral.
So it's no surprise that Stricker expressed legitimate excitement on Twitter over getting paired with two intriguing talents this weekend:
Steve Stricker @stevestricker
I've got a great pairing this week @THEPLAYERSChamp. @McIlroyRory and Adam Scott. 8:39 Thursday. #majorchampions5/8/2013, 3:11:19 AM
If having momentum truly means anything in the sport of golf, Adam Scott should be our favorite heading into this weekend. The 32-year-old became the first Australian to win the Masters last month, besting Angel Cabrera in a playoff to finally get off the major championship schneid.
It was a victory that ascended Scott to No. 3 in the world, matching his career best and possibly signaling the true berth of his prime. A player of many starts and stops, arguably his first "coming into his own" moment was at the 2004 TPC, where Scott nearly went wire-to-wire en route to his first notable victory.
This will be the first time Scott has teed off in a sanctioned event since winning at Augusta, so it will be interesting to see how he does.
The Players Championship won't be the first time McIlroy has been on the course since the Masters—he finished tied for 10th last week at Wells Fargo—but it will mark his return to the public eye. While the Wells Fargo tournament is a nice tuneup, it's viewed overall as little more than that—a precursor to something big coming around.
For the average fan, Thursday will be the first time they've seen McIlroy since his latest Augusta meltdown. McIlroy's 79 on Saturday at the Masters was the latest in a string of weekend disappointments for the world's second-best golfer, descending him far from contention and making folks wonder whether he'll ever put it together on the sport's most hallowed course.
Luckily for McIlroy, he looked in fine form at Wells Fargo and has to be used to these Masters disappointments at this juncture. Plus, being No. 1 overall in the all-around ranking is never exactly a bad thing when heading to a difficult course.
Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker (1:49 p.m. ET)
Let's not dilly-dally here. This group's intrigue lies with Tiger Woods. Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker are merely the very good window dressing. The threesome without El Tigre would be like an entire "Mad Men" episode built around Stan Rizzo.
All of the talk—at least the on-the-course talk—has been centered on Woods' very good start to 2013, and that's just fine. He regained the No. 1 ranking from McIlroy and has a relative stranglehold on the position thanks to three victories and a tie for fourth at the Masters. Other than some bad putting luck at Augusta, he's been very good with the short stick this season and is third in putting average coming into this event.
Those are all very good signs for Woods, whose game had become increasingly erratic over the past couple of years.
But the problem—if we're using that term loosely—is that Woods has dominated on courses where he's always been comfortable. Augusta, Bay Hill, Doral and Torrey Pines are all courses he's mastered over his long career.
Sawgrass has become his kryptonite—especially since winning the event in 2001. His tie for 40th a year ago was the first time since 2009 that he even completed the event, having withdrawn in each of the previous two events.
That 2009 tournament was the last time Woods had any modicum of success at Sawgrass, finishing in eighth place. Over the past few years, Woods has continually struggled to hit fairways and adjust to the greens, leading to more than a few expresses of vocal frustration.
And yet he's the unquestioned favorite this year at 7-1—a number that puts him two-times lower than the field (per Bovada).
Woods' 7-1 number makes him four times as likely to win as Kuchar in the eyes of the oddsmakers, who put the 2012 champion at 28-1. While that seems a bit curious on the surface, history does point toward Kuchar falling short. The Players Championship has never had a repeat winner, and only once has a golfer won the tournament twice in three years (Jack Nicklaus, who did so twice).
As for Snedeker, it's hard to count him out of anything. His finishes this season include five top-sixes but also two frustrating cuts in March. We'll get a good idea of which end of the spectrum Snedeker lies in on Thursday.
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