Golf's best will tee it up again in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., this week at the 2013 Players Championship—the biggest tournament in the past month since the conclusion of the 2013 Masters.
The world rankings have changed a bit since then, with Adam Scott taking a firm grasp on the No. 3 spot with his Masters win and Brandt Snedeker dropping out of the top five after his stunning collapse in the final round at Augusta.
At the top, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy continue to pace the rest of the field.
At the legendary TPC Sawgrass this week, there will be little room for error on the course. Designed by the famed Pete Dye, the 18-hole swampland course takes advantage of the slightest golfer mistake—characterized by the No. 17 "Island Green," which is one of the most famous holes in the United States.
With the field looking to upset the favorites this week and capture a victory at the 2013 Players Championship, anything can happen. Let's take a look at how some of the top golfers in the world are preparing to fare at Sawgrass this week below.
World Golf Rankings (Top 10, via Officialworldgolfranking.com)
|Pos||Golfer||Country||2013 Masters Finish||PC Wins|
Predictions for Top Golfers
Woods' most famous appearance at Sawgrass came in 2001, where he won the tournament in the middle of what will likely go down as the best streak of his professional career.
Since then, he's struggled to compete (h/t Justin Ray of ESPN) at one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour, in large part the last few seasons because he's struggled to hit fairways in regulation. This year, he's among the middle-of-the-pack finishers in that same department (T-74, to be exact) and is fresh off a 65.3 percent showing in that category at the Masters.
However, Woods is certainly peaking at the right time.
He finished fourth at the Masters after a four-stroke debacle on Day 2 almost cost him being in contention, and he's found a way to turn his putter into an instrument that is an advantage again—not a crutch.
Woods leads the PGA in strokes gained putting at 1.476, a clear distance ahead of the next-closest golfer. And when it comes to putting at Sawgrass, there are very few who have been able to duplicate Tiger's success on the 17th hole (circa 2001):
While the fairways are a concern for Woods, his low scoring average and place at the top of the golf rankings leave his projection as a fairly simple one—Tiger will be in contention in the middle rounds of this tournament.
He hasn't shown over his past few appearances here that he has the chops to win the tournament outright, but don't be surprised if Woods hovers around 10-to-15 for most of the event.
He'll be paired with Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker in the first two rounds.
Which McIlroy will show up in Florida?
If it's the one from the first three rounds of the Masters, then there's no use in watching him play this week. If it's the one from the final round and the guy who finished second at the Texas Open the week before Augusta, then we could be in for a show.
McIlroy, according to Kyle Porter of CBS Sports, also has an ace in the hole for TPC Sawgrass this time around—he's 2-of-2 in his last two tournaments on courses designed by Dye.
That won't mean anything for oddsmakers this week, but it will give McIlroy some confidence heading into an event he should have no business boasting any such emotion. Precision, timely putting and confidence are three things you need on all four days at this tournament.
It's extremely hard to predict McIlroy these days because he's been so boom-or-bust at tournaments this year. For every Texas Open, there's a Honda Classic, where he walked off the course in the middle of the second round.
Having never won the Players Championship, it would be a surprise if McIlroy did so this week at Sawgrass. I don't think he's quite figured his new set of clubs out just yet, and that's not a good assertion heading into a course that requires such a relationship between golfer and club.
McIlroy will be paired with Steve Stricker and Adam Scott for the first two rounds.
Speaking of Scott, the 2013 Masters champ already has a win at the Players Championship under his belt (2004) and has not played since he won the green jacket at Augusta.
The Masters win was the first-such green jacket for an Australian-born golfer.
All that will be thrown aside at the Players, where Scott is looking to get back to his winning ways with a strong first two rounds alongside two other golfers (Stricker and McIlroy) who are in the Top 10 of the world ranking (h/t ESPN).
With some obvious rust from not playing since mid-April and maybe a little bit of an ego trip from what was clearly the biggest win of his professional career, I wouldn't expect much from Scott in the first two rounds of action on Thursday and Friday.
He's, by no means, an underdog and has largely outperformed the man he'll be paired with on Thursday and Friday, but if Scott wants to win at Sawgrass, he'll likely have to survive some early rust and reengage his clutch putting stroke on the greens this week.
That being said, Scott is the hottest golfer on Tour this week, even with his extended layoff. Don't be surprised when he winds up in the Top 10 on Sunday.
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