Players Championship 2014: Expectations for Golf's Top Favorites and Sleepers

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Players Championship 2014: Expectations for Golf's Top Favorites and Sleepers
John Raoux/Associated Press

The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is the PGA Tour's unofficial fifth major. It always packs a top field, which is no surprise given the purse and prestige of this event.

This year, a record $10 million purse has attracted a top field. Like the Masters, however, Tiger Woods will miss this event while recovering from back surgery. On his website, the defending Players champion had this to say about his eventual return: 

I really don't know. I'm doing everything I can and listening to my doctors and working on a strength program, and then we just have to see how my back is. Some people heal up in three months, some people take longer. I just don't know.

Despite Woods' notable absence, there will be a strong field, which you can view here

Sawgrass has been home to this event since 1982, and the famed layout puts an emphasis on ball-striking. Accuracy off the tee is certainly paramount on hole No. 17, as shown in this tweet from Sky Sports Golf:

With that in mind, I'm going to break down a few of my top favorites and sleepers for this event. 

 

Top Favorites

Matt Kuchar

Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

Mr. Consistent Matt Kuchar is up to his old tricks. He has finished in the top five in each of his past four PGA events. His last start was a win at RBC Heritage that helped erase the sting of blowing Sunday leads in the first two tournaments in his recent hot stretch. 

As a result of his fine play, Golf Channel's Jason Sobel had this information to pass along:  

Kuchar was a disappointing 48th here last year after going seven over on the weekend to finish the tournament at even par. He won this event in 20102, however. 

Currently sitting 38th in ball-striking, Kuchar has been far better than that in his recent play. He knows this course well, is on a roll and has all the tools needed to take the victory. 

 

Henrik Stenson

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Henrik Stenson won this tournament in 2009. Then he dropped out of the consciousness of golf fans until dominating the end of the last PGA season and winning the FedEx Cup.

A big part of Stenson's slump was health, and that doesn't appear to be a concern now.

Stenson was last in PGA action at the Masters. He fired his best round of the tournament on Sunday with a 70 and finished in 14th. He's made one European Tour stop since then. That was a fifth-place finish at the China Open.

Stenson has been quiet this season, but he's been solid. He was certainly getting his elite form back last week, however, and his excellent ball-striking makes him a huge factor at this tournament. Stenson was fifth here last year and has a total of four top-10 finishes at this event.  

 

Sleepers to Watch

Brendon de Jonge

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Bendon de Jonge is a touch streaky, but he has the ball-striking to win this tournament and has finished inside the top 15 at this tournament in his last two trips. 

De Jonge has not had abundant success this season, but he's been solid. He has the kind of game to excel at Sawgrass. He is also coming off of his best finish of the year. 

At Quail Hollow last week, he finished tied for sixth. He did that after firing an 80 in the first round. Each round after that was in the 60s. 

ESPN's Bob Harig shares how his massive turnaround from firing an 80 to a 62 connects him with the final man on our list: 

 

Kevin Stadler

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

It's been an up-and-down season for Kevin Stadler. The ups have been exciting. He won the Phoenix Open for his first career PGA win and then finished tied for eighth at the Masters. 

Those events showed Stadler is ready to handle the pressure of the big stage. That will serve him well here. What will benefit even more at this event is his ball-striking. He is eighth on the season in ball-striking. 

Stadler missed the cut in New Orleans in his last start, but this tournament plays into his strengths and he will have a solid run.  

 

All stats, unless otherwise noted, via PGATour.com

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