The 2014 Players Championship is going to be filled with thrilling golf theatre at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, offers an electric atmosphere and plays host to one of the most prestigious tournaments on the planet.
Things won't be quite the same without two-time champion Tiger Woods teeing it up as he continues to recuperate from back surgery, but the event's headliners offer some compelling storylines. Rory McIlroy is the 12-1 odds-on favorite, with Adam Scott, winner of the 2004 Players Championship, at 14-1, per OddsShark.com.
McIlroy tees off with reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and another young gun in Harris English for the first two rounds, while Scott is with Rickie Fowler and Steve Stricker. Just about every group has the potential to be entertaining, though, because this field is among the deepest in pro golf.
The stakes are high here—a $10 million purse and 600 FedEx Cup points go to the champion, as opposed to 500 at most other PGA Tour stops.
Here is an overview of the basic tournament information, along with a closer look at the top storylines ahead of the tournament, often referred to golf's fifth major.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com.
When: Thursday, May 8, through Sunday, April 11
Where: The Players Stadium Course (TPC Sawgrass) in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATOUR.com.
Purse: $10,000,000; Winner's Share: $1,800,000
FedEx Cup Points: 600
|Thursday, May 8||1-7 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, May 9||1-7 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, May 10||12:30-2 p.m., 2-7 p.m.||Golf Channel, NBC|
|Sunday, May 11||12:30-2 p.m., 2-7 p.m.||Golf Channel, NBC|
Analyzing Marquee Storylines
Is It Time For Another Rory Romp?
Being consistent is far easier said than done in golf, especially when dealing with such immense expectations and hype. More has been expected of Rory McIlroy ever since his monster 2012 campaign, which confirmed his status as the game's premier young talent and that his runaway win at the 2011 U.S. Open wasn't a fluke.
Jason Sobel of Golf Channel reminded the Twitterverse about McIlroy's greatness as he recently hit the age of 25:
Rory McIlroy turns 25 today. Solid quarter-century. One of four players since 1930 with two majors before 25. Others? Jack, Seve and Tiger.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) May 4, 2014
Frustration has followed one of the most dominant stretches this side of Woods in modern golf. Although McIlroy did pick up a win going head-to-head with Scott in the Australian Open this last December, he still hasn't won in quite some time on the PGA Tour—the 2012 BMW Championship, to be exact.
This could be the week that changes. The oddsmakers certainly believe so. After Players struggles past, McIlroy figured something out last year in finishing tied for eighth at TPC Sawgrass.
The good news is that McIlroy appears to be close, registering top 10s in each of his last three starts and finishing no worse than 25th all season. Now it's a matter of stringing together four solid rounds and getting into more realistic contention.
One noticeable flaw in McIlroy's game is his play on and around the greens, as he ranks 160th on tour in scrambling and 127th in strokes gained putting. Those numbers suggest that McIlroy is locked and loaded when he's putting for birdie but can't quite get the critical par saves he needs to keep borderline rounds in the red figures.
But after ranking 100th in bounce-back percentage in 2013, McIlroy now ranks 12th and is third in birdie average. McIlroy has ubiquitous firepower, yet he needs to hone in a bit more on his short game to produce the desired results. Should he do that, perhaps he will run away from the field as he's done in many of his previous victories.
World No. 1 Ranking Up For Grabs
Adam Scott was just 23 years of age when he won the Players approximately a decade ago, and he rose to as high as No. 3 in the world in that phase of his career before suffering a significant decline.
Similar to McIlroy in some ways, he struggled to handle the early success. The big breakthrough didn't lead to greater accomplishments—at least not right away—as Scott discussed before the tournament, per PGATour.com's Brian Wacker:
I wish it did more for me. And I mean that only as a fault of my own. It put me on the edge to becoming a great player at the time, but I didn’t use the momentum and confidence in the right way. When looking at the biggest and best events, the results weren’t there. What it did, it exposed me to that level and made me work that much harder.
With a green jacket in tow and Woods' former caddie in Steve Williams on the bag, Scott has a great shot to take over the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. But he isn't the only one, as Sobel points out:
Recurring theme alert: Four players (Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar) can become No. 1 in the world this week.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) May 5, 2014
Granted, if anyone ascends to first, it won't be quite as sweet since Woods isn't healthy enough to play and therefore has seen his points in the rankings decline. However, something about reigning atop the golf world will feel good no matter what, because this is a sport that comes down to the individual holding the club after all.
It is worth noting that although Bubba Watson just won the Masters in his last start, he doesn't have a great track record at the Players. Golf Central recorded a humorous comment Watson made to the press:
“I’m on a streak; I've made the cut the last 2 years." - Bubba Watson pic.twitter.com/SPJ5D67CQG— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) May 6, 2014
Kuchar overcame a series of close calls to claim the top prize at the RBC Heritage in his last event, and he always seems to be around the top of the leaderboard. That Players win in 2012 is great to draw on.
Stenson was brilliant last season and was playing as good as anyone. His story would be a nice one to see, but he must get out of a relative slump that's seen him fail to break 70 in each of his last eight competitive rounds.
Phil Mickelson Gathering Momentum?
Injuries and erratic play had led Mickelson to a disappointing start to 2013-14. That was remedied in part at last week's Wells Fargo Championship, where a third-round 63 vaulted him into the hunt, only to become undone by a 76 on Sunday to fall out of the top 10.
It would have been Mickelson's first such result of the year. Lefty is too decorated to carry on like this, so returning to a place he's won at before should offer at least some encouragement. Mickelson must focus on the positives and the high points of last week in Charlotte rather than the dejection he had to have felt amid his final-round slide.
Kelly Tilghman of Golf Channel highlighted the apex of Mickelson's performance at Quail Hollow:
Phil Mickelson shoots season low 63 at Quail Hollow to lead. It's his lowest score since a 60 in Phx last yr en route to victory— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) May 3, 2014
Seizing victory at the 2007 Players Championship provides a source of confidence for the ever-optimistic Mickelson. What is key for him in Ponte Vedra Beach is to set up success off the tee, because he ranks 158th on tour in driving accuracy.
It's all about shot making at Sawgrass, and Mickelson is evidently unafraid to carry the big stick in the bag:
"The bag setup is… I’ll end up keeping driver in and hitting it quite a bit” – Phil Mickelson #ThePlayers— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) May 6, 2014
Mickelson has proven to have the chops to win just about anywhere, but he must tame his aggressive style of play when necessary before his chances at securing a second Players win slip away. There is hope on the horizon.
Who will win the 2014 Players Championship?
If Scott wants to really assert himself as a force in the game, a second win at Sawgrass would go a long way in doing just that. So would a triumph at Pinehurst No. 2, but first he must redeem a poor Masters weekend.
Watson is in danger of a letdown after picking up his second green jacket at Augusta National. Jumping back into competition in such an intense arena is going to be difficult, but as long as his improved short game stays sharp, he shouldn't have much to worry about in terms of U.S. Open form.
With Kuchar running hot, Stenson bound for a low number and Mickelson figuring to at least crack the top 10, the 2014 Players Championship is an exciting preview of what to expect for the U.S. Open. It's perhaps most vital for Mickelson to do well, since he's painfully one major short of the career Grand Slam thanks to six U.S. Open runner-up finishes.