The Players Championship is a premier event in golf, despite the fact that it isn't classified as a major. It provides a stunning greenbelt platform for golf's major stars, and the field is always crowded with some of the PGA Tour's elite players.
First prize is $1.8 million, the largest of the year. The difficulty of the unique course and ability for players to test themselves against other top professionals has made the Players Championship the unofficial "fifth major."
TPC Sawgrass is notable for its challenging sight lines and the dreaded 17th hole, notorious for adding a final twist to the drama in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Graeme McDowell had ominous things to say about the 17th:
Graeme McDowell on the Players Championship- “When you arrive on the 17th tee you sense fans are baying for blood.” http://t.co/YKUe06fD2q— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) May 7, 2014
The updated list for the PGA world rankings can be found here.
The No. 1 player in the world, Tiger Woods, won't be in the chase for the Players Championship this year after undergoing back surgery on March 31. However, plenty of other PGA Tour stars are in contention, so let's take a look at what experts have to say about their chances in 2014.
Kyle Porter of CBS Sports cites Adam Scott as his potential winner in 2014.
Scott has proven to be quite fond of TPC Sawgrass ever since he won the Players Championship there in 2004. Via Dave Tindall of Sky Sports:
"Overall my memories of this place are fantastic. I've played a lot of good golf here and I feel the course sets up well for me," Scott said.
The possibility of becoming the No. 1 player in the world should drive Scott to perform his best this year. The auspicious Aussie has three top-10 finishes in 2014 so far and is in great form heading into a course that has been favorable to him throughout his career.
The PGA Tour's official Twitter account notes he may only need a top-16 finish to dethrone Tiger Woods.
4 different players can become World No. 1 at #THEPLAYERS: Adam Scott: Top 16 Henrik Stenson: Top 6 Bubba Watson: 2nd alone Matt Kuchar: Win— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 7, 2014
By a mathematical quirk, Scott could have become No. 1 by not participating in the tournament as well. Jay Coffin of GolfChannel.com relayed Scott's reaction to the strange news.
Adam Scott told he could be No. 1 without playing this week, jokes, and says: "See you later guys..."— Jay Coffin (@JayCoffinGC) May 7, 2014
Scott's comfort level with the course means a strong performance and a No. 1 ranking are well within his range.
Both John Antonini and Rex Hoggard of GolfChannel.com have Garcia coming out on top in Group 1 of the Players Championship. While they aren't necessarily picking him as a winner, Garcia's past performances bode well for him this year
Garcia won the event in 2008 and was runner-up the year before that. He needs a bounce-back performance after missing the cut at Augusta this year, and this course is favorable to his ball-striking ability.
His pairing with Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson should also bring out his competitive best in the tournament.
Garcia, along with the rest of the field, will have to watch out for damage on the course. Alex Miceli of GolfWeek.com writes that there are three damaged greens on the course and that players have been restricted from putting there.
Garcia, who ranks 34th in strokes gained from putting according to the PGA Tour's official website, will have to be on top of his game once the actual event gets underway. He can't afford to have any extra trouble or lip-outs on greens with so many other strong contenders in the field.
Watson may be the fourth-ranked player in the world right now and coming off a victory in the 2014 Masters, but that doesn't mean anyone sees him in direct contention at a course where he has consistently underperformed.
Watson is one of the few players with a mathematical chance at a No. 1 ranking but is absent from many experts' top performers lists. The fact that his best finish is a lowly 37th may have something to do with it.
The two-time Masters winner is aware of his chances and describes just what makes the course so difficult for him. Via Steve DiMeglio of USA Today:
When I look down No. 1 and No. 10, just to give you an example, it's hard to tell the fairway and the rough. It all kind of blends in together. I don't like to look at a tree and aim at a tree. I like to see the lay of the land and that's how I hit my shots. So it's very difficult when you look at a golf course like that. So it makes it difficult for me.
Which of these three players will have the best finish at the Players Championship?
Watson's visual approach to the game is thrown off by the sun and shadows, making it difficult for him to see the short grass. Watson may be showing humility when describing his chances, but a lack of similar complaints about the course means he is almost certain to be an odd man out once again.