The 2014 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is guaranteed to be less dramatic than in years past with the elimination of sudden death. However, the stakes remain sky-high as golf's best take aim at the prestigious PGA Tour title.
Last month, the PGA Tour announced that The Players would switch to a three-hole aggregate playoff starting in 2014, with the course's final three holes comprising the playoff.
Odds-on favorite Rory McIlroy is a fan of the change, per USA Today's Steve DiMeglio:
"I like it. I think one hole is a little short. To play 72 holes over four days, on that course and with that title on the line, and for it to come down to one hole is maybe a little unfair in some ways."
We'll have to wait until Sunday's final round to find out if the new playoff procedure will come into play at all, but that's not far off with the tournament already underway.
Here's a look at the updated leaderboard for Day 1:
Bubba Watson Will Struggle Early
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson will return to the tour for the first time since winning at Augusta National last month. And while the 35-year-old will be well-rested, it remains to be seen where his focus will lie.
Watson struggled immensely after winning his first major two years ago and admitted that he was in the process of enjoying the perks of being a major champion. That's not to say Watson is set to enter a prolonged slump, but that generating the focus necessary to win a tournament of this magnitude will be a huge challenge less than one month after a draining major triumph.
There's also a decent bit of pressure on the fan favorite this weekend. As the PGA Tour's official Twitter account points out, Watson is one of four players who can overtake Woods for the No. 1 ranking this weekend:
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
As a result, watch for Watson to start slow in Thursday's and Friday's opening rounds before settling in.
Look for the 2014 Masters champion to struggle early and eventually find a rhythm by the start of the weekend. He's fared well in the later rounds of recent tournaments and will have a much better idea of when and where to take risks with a couple of rounds under his belt.
Adam Scott Will Claim Second Title
Only a handful of golfers have ever won The Players twice, and with one of those players in Tiger Woods absent from this year's field, watch for 2004 champion Adam Scott to expand the list with his second title this weekend.
According to Oddsshark.com, Scott enters The Players with the second-best odds (14-1) behind only McIlroy. However, McIlroy has yet to win this event, finishing six strokes off the pace and tying for eighth a year ago. Scott was eight shots back in 2013 but shot under par in three of the four rounds, shooting seven-under through the first two rounds before a three-over 75 in Round 3 knocked him off track.
Earlier this week, Scott talked about his growth since his breakthrough win here in 2004, per The Guardian's Ewan Murray:
I was just a kid in 2004 – I didn't know how hard the game was. Being inexperienced and naive worked against me back then. I took the wrong things out of winning The Players at a young age. And completely on the other side I took all the right things out of losing an Open Championship [in 2012] and made the most out of it.
Scott has yet to win a tournament since taking The Barclays last August, and given the incredible amount of parity on the PGA Tour through the first half of the year, Scott's time has come.
He's won here before, is a major champion and possesses the experience vital to fighting off nerves at a course renowned for unraveling even the sport's best.
Scott also won't be short on motivation this week, as he can propel himself to No. 1 in the world with another strong performance.
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