The Players Championship: 9 Bold Predictions
It's Players Championship week on Tour.
This tournament, the unofficial "fifth major," is played at the beautiful TPC at Sawgrass, which features three of the best finishing holes in major competitive golf.
This week also marks the return of Tiger Woods to the Tour after a few weeks off to heal an aching knee.
The tournament starts five weeks before the second major, the U.S. Open. Now is the time for players to start thinking about getting their games in shape for the heart of the season.
So, what can we expect from this week?
Here are some bold (and not-so-bold) predictions.
No. 1—Someone Will Put a Ball in the Water on 17
It is arguably the most recognizable hole that isn't part of a major championship.
The "island green" 17th hole at Sawgrass was actually never intended to be an island green and Pete Dye, who designed the course, didn't like the idea at first.
The pond that surrounds the green was created when they needed fill material for other holes on the course. Dye's wife suggested filling the hole that was dug with water and, voila, an icon is born.
My prediction isn't all that bold. Many players are going to drown balls in the water around the green in the four competition days.
I will take it one step further.
During the four days, I predict that a man who is leading the tournament will fail to hit the green with his first shot and will drop out of the lead.
No. 2—Someone Will Ace the 17th
Again, I will take this a step further.
Aces have been made on the hole, but there has been only one to save par.
In 1999 during the first round, Fred Couples dunked his tee shot in the water. He teed up his third shot and aced the hole for an incredible par save.
Fred also made a legitimate ace in 1997, one of only six during the Players.
My prediction is that someone who is in contention, within five shots of the lead, will ace the 17th hole, immediately putting pressure on the leaders.
Wouldn't it be something if they just eagled the 16th, too? Four under in two holes!
No. 3—Someone Will Play the Last Three Holes in Three Under
This isn't as hard as it may sound. Charl Schwartzel made consecutive birdies on the final four holes last month at the Masters.
Of course, to play the last three at Sawgrass in three under, a player will have to negotiate a reachable par-5 with water to the right of the green, the island green, and a long par-4 with water guarding the entire left side of the hole.
It will require nerves of steel, nine really good shots, and probably at least one putt of ten or more feet, but it could be done.
I predict someone will accomplish this feat to either take a share of the lead on Saturday or to win the tournament.
No. 4—Neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson Will Win
Tiger is recovering from an injury, still working on swing changes, and just hasn't shown that he is able to put four good rounds together in a long time.
He suggested that his game was close, but the evidence is not there for me. I feel like the first nine of the final round at the Masters was a fluke and the back side he played in even par was more the norm.
As much as it pains me to say that Phil will not win, I just don't see it happening. He has shown glimpses that his game might return to form (see the final round in Houston), but it really looks like the window is beginning to close on Phil.
Both of these players can still get the ball out there a long way, both have great short games, and when their putters get hot, there is no one on earth who can play with either of them.
However, those things are happening with less and less frequency as age and injuries begin to take their toll.
No. 5—Someone You Have Never Heard of Will Win
It's spring cleaning time on the PGA Tour.
Gone are the marquee names from the last 10-15 years. The incoming batch of "newbs" seems ready to stake their claim to the fame and fortune that winning on the PGA Tour can deliver.
Consider this: There have only been two men who have won on Tour this year that have won majors prior to this year. Those men are Phil Mickelson and Lucas Glover.
Glover just won on Sunday!
We are in the fifth month of the season and the guys who have dominated the Tour for the last decade are nowhere to be found.
Embrace change, my fellow fans, because it is upon us, and keep your computer nearby so you can look up the latest winner on Tour. You probably won't know him that well.
No. 6—A Player Who Is Not from the USA Will Win
It's hard to argue with facts: In the last five years, players not born in the United States have won this tournament four times.
Expand that to 10 years and you get six of 10 winners not from these shores.
Whether it's that the courses just set up well for international player's games or the fact that the depth of competition from other countries continues to grow, one thing is certain: We are seeing more and more players come to the USA as polished, seasoned players who know how to win.
Currently, only one American is in the top five of the World Golf Ranking: Phil Mickelson.
In the top ten, there are four Americans. There are nine in the top 20.
Let's face facts: The days of the United States' domination of golf are a thing of the past.
No. 7—Someone Will Have a Chance to Win with a Par on 18 and Will Fail
It is a very tough closing hole and no bargain even if you need a bogey.
The tee shot must fit between the lake on the left and the rough on the right.
Having found the fairway, the players must fire shots at the green which slopes toward the water. Hitting a draw into a right-to-left sloping green sounds fun, doesn't it?
If player's can't hit a draw, they will have to tempt the water by playing over it to find the green from the left.
For the squeamish in the field, there are the lovely mounds to the right of the green. A player has about a 50/50 chance of getting a decent lie to get up and down from over there.
And none of this is taking into account the wind and the pressure of the moment.
Of course, if he can pull it off, a great payday and the prestige of winning a top-tier event awaits.
Look for the leader to come to this hole on Sunday and find the water either with his tee-shot or his approach. If he is lucky, he will still scramble to get into a playoff.
No. 8—Someone Will Make an Eagle on 16, and Then Double Bogey 17
The 16th is a reachable par-5 for most of the field. The green is protected by water on the right, but once on the green, players could have a very good look at eagle.
The 17th, as we have discussed, is very simple. You either hit the green or you don't.
Riding the crest of having just made an eagle on 16, I predict someone will splash a ball (probably long over the green) in the pond on 17 and scramble for a double bogey, giving back the two strokes they just gained.
No. 9—The "Players Curse" Will Be Broken
There is more bad luck following winners of the Players than the guy who appears on the Madden NFL cover.
The list of things that have happened to past champions is as bizarre as it is scary.
In order from most recent:
Tim Clark injured his elbow and has only played in three events this year.
Henrik Stenson has basically dropped off the face of the earth going from 4th in the World Golf Ranking to 103rd.
Sergio Garcia had to take two months off from the game to rest his mind.
Phil Mickelson was diagnosed with arthritis.
Stephen Ames hurt his back. Fred Funk had bum knee. Adam Scott slammed a car door on his finger and forgot how to putt (until he discovered the old-man putter).
Davis Love III had to have work done on his ankle and got old. Craig Perks doesn't even play competitive golf any more.
And do I have to go through the list of stuff that has happened to Tiger?
Interestingly, in the last 10 playings, only two men have won the Players and then won a major later on. Those men are Tiger and Phil.
My prediction is that this frightening trend of winners getting injured or forgetting how to play golf will stop this year.
Look for the Players Champion to win a major some time this year or in 2012.