Players Championship 2019 Predictions: Top Golfers to Watch at SawgrassMarch 13, 2019
Golf's best will return to action on Thursday to compete for the 2019 Players Championship at Sawgrass in Florida.
The tournament is one of the most significant events of the golfing calendar outside of the majors. Having returned to its traditional slot in March for the first time since 2006, it will also serve as a useful warm-up ahead of the Masters next month.
Webb Simpson will look to defend his title, and should he do so, he'd be the first player in the tournament's history to accomplish such a feat.
Golf analyst Ron Mintz gave the lowdown on the competition ahead of it teeing off:
Here's a look at some of the top golfers to watch across the four days, including predictions as to how they might fare.
Xander Schauffele's name isn't one frequently bandied with the same frequency as Dustin Johnson or Jordan Spieth ahead of significant golf tournaments, but he could be in contention in Florida this year.
The American has crept up the official world golf rankings to eighth, though:
Golf writer Jason Sobel observed how far the 25-year-old has come in recent times:
Jason Sobel @JasonSobelTAN
Three years ago, Xander Schauffele started his year by missing 9 of 12 cuts on the Web Tour. Two top-fives earned him a PGA Tour card by $11,687. Even then, was barely a blip on the radar. Then something clicked. He was T-5 at U.S. Open, won twice, voted ROY. Now a top-10 player.
Schauffele was joint runner-up last year, one of three players who finished four strokes behind Simpson along with Charl Schwartzel and Jimmy Walker, so he already has an impressive performance at Sawgrass under his belt.
What's more, a superb season has left him atop the FedEx Cup standings.
In eight events this season, he's won twice as part of three top-10 finishes and six top-15 finishes.
He's fourth for strokes gained, and if he plays as well as he has been in recent months, he could be in touching distance of the leaders once again at Sawgrass.
Prediction: Top-eight finish
Rory McIlroy will feel he has a point to prove at Sawgrass. Since finishing T8 in 2015, he hasn't managed to crack the top 10 there in the last three years, while in 2018 he failed to even make the cut.
On top of that, he has now gone 12 months without winning a tournament, despite performing well on a number of occasions, per Sobel:
He'll also be keen to put right his recent tendency to fall short despite taking a lead into Sunday—all eyes will be on him if he's atop the pack heading into the final day.
In the PGA Tour, he's top of the standings for strokes gained tee-to-green and overall, which bodes well for another strong performance.
The Northern Irishman has won four major titles and a great many more tournaments in his time, so it's likely only a matter of time before he puts an end to his winless streak.
Ahead of the Masters—the only major to have eluded him—what better time for him to end it, short of in Augusta itself.