Players Championship 2021 Predictions: Top Golfers to Watch at Sawgrass

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 10, 2021

Players Championship 2021 Predictions: Top Golfers to Watch at Sawgrass

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    Pheland M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The PGA Tour is returning to TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, for the 2021 Players Championship, as a star-studded field will hit the greens when this year's tournament gets underway Thursday. The course has hosted the event on an annual basis since 1982, although last year's tournament was canceled after the first round due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Although the Players Championship isn't one of the four major tournaments, many of the top-ranked golfers in the world will be participating, so it's sure to be an exciting event. The field includes Dustin Johnson, the No. 1-ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy, who is ranked No. 11 and won the last completed Players Championship in 2019, and more.

    Johnson and McIlroy could be at or close to the top of the leaderboard once the four-day tournament concludes Sunday. Or another top golfer could emerge victorious and win the illustrious event.

    Here's a look at several golfers to watch this week, along with predictions for how they'll fare.

Rory McIlroy

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    While McIlroy won the Players Championship in 2019, he's had mixed results at TPC Sawgrass over the years. He had three previous top-eight finishes in the event (eighth in 2013, sixth in 2014 and eighth in 2015), but he's also missed the cut four times, most recently in 2018.

    However, McIlroy has been playing well of late and has some momentum heading into this week's tournament. After missing the cut at the Genesis Invitational last month, McIlroy has bounced back by finishing tied for sixth at the WGC-Workday Championship two weeks ago and tied for 10th at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    Before last year's Players Championship was canceled following the first round, McIlroy was at par, having shot a 72, and was nine strokes back of the lead (held by Hideki Matsuyama). The 31-year-old is hoping for a stronger opening round this year.

    "Hopefully I can get off to a better start than I did last year, shoot something in the 60s, not be too far away from the lead and try to build on that," McIlroy said, per ESPN's Bob Harig.

    Although McIlroy may not successfully defend his championship, expect him to have another solid showing, as he'll end up finishing under par and in the top 15, keeping his recent run of strong play going.

    Prediction: McIlroy finishes in top 15

Bryson DeChambeau

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    DeChambeau hasn't fared great at TPC Sawgrass in the past, as he's finished 37th (2018) and 20th (2019) in his two appearances at the Players Championship. However, the 27-year-old has greatly improved his game since the last time he competed in this tournament, and he could be battling for the win this weekend.

    DeChambeau knows how to win on a big stage now, as he won the U.S. Open last September for his first career major victory. He's continued to play well of late, winning last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational by shooting a 67 in the opening round and finishing 11 strokes under par.

    Because of DeChambeau's possible intention to take a different route on the 18th hole at TPC Sawgrass, the PGA Tour announced Tuesday that it was tweaking the boundaries there for safety precautions. But that just goes to show the type of power DeChambeau possesses, which is a reason he should have a strong showing this week, even if he has to change his plans for that particular hole.

    This week, DeChambeau is poised to have his best showing in the Players Championship, as he's become a much better golfer in the past two years. Don't be surprised if he is among the leaders heading into Saturday and Sunday and ends up finishing in at least the top 10 (if not better).

    Prediction: DeChambeau finishes in top 10

Dustin Johnson

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    It's time for Johnson to add another impressive victory to his growing list of career accolades. The 36-year-old won the Masters last November for his second career victory in a major tournament, and he's been on a roll over the past year.

    After having some struggles at TPC Sawgrass earlier in his career, Johnson recorded his best Players Championship finish in 2019, ending up fifth at 13 under par. He shot 69 or better in each of the four rounds in that tournament after previously never finishing better than 12th in 10 previous appearances in the event.

    Because of how well Johnson has played, it was surprising to see him tie for 54th in the WGC-Workday Championship two weeks ago (the last tournament he played in). But it appears he knows what he needs to improve on moving forward: driving the ball better.

    "Ball position was getting a little too far back, which causes me to hit it both ways," Johnson said, per Ryan Lavner of "It takes a little bit to work on that, but I fixed it and feel pretty good over the driver now."

    That should be good news for Johnson and bad news for the rest of the Players Championship field. With him likely driving the ball better, he's poised to have a strong showing this week, and the prediction here is that will end with him atop the leaderboard after Sunday's final round.

    Prediction: Johnson wins Players Championship for first time