Players Championship – A No. 1 battle, finest bets and extra to look at at TPC Sawgrass

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The Players has by no means had a back-to-back champion, and it will not once more this yr with defending winner Cameron Smith taking part in within the LIV Golf League.

There’s a lot for the PGA Tour to have fun with its revamped mannequin and $25 million purse, the richest within the tour’s historical past. Plus, the climate forecast is a lot better than final yr, when thunderstorms and heavy rain wreaked havoc.

Who’s going to win? Odds are it is going to be one of many uncommon suspects: Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and so on. Then once more, a forged of unheralded gamers completed within the high 10 in 2022, together with Anirban Lahiri, Doug Ghim, Russell Knox and Adam Hadwin.

Here are the highest storylines on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass this week:

Somebody’s getting paid

The winner of the Players will get $4.5 million, which is able to set a brand new document for the most important winner’s share in PGA Tour historical past. Last yr, Australia’s Smith collected $3.6 million for claiming the so-called “fifth major,” which was the richest purse within the sport earlier than LIV Golf got here alongside.

According to ESPN Stats & Information analysis, the primary $1 million paycheck in PGA Tour historical past went to Jeff Maggert for successful the 1999 WGC-Match Play. McIlroy collected $2.25 million for taking the Players in 2019, and that sum has doubled in simply 4 years. The document for the most important winner’s prize has been set 17 occasions within the tour’s historical past, together with 11 cases on the Players.

This week’s winner’s purse is much more than the $4 million that LIV Golf is paying to every of the winners of its 14 occasions this season. That’s most likely not a coincidence.

The battle for No. 1

Over the previous month, Rahm, Scheffler and McIlroy have all frolicked at No. 1 within the Official World Golf Ranking, with Rahm presently on the high. If any of them win the Players, they’re going to be No. 1 on Sunday evening. There are many different situations for the trio to be No. 1 if another person wins.

With a victory on the Stadium Course, in keeping with ESPN Stats & Information, Rahm would change into the primary PGA Tour participant since Jack Burke Jr. in 1952 to gather his fourth victory of the season by March 12.

McIlroy would change into solely the seventh participant to win the Players no less than twice; Jack Nicklaus received it thrice in 1974, ’76 and ’78.

Island desires

The par-3 seventeenth gap at TPC Sawgrass, with its island inexperienced, is without doubt one of the most fun for golf followers and one of many extra perplexing for gamers, relying on the wind. According to ESPN Stats & Information, there have been 27 balls hit into the water on No. 17 within the second spherical final yr. That was the fifth-highest complete within the ShotLink monitoring period (since 2003).

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Last yr, heavy rain and thunderstorms suspended play on Thursday and Friday. The first spherical did not resume till round 12 p.m. ET on Saturday. Scheffler, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele had been the primary victims of the par-3 seventeenth. Things went about the way you’d anticipate in 35-mph gusts: All three hit their tee photographs into the water.

Schauffele, who was 4 underneath when he stepped into the seventeenth tee field, made bogey after which carded a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 18th. He went from a tie for ninth to a tie for ninetieth in two holes and missed the reduce.

“Yeah, 17 was awesome. Eighteen was even better,” Schauffele mentioned Tuesday. “I think [caddie] Austin [Kaiser] showed me the stat on his phone. That’s why I got rid of social media, but I think he showed me like a first ever to go from like the top 10 to outside the top 100 or something like that in like one hole. So like I said, my team’s all about giving me reality checks and I got one.”

Can Rahm get his mojo again?

No golfer on the planet has been hotter than Rahm, who received 5 occasions in his previous 9 worldwide begins, together with thrice on the PGA Tour: Sentry Tournament of Champions, the American Express and the Genesis.

Rahm appeared properly on his technique to making it 4 victories since January when he grabbed the first-round lead with a 7-under 65 finally week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Then issues went sideways. He carded a 4-over 76 in every of the following two rounds earlier than capturing even par on Sunday to tie for thirty ninth at 1 over. It ended his streak of 10 straight top-10 finishes in worldwide begins and was his worst end since tying for fifty fifth on the Genesis Scottish Open in July.

For three days no less than, Rahmbo appeared human.

“Three days? Come on, two days,” Rahm joked with a reporter when requested about his efficiency at Bay Hill on Tuesday. “I shot even par the last day. It’s not an easy golf course. I moved up on the leaderboard. That was pretty good, I think.”

Rahm reminded reporters that he hit 5 balls within the water, together with 4 off the tee. He mentioned all of them may have ended up being dry with a great bounce.

“It would be very easy for me to overthink it and think that something needs to change,” Rahm mentioned. “If I were to eliminate most of those shots, we’re talking about close to top 20. It’s shoulda-coulda-woulda, right? But had I been playing at [Riviera Country Club] or Torrey [Pines] or at a different golf course all of those shots would have been in play. I could have managed my game around.”

Rahm admits that it was most likely time for his luck to show.

“It’s the game of golf,” he mentioned. “I think when things are going so well for so long, the golf gods decide to humble you a little bit. You know, it was my turn to suffer that for a couple days. So just keep on going. There’s nothing, nothing to look into, really. It’s golf and a couple bad days.”

As a lot as Rahm has received world wide, he hasn’t but collected a title in Florida as a professional. He has only one top-10 in 5 begins on the Players, a tie for ninth in 2021.

Fowler on his approach again

The spotlight of Rickie Fowler’s profession most likely got here on the 2015 Players, wherein he erased a 5-shot deficit to Sergio Garcia within the ultimate six holes to drive a playoff with Garcia and Kevin Kisner. Fowler and Kisner survived a three-hole mixture playoff and headed to the island-green seventeenth for sudden dying.

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As Fowler did within the ultimate spherical and playoff, he as soon as once more caught his tee shot to about 8 toes and made a birdie to take down Kisner.

Much of the previous three years have been a wrestle for Fowler, however there are encouraging indicators that he is lastly figuring issues out. With a brand new swing, he has three high 10s, one fewer than he had in 60 begins the earlier three seasons mixed. He ranks 14th in strokes gained: complete (1.204) and tenth in strokes gained: strategy (.820).

“It would be great,” Thomas mentioned. “It’s clearly trending that way. He’s playing some really good golf, really solid, consistent golf. I can just tell from playing practice rounds with him or playing with him at home, he’s a different person. He’s got a lot more swagger, a lot more confidence. His expectations are different. It’s funny just what a couple tournaments or maybe one particular shot or week here and there will do.”

Fowler has used his good pals Thomas and Jordan Spieth as sounding boards as he has tried to claw his approach again.

“Obviously, I want him to play better, but I just want to be there as a friend,” Thomas mentioned. “I think that sometimes the man in you doesn’t want to necessarily like ask your friends for help, you know what I’m saying? Like it’s not like a cool thing to do. But I mean, I’ve been there. I’ve talked to different friends, whether it’s about specific golf stuff or thought process, whatever it is.

“My factor to Rick is, I’m like, ‘Dude, should you ever want something or need something, I’m right here as a lot as you need or as little as you need.’ … This is usually a lonely sport typically. Even with your loved ones, spouse, girlfriend, no matter, out on the street with you, it is nonetheless lonely once you’re on the market, between your ears.”

Saving the middle class

If the initial plan for the revamped PGA Tour model had been adopted by the circuit’s policy board, there would have been 14 designated events with fields between 50 to 60 players competing for elevated purses. Under that scenario, according to models, about 80% of the players in the top 50 on the FedEx Cup points list would have remained there.

That model was first proposed during a meeting of about 20 players led by McIlroy and Tiger Woods before the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs in Wilmington, Delaware, in August.

“I can confidently say that it is not two separate excursions as a lot as that may be perceived that approach,” Spieth said. “In Delaware the primary presentation was primarily two separate excursions. To get to a spot the place each single full card holder can play in each single PGA Tour occasion that season meant there needed to be some give from them. I feel it was the proper factor to do.”

Instead, future seasons on the PGA Tour will include seven designated events with fields of 70 to 80 players, as well as the Sentry Tournament of Champions with a field of about 50 to 60 players. None of those tournaments will have a 36-hole cut. The Tour is hoping the model will lead to about 60% retention among the top 50 players.

“That was an essential aspect to the adjustments that we’re making,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. “We wished to make sure that there was actual consequence and there is actual promotion, there’s actual relegation.”

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According to Monahan, the tour wanted to make sure there were pathways for players outside the top 50 to qualify for the elevated events. Along with the top 50 players in points from the previous year, there is also qualifying criteria including tournament winners, top 10 in points from the current season and top five points earners from a cluster of non-elevated events in between the elevated ones.

If the model were in place this season, recent tournament winners like Si Woo Kim and Chris Kirk would have made elevated fields.

“There’s not going to be any mannequin that makes everyone completely satisfied,” Thomas said. “That’s only a stone-cold truth. But on the finish of the day, when each single certainly one of us signed as much as play golf, you knew that the higher you performed, the higher tournaments you had been going to get into, and the more severe you performed, you could not actually have a job anymore or you could be on a developmental tour. None of that’s altering.

“It’s a mindset thing with some people that are upset about it, like: OK, do I want to look at that table or look at that tournament and say, ‘That’s not fair, I don’t get to play in that.’ Or do I want to say, ‘I want to be a part of that table,’ or ‘I want to be a part of that tournament.'”

Best bets

McIlroy to win (+900), top-10 end (+120)
David Bearman:
I picked Rory on this column final week and got here up simply quick as McIlroy did when he completed as runner up: one shot again. He had the lead late Sunday, even after beginning with a primary spherical 73, 8 photographs off the tempo. I firmly consider Rory is shut and it is a excellent event for him to say himself again on high of the golf world. He received right here in 2019, has three different top-10 finishes and loves taking part in Pete Dye tracks. He’s going to wish to convey his “A” sport for this course and high area, however he was runner up at Arnie’s place with out high stuff.

Bradley top-10 end (+450)
The standard names (Rory, Scottie, Rahm) will after all be in play this week, however do not sleep on one of many hottest gamers on Tour. Quietly, Keegan Bradley has recorded six finishes within the high 21 this season, together with a T-10 final week on the API, a runner-up end on the Farmers and a win on the ZoZo in October. He’s made the reduce at TPC Sawgrass every of the final six years, the second-longest lively streak, with the final 4 being within the high 30. +450 is an efficient payout, and perhaps sprinkle slightly on the 50-1.

Max Homa to win (+2200), top-5 (+450), top-10 (+230)
Anita Marks:
This may not be a California course, however Max Homa can nonetheless win it. He completed T-Thirteenth right here final yr with a closing 66 and is 1st in photographs gained strategy over the past 24 rounds, a key metric on the TPC Sawgrass course. He’s within the high 10 in virtually each stats class and an amazing match for this course.

Jason Day top-10 end (+280)
The comeback continues for Jason Day with one other top-10 final week at Bay Hill. He now has 9 top-25s within the final 10 begins and loves Pete Dye programs. He is a former winner right here, having taken the title in 2010, but additionally has three different high 10s to his identify.