They call it the “fifth Major” on the men’s golfing calendar. The venue, TPC Sawgrass, is on everyone’s bucket list and the iconic 17th par three hole is one of the most photographed in the sport. In short, The Players Championship is one that every pro wants to win outside of those four Majors.
Interestingly, since its inception, only one golfer has won it three times (Jack Nicklaus) and the last person to win it twice was Tiger Woods. Even the great Tiger had to wait 12 years between Players Championship titles.
So, no matter what we think, when it comes to history, a minority go on to win this tournament more than once, and when they do it’s usually a number of years apart.
Which doesn’t augur well for the recent winners in this event teeing up at TPC Sawgrass from Thursday night (SA time). Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Kim Si-woo, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and Martin Kaymer have all won since 2014, but history tells us to ignore their winning chance this week.
That means we’re taking a chance by ignoring the world’s No10 and 11th-ranked players in Simpson and McIlroy, but history repeats, so we’re going to do that and put them to one side.
This time last year the first round of The Players was completed before the tournament was cancelled. Hideki Matsumaya led the field by one shot with South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout among those one shot behind him. But, fears over the spread of the Covid-19 meant organisers called the event off.
Little did we know what was going to follow, with the Tour in full suspension and the pandemic sweeping the world. So, this is a case of going back to the last tournament to be held before golf shut down for much of 2020. It will be an emotional experience for the golfers.
Bryson De Chambeau won on the PGA Tour last week and he did so with a huge game that has sent YouTube into a frenzy. However, TPC Sawgrass isn’t a tournament where the course can be bullied and this week I’m thinking that Bryson’s long game could get him into trouble.
World No1 Dustin Johnson is back and it’s hard not to like him this week. He has a commanding lead at the top of the rankings, although golf is rarely a sport that respects rankings. And very few golfers at this level are able to win two weeks in a row. But “DJ” has a power game and also a deft touch around the greens, although his putting sometimes lets him down. He should be on the first page of the leaderboard though.
So too should former world No1 Jordan Spieth. He plummeted all the way down the rankings but is back up to No52 and he’s my choice to go well this week. His recent form shows he’s coming back to full confidence and at his best he’s one of the best putters in the game.
I also have a feeling about Xander Schauffele this week, while the two youngsters in Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa should make their presence felt.
South Africans tee-off times:
1.56pm: Louis Oosthuizen
2.51pm: Dylan Frittelli
3.35pm: Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Charl Schwartzel
7.27pm: Branden Grace
12-1 Dustin Johnson, 22-1 Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, 28-1 Viktor Hovland, 80-1 Louis Oosthuizen