It’s not one of golf’s four majors but since its debut in 1974 it has become a signature event. A $20 million purse played on a stunning stage designed by the legendary Pete Dye, who brought former PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman’s vision to life on the northeast Florida coast.
A stroll around TPC Sawgrass is like touring a perfectly manicured national park. Yes, the 17th island green is famous, but the entire course is interesting and fun to take in. It measures 7,250 yards, featuring plenty of doglegs and water hazards to limit the players’ ability to shorten holes. Dye makes you play the golf course.
The Players is a coveted title. Here’s my five to watch in 2022:
If I had to pick one guy, it’s Morikawa. He struggled the first time he played TPC Sawgrass then figured it out quickly, and he comes in with all parts of his game on point. A strong iron game is a major plus at Sawgrass and no one is better than Morikawa. But he’s also fourth on Tour in strokes-gained putting. He’s got two majors and would love to add a Players title.
The former world No. 1 and four-time major champion has been playing solid golf and he’s due to make a move. Koepka has two top 20s in past Players and has been quietly in the mix more and more in 2022. Koepka is physically healed and motivated. I’ll be surprised if he’s not in the thick of it this week.
Always love his game. He’s a ball striking maestro who thrives on difficult golf courses. Nearly won two weeks ago at the Honda, but his chances to make a playoff were thwarted by having to play the final hole in a downpour. Lowry has top 25 finishes in his last five global starts. He’s on his game and is a good match for Sawgrass. Why not another Irish champ? (Rory McIlroy, 2019).
With Bryson DeChambeau injured and unable to play, guess who ranks as the longest hitter in the field? It’s McIlroy at an average of 319 yards. That kind of distance never hurts but is not necessarily a big advantage at TPC Sawgrass. McIlroy has been solid if not spectacular all season, but you kind of get the feeling spectacular is coming soon. Could be here, where he won three years ago, could be Augusta, where he needs a win to complete the career grand slam.
The young man has arrived. He put on a show of force at the Ryder Cup matches in Wisconsin last fall and now he has two wins in three weeks on the PGA Tour. Conventional wisdom says Scheffler has to run out of gas soon – he’s playing well every week.
Maybe that’s the scary part. He’s learned now to win. Scheffler didn’t drive the ball accurately at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and won anyway, helped by miscues by Gary Woodland and Viktor Hovland, and he can leave driver in the bag if needed for many holes at Sawgrass. The hottest player on Tour right now has to make the list.
Five Players I’m fading:
Jon Rahm – The No. 1 player in the world not in contention? Correct. Rahm can prove me wrong this week, but the club in question right now is his putter and that’s enough to scare me off.
Justin Thomas – He’s playing well, is the defending champ – and that’s the problem. No player has repeated at this event. That’s a lot of history with a lot of great players who came up short.
Xander Schauffele – Finished second to open his 2022 campaign and hasn’t been heard from since. One of the hardest-to-predict of the elite players. I keep waiting for Schauffele to get on a huge run and I think it’s coming this year, if not this week.
Viktor Hovland – A world of talent and already a multiple winner, he could become the No. 1 player in the world. It’s the hole in his short game that concerns me. Hovland is simply not that good out of bunkers and that’s costing him enough strokes to lose tournaments he could have won.
Patrick Cantlay – One of my personal favorites, he has not been much of a threat at TPC Sawgrass, with two missed cuts in four appearances, including last year. Cantlay is playing the best golf of his career so that should translate to better results at The Players, but to date it does not appear to be a layout Cantlay loves.