A strong field, an unpredictable course at Players

Doug Mendoza
May 11, 2017

He ranks second in greens in regulation and birdie average, and those talents will go along way to helping him contend at TPC Sawgrass.

The Pete Dye course is a Par 72 listed at 7,215 yards in length last year, but that yardage will be a little different this year.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.

The PGA Tour marketing department annually touts how strong and deep the Players field is, and it is.

Jason Day is the tournament's defending champion, and he comes into this year's event with odds of plus-2200. That can change, however, and Rory is the player most equipped to snatch that mantle.

Day is under no illusion that he faces a massive challenge to become to the first Players Champion to successfully defend his title, on the notoriously hard TPC Sawgrass layout, he identified the back-9 as being crucial to his chances of getting back in the winners circle. "It's one of the things I'm most looking forward to", Garcia told Golf Channel.

"Quite a few times I could have gone for the green but I just felt like even if I hit a great shot, it still probably wasn't going to be on the green, and it was going to leave me in a spot that was going to be hard to chip from", he said.

Rory McIlroy is the second choice to win the Players at plus-1000, and he certainly has the game to challenge Johnson and potentially take the title. He tied for 28th. You would have The Players in March, the Masters in April the PGA in May, the U.S. Open in June and British Open in July.

Johnson has been in the form of his life, winning three US PGA Tour tournaments in a row before pulling out of the US Masters with a back injury following a fall downstairs in Atlanta. If you lay back but you're too far up there, then you've got that 45-degree (shot) over the mounds, and you can possibly go in the water. And then an old nemesis - back pain - returned during the FedEx Cup playoffs, and the 29-year-old Australian withdrew during the last two tournaments.

Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters and US Open victor, predicted Johnson would become a multiple major champion in the near future. Too many more bogeys followed, however, and Spieth tied for fourth.

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That was the last time he played on the weekend at the TPC Sawgrass. Prior to his missed cut at the Valero Texas Open, he made five straight cuts and had two top 20s.

"I want to think that it's just kind of a fluke", Spieth said. "Those two years could have been spread out over 15 and everything else is solid". But I feel like if I'm going to play well here, this is the time.

"If you do hit a shot to the green and you pull it, you can drop it up there and try and get up-and-down".

That's what awaits the 147-man field competing on a course that has been referred to as frightening, dramatic and annoying over the years.

Previous year the then World Number One Jason Day swept to victory, but the Aussie has had issues on and off the course lately so he is quite a juicy 20/1 to defend. He returns having not won a tournament since then, and being reminded that no one has ever won in consecutive years since the tournament began in 1974.

Tiger Woods is the only player to win it twice (2001, 2013) since it moved to the TPC Sawgrass.

The focus starts with Johnson, however, mainly because he has not finished worse than third over his last five tournaments that stretch over three months and one very untimely slip down the stairs that knocked him out of the Masters. None have even come close, with three players - Jack Nicklaus in 1977, Mark McCumber in 1989 and Adam Scott in 2005 - tying the record among defenders for coming the closest to the eventual victor, four shots. Not only is Johnson at No. 1, his lead is greater than anyone's except what Woods enjoyed over the last 20 years.

A lot of golfers out here have a big ego and they feel like they can take it on, which is a good design feature.

And he never seems to lose his cool, even on a course that seems to bring out frustration in anyone. "I don't think anything fazes him - that's probably the understatement of the year. I can definitely see reasons for it".

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