The Players Championship returns to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass this week. Who will conquer one of the deepest fields in golf to claim the “unofficial fifth major” and bank more than AU$3.5 million?
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Former World No.1 Rory McIlroy shot 16-under-par 272 to defeat Jim Furyk by one shot in 2019. Last year’s event was cancelled after one round due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
COURSE: The iconic Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass opened in 1981 and was designed by Pete and Alice Dye. Purpose built to host The Players, it features one of the most recognisable one-shotters in world golf. Despite its length – measuring just 125 metres – the 17th hole (pictured above) is one of the toughest par-3s on the planet due to its island green. Forty-five balls missed the putting surface in 2019 and found the surrounding pond.
PLAYERS TO WATCH …
Defending champion Rory McIlroy says he needs to “play with more freedom” and avoid the “spinny cuts” that have found their way into his swing in recent times.
“Over the past few weeks, those bad swings have just been a little too destructive and put me in some bad positions. So I need to play with more freedom and I need to be able to swing away,” McIlroy, who has dropped outside the world’s top-10 ranked players for the first time since 2018, told the PGA Tour.
Nevertheless, McIlroy returns to TPC Sawgrass with two consecutive top-10s under his belt from Bay Hill and The Concession, as he looks to become the first-ever player to successfully defend The Players.
The 31-year-old Northern Irishman missed the cut at TPC Sawgrass in 2018 prior to his victory the following year. But he secured shares of eighth, sixth and eighth between 2013 and 2015.
RIGHT: McIlroy will defend his Players title from 2019 after last year’s event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama has one of the better records on the Stadium Course, posting five top-25s and two top-10s from his six appearances at TPC Sawgrass.
The 29-year-old opened last year’s championship with a blistering nine-under 63 to tie the course record prior to the event being cancelled.
Matsuyama hasn’t added to his 14 professional victories since winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August, 2017. But the former World No.2 will arrive off the back of shares of 18th and 15th and looks to have found something.
Cameron Smith probably hasn’t lived up to anyone’s expectations at The Players so far, especially considering TPC Sawgrass has become his adopted home course.
The Queenslander has made three starts at The Players – excluding last year – for two missed cuts and a share of 56th in 2019. Last year’s Masters runner-up is clearly better than that and will expect to contend this week.
Smith finished fourth at The Genesis Invitational and T11th at the WGC-Workday Championship in his two most recent starts.
72-HOLE RECORD: Former World No.1 Greg Norman shot 24-under-par 264 in 1994 to defeat American Fuzzy Zoeller by four shots.
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Jason Day (2016), Adam Scott (2004), Steve Elkington (1997 & 1991) and Greg Norman (1994).
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Cameron Davis, Jason Day, Matt Jones, Marc Leishman, Cameron Percy, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith.
Round 1: Friday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 4am – 10am)
Round 2: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 4am – 10am)
Round 3: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 5am – 10am)
Round 4: Monday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 4am – 9am)
*AEDT, check local guides