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by Matt Fargo - 05/04/2010
The PGA Tour heads back to Florida this week for the “Fifth Major”, THE PLAYERS Championship. “THE PLAYERS” is capitalized for a reason since this is THE Championship for the PLAYERS and a lot of them covet this tournament more than any of the four real Majors. That may sound narcissistic but this game is about the players and this is exactly what this tournament is about.
While a lot of the current regular stops on tour value experience, TPC Sawgrass and Augusta National are arguably the two biggest venues where experience matters the most. Check out this stat from the PGA Tour. The average number of starts before a victory here is 7.57 so just like Augusta, it takes a few years to win here, not including the 2002 win by Craig Perks (who?).
When you think of TPC Sawgrass, you think of the 17th island par three, arguably the scariest 130-something shot in golf. It is definitely a risk-reward hole and getting out of there with a par is huge going into 18. Why? The 18th at Sawgrass is the second-toughest closing hole on tour going back to 1983. We have seen many PLAYERS won and lost on these final two holes and that is what it should all be about.
As far as players go, the field is stacked as usual. Two big names are absent however as both Steve Stricker and Anthony Kim withdrew because of shoulder and thumb injuries respectively. Everyone else is here making it another star-studded made for TV event. Every past champion since 2004 is here as well as four other PLAYERS Champions from 2001 and beyond.
Tiger Woods (+600) won in 2001 at THE PLAYERS but he has not been a big factor of late. He has just one top ten at THE PLAYERS in his last seven starts and coming off his disaster last week might make you wonder. He is coming off just his sixth missed cut in 241 professional starts and the five previous times he missed the cut, only once did he finish outside the top three in his next event. You never know with him.
Phil Mickelson (+600) has a chance to do what no other player has been able to do in 258 weeks and that is unseat Woods as the number one player in the world with a victory here and a Woods finish of sixth or worse. He followed up his win at the Masters with a second place finish at Quail Hollow and that was only because of Rory McIlroy shooting a course record 62. He won THE PLAYERS in 2007 so he certainly likes it here.
Jim Furyk (+1800) is the local favorite and he continues to play well. He started last week with an opening round 75 but came back with a 65 on Friday and finished T7 in Charlotte. He has won twice this year already and his only missed cut was at the Masters. He has never won at Sawgrass but he has made the cut 12 of 14 times, including a T5 last year. He is fourth on tour in scrambling, a huge asset here.
Henrik Stenson (+3000) is the defending champion as he came from five strokes behind to earn the win by four shots, matching the largest comeback in tournament history. He comes in off a T8 at the Volvo China Open and T22 at the Ballantine's Championship. He has three top tens in four starts at THE PLAYERS but history is not on his side as there has never been a back-to-back champion here.
Stephen Ames (+5000) could be the darkhorse you are looking for. Ames has been playing decent this year with only three missed cuts in 10 events and of his seven weekend runs, he has five top 25 finishes. He was the winner here in 2006 and with this being an even year, it looks good for him as his last four even-numbered starts resulted in 5th, 1st, T13 and 2nd. He is second in all-time money earned at THE PLAYERS.