The entire top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings will be in the same unbelievable field this week, congregating at TPC Sawgrass for the unofficial 5th major, THE PLAYERS Championship. With such a strong field, many great golfers will be overlooked, much like Si Woo Kim was when he took last year’s event.
Here are the players to watch most closely this week:
15. BUBBA WATSON
TPC Sawgrass might not fit what Bubba does best, and his poor results here have reflected that, with no top 30s on his PLAYERS resume.. However, with two wins among four top 10s in his last six starts this season, his form is too good to ignore. It helps that Bubba ranks 8th on Tour in greens in regulation, as he will need to hit many to offset a troublesome short game.
World Rank: 17th
Field Rank: 17th
Last Seven: 5, 1, 66, 9, 1, 35, 40
14. IAN POULTERGolf has been good to Poulter in 2018. A win at the Houston Open secured his Tour card for the next two years, something that was in doubt before he pulled off a T2 at last year’s PLAYERS. That win was the best result of three top seven finishes in his last four individual events, and he is looking much more like the elite shotmaker that we were used to seeing for much of his career.
World Rank: 26th
Field Rank: 26th
Last Seven: 7, 44, 1, 5, 41, MC, MC
13. TIGER WOODSThe 79-time Tour winner is coming off a mediocre T32-T55 stretch, which is frustrating given how close he looked to being “back” in his three previous appearances, but this could be the perfect event for Tiger to re-right the ship. His 2013 victory at TPC Sawgrass was his last win at a high-profile event, and his short game is in the kind of tremendous form that could make this the first high-profile victory since. It helps that he will not have to take the driver out much, and he can focus on his elite shot-making.
World Rank: 92nd
Field Rank: 77th
Last Seven: 55, 32, 5, 2, 12, MC, 23
12. JON RAHM
It is hard to know what to make of the world No. 3, who ended a shocking two-month slump at The Masters, rebounding from an opening-round 75 to go 68-65-69 to finish solo-fourth. He was a MDF at last year’s PLAYERS, his only attempt, but in his young career, the studly Spaniard has made a living off rocking courses that he has little experience on. He has been dominant off the tees, and his all-around game has him ranked first on Tour in birdie average. If he can avoid that one high round that he has been surprisingly prone to lately, this would almost definitely be a top finish.
World Rank: 3rd
Field Rank: 3rd
Last Seven: 1, 4, 52, 20, 26, 11, 29
11. JUSTIN ROSE
After an incredible stretch of high finishes, both on the PGA and abroad, from August to March, the world No. 5 Rose has looked mortal in his last three outings. That being said, he is likely to re-elevate his game very soon, and TPC Sawgrass could be a great spot for the man who is 6th on Tour in scoring average and 4th in birdie average. Rose has been up-and-down at this event, but has put together some stunning rounds lately, with a 65 and a 66 among his rounds in the 2016 edition.
World Rank: 5th
Field Rank: 5th
Last Seven: 12, 52, 3, 5, 37, 8, 22
10. SERGIO GARCIA
The 2008 PLAYERS Champion is the tournament’s all-time earnings leader, and has been a spot on the schedule where Sergio is regularly in contention. TPC Sawgrass could not be coming at a better time for the 38-year-old Spaniard, as he is coming off a shocking stretch of three consecutive missed cuts, something that looks especially unfathomable after the elite form he had been showing before The Masters. Given that he ranks 3rd on Tour in shots gained: approach-the-green and 3rd in shots gained: tee-to-green, we feel confident that he will obliterate his recent slide this week.
World Rank: 13th
Field Rank: 13th
Last Seven: MC, MC, 9, 4, 7, 33, 32
9. PHIL MICKELSON
Despite a two-stroke victory over Sergio Garcia at the 2007 PLAYERS, the 43-time Tour winner has consistently struggled at TPC Sawgrass. Phil is playing some of the best golf of his life this season, however, with six top 10s in 12 events, with five of those coming in his last eight starts. A T5 at last week’s Wells Fargo was highlighted by a 64-69 weekend. For the week at Quail Hollow, Mickelson ranked a surprisingly excellent 9th in strokes gained: off-the-tee, and if he comes anywhere near that again this week, he would be a near certainty to contend.
World Rank: 19th
Field Rank: 19th
Last Seven: 5, 36, 24, 17, 1, 6, 2
8. RICKIE FOWLER
Fowler’s 2015 playoff victory at THE PLAYERS, where he put together one of the greatest regulation closing stretches the Tour has ever seen, was the best result of his career. Rickie came close to adding a better one two starts ago, when he took runner-up honors at The Masters, and while he could not quite reach Patrick Reed, he again showed that he is a threat in any field. He has not been the best closer this year, and he will have to deal with the media circus of being the third in the Tiger-Phil grouping, but his all-around game has been so good, that it would be unwise to bet against him capturing career victory No. 5 this week.
World Rank: 6th
Field Rank: 6th
Last Seven: 21, 2, 43, 14, 37, MC, 11
7. RORY McILROY
In two consecutive starts, The Masters and last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, Rory has looked like prime Rory in three of four rounds. His iron game has been pristine in his recent hot streak, which bodes especially well when the Tour makes trips to Pete Dye designed courses, as it is this week. He has not yet won this event, but he consistently plays it well, and he should be extra confident in this year’s edition.
World Rank: 8th
Field Rank: 8th
Last Seven: 16, 5, 36, 1, MC, 59, 20
6. DUSTIN JOHNSON
The World No. 1 has looked more vulnerable over the past two months, but still leads the Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee, strokes gained: tee-to-green, and scoring average. DJ has historically not played TPC Sawgrass well, but he is just too good to count out of any tournament. He knows how to win, and he does everything well that is needed for a win in this event.
World Rank: 1st
Last Seven: 16, 10, 59, 7, 16, 2, 9
5. JORDAN SPIETH
It seems to defy all logic that Spieth, a three-time major winner who is ranked No. 4 in the world, has missed his last three PLAYERS cuts. The number 3 has not been all bad for Spieth as of late, however, as he finished third in his last two individual starts, The Masters and the Houston Open. He is trending the right way, and his putter is no longer torpedoing his season. At third on Tour in greens in regulation, 8th in strokes gained: approach-the-green, and second in strokes gained: tee-to-green, a fourth consecutive missed cut at this event feels impossible. We expect him to look much more like the man who finished T4 at TPC Sawgrass in his 2014 tournament debut.
World Rank: 4th
Last Seven: 3, 3, 17, MC, 14, 9, 20
4. HENRIK STENSON
The 2009 PLAYERS Champion has shown a penchant for TPC Sawgrass and is coming in hot, with finishes of T5, T6, 4 in his last three individual PGA events, respectively. Stenson’s iron game is arguably the best in the world, and it has especially been on display in the current season, where he leads the Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green. Combined with also leading the Tour in driving accuracy, it should be unsurprising to see that Stenson ranks 3rd on Tour in scoring average. Current form and course history appear to be lining up perfectly for a run at a second PLAYERS victory.
World Rank: 4th
Last Seven: 5, 6, 4, MC, 60, 6, 8
3. JUSTIN THOMAS
A shotmaker extraordinaire, Thomas has been surprisingly quiet in his last two starts after a February-March tear where he had four consecutive top 10s, including a victory at the Honda Classic. However, he will not stay down-ish long, and his elite tee-to-green game makes him a favorite at an event where he finished T3 just two years ago. The runaway leader in the FedExCup standings is especially determined to land that world No. 1 ranking, which he can achieve with a victory this week.
World Rank: 2nd
Last Seven: 21, 17, 4, 2, 1, 9, 17
2. PATRICK REED
With back-to-back top 10s since winning The Masters, Reed is playing the best golf of his life, and looks eager to add more to his profile. His short game has been beyond phenomenal, which is critical at TPC Sawgrass, and while he has been awkward with his driver, he will not need it much this week. Among other reasons to be confident in Reed this week, he is scrambling well, he is putting well, and he is avoiding the big numbers. There is no hotter hand to ride this week.
World Rank: 10th
Last Seven: 8, 7, 1, 9, 7, 2, 37, MC
1. JASON DAY
The now No. 2 in the FedExCup rankings, the ultra-talented Day busted out of a two-month slump with a victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, brilliantly orchestrating a course where one really, really bad hole destroyed his PGA Championship hopes last August.
Now with two wins on the season, Day is looking like himself again, and looking especially unbelievable in the short game, leading the tour in strokes gained: putting and ranking fourth in strokes gained: around-the-greens. The 2016 PLAYERS Champion is a momentum guy who won in back-to-back weeks in both 2015 and 2016, and we are not betting against that happening again this week at TPC Sawgrass.
World Rank: 7th
Last Seven: 1, 20, 36, 22, 2, 1, 5, 11
Next Five: Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Marc Leishman