Power Rankings: THE PLAYERS Championship

Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy walk off the 15th tee during the second round of THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass on May 12, 2017, in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

It could be argued that last year’s edition of THE PLAYERS Championship, known affectionately as the fifth major, was the most eventful tournament of the 2020 PGA Tour season. In its new place in March on the Tour schedule, the best in the world were at TPC Sawgrass when COVID-19 officially brought the sports world to a grinding halt.

Only one round was played before it was cancelled. At first, it looked like they might try to finish the tournament without fans, but given the unprecedented situation, the Tour wisely decided it would be reckless to continue on in the face of such uncertainty. No more PGA Tour golf was played for another three months.

Now, a full year later, and COVID-19 has not been eradicated. However, THE PLAYERS continues on with limited spectators, yet the prestige remains as nearly the entire top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking will be in attendance.

The only notable omission? Four time major champion Brooks Koepka, who was forced to withdraw with a neck injury.

The strength of field leads to some difficult ranking decisions, but here is who we like best this week:

20. Max Homa

Max Homa
Max Homa lines up a putt on the eighth green during the final round of The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on February 21, 2021 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Given the spectacular form the 30-year-old has shown in 2021, we would really, really like to find a higher place on this list for him. This placement is more a product of an absurdly stacked field, and honestly, given some of the names to not make our top 20, there was a better argument for having him lower than higher.

Since last November’s Masters, Homa has finished T22 or better in seven of 8 starts, including a dramatic win at The Genesis Invitational, a T7 at Pebble Beach, and a T10 at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he led the field in strokes gained: putting.

Homa was among the players who made their debut at last year’s cancelled tournament, but he did play well in that one round, reaching 4-under through 12 holes before finishing with a 2-under 70.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 0

World Rank: 38
Odds To Win: 80-1
Last Six: 10, 22, 1, 7, 42, 18
TPC Sawgrass: 0 Starts

19. Jason Day

Jason Day Houston Open
Jason Day looks over a putt on the 11th green during the final round of the Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on November 08, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The 33-year-old Aussie still does not really look himself, and his back may prevent him from ever looking like the world No. 1 again, but his finishes have improved, finishing 18th or better in four of his last eight starts.

Day had a strong performance going at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, before getting mauled by the course on Sunday to the tune of a birdie-free 7-over 79 that dropped him 20 spots down the final leaderboard (T31).

He might not be reliable enough in his current form to confidently bet on him, but this has been one of his best events on Tour. He won the 2016 PLAYERS title and has finished T8 and T5 in his last two TPC Sawgrass starts. We’ll chalk up that 4-over 76 he had in last year’s first round as an anomaly.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 9
Cuts Made: 6
Wins: 1 (2016)
Top 10s: 3 (T8, T5, T6)
Top 25s: 1 (T19)
Other: T60

World Rank: 47
Odds To Win: 40-1
Last Six: 31, 18, 7, MC, MC, 12

18. Matthew Fitzpatrick

Matthew Fitzpatrick
Matthew Fitzpatrick hits a shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre GC on Sep. 9, 2018 in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Over the past three months, few players in the world have been in better form than the six-time European Tour winner. After clipping Lee Westwood by a stroke at December’s DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, Fitzpatrick has stayed hot with top 17s in four of five starts, including finishes of 11th or better in his last three.

The 26-year-old, who was unbelievable with his putter at Bay Hill last week, has yet to taste much success at TPC Sawgrass, but this will be his fifth try and he has recently become a first-round mainstay on leaderboards everywhere.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 4
Cuts Made: 2
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 0
Other: T41, T46

World Rank: 16
Odds To Win: 50-1
Last Six: 10, 11, 5, 17, MC, 1

17. Joaquin Niemann

Joaquin Niemann
Joaquin Niemann walks on the fifth green during the third round of The Genesis Invitational at Riviera CC on Feb 20, 2021 in Pacific Palisades, CA. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

We would have the 22-year-old Chilean higher, possibly much higher, if not for the fact that he has not played TPC Sawgrass before, aside from the first round at last year’s cancelled event..

Still, he has exactly the kind of game that can thrive on this course, and he has been spectacular in the current season, the weekend at The Genesis notwithstanding, ranks third in birdie average and fourth in scoring average.

He has “future PLAYERS Champion” written all over him, but is it too soon for him? Helps that he has improved his putting, formerly his only technical weakness.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 0

World Rank: 29
Odds To Win: 40-1
Last Six: 28, 43, 2, 2, 23, 44

16. Daniel Berger

Daniel Berger WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind
Daniel Berger smiles with his caddie before hitting out of a bunker on the 18th hole during the final round of the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind on Aug 2, 2020 in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

A T35 at the WGC-Workday Championship At Concession two weeks ago was surprising for Berger, given his recent victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and the ability he has shown to get hot, and stay hot.

Since play resumed from the COVID-19 layoff last year, the 27-year-old has two wins, three other top-3 finishes, and six other top-25s. This has not really been his event, as a T9 in the 2016 edition is his only finish of better than T57 in five tries, although he has grown a lot in the past two seasons, and had posted a 4-under 68 in that one round that was played before last year’s tournament was cancelled.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 5
Cuts Made: 4
Top 10s: 1 (T9)
Top 25s: 0
Other: T65, T57, T67

World Rank: 15
Odds To Win: 40-1
Last Six: 35, 1, MC, 7, 10, 23

15. Hideki Matsuyama

Hideki Matsuyama BMW Championship
Hideki Matsuyama plays his shot from the 16th tee during the third round of the BMW Championship on the North Course at Olympia Fields CC on Aug 29, 2020 in Olympia Fields, IL. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We cannot imagine anyone was more frustrated that last year’s PLAYERS got cancelled after the first round than Matsuyama, who started on the back nine, birdied his first four holes, and played his last five in 5-under, tying the course record with a 9-under 63.

Absolutely starved for a victory, the 29-year-old has won 14 times worldwide, and five times on the PGA Tour, but has gone 0-for since the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Losing that two-stroke 18-hole lead, at no fault of his own, could not have sat well.

In the year since, he has 13 top 25s, but only two top 10s, and he has continued to be a disaster with his putter (gained two strokes to the field putting on Sunday at Bay Hill though).

Still, his tee-to-green game is among the best, and in six starts (and finishes) at THE PLAYERS, he has finished T23 or better in all, but one and was T8 in the most recent edition. Matsuyama should be looking at this week as an opportunity.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 6
Cuts Made: 5
Top 10s: 2 (T7, T8)
Top 25s: 3 (T17, T23, T22)

World Rank: 23
Odds To Win: 33-1
Last Six: 18, 15, MC, 42, 53, 19

14. Tyrrell Hatton

Tyrrell Hatton
Tyrrell Hatton talks with his caddie Mick Donaghy during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 08, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

You have to respect the way Hatton was able to play himself back onto the periphery of contention (normally five back at the 54-hole mark is firmly in contention, but the kind of round he needed at Bay Hill was just not there on Sunday) after he began the title defense of his 2020 victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in horrible fashion, shooting a 5-over 77.

Unfortunately, the 29-year-old gave back most of what he picked up on the field in his 67-66 middle rounds with another 77 on Sunday. He is hit-or-miss in bigger events, and his game around the greens has not been to his standards in 2021, but there is little doubt that he can contend here.

After struggling in his first three trips to TPC Sawgrass (T41, MC, MC), Hatton played the first round of last year’s cancelled event in 3-under 69, going bogey-free until a double at 18.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 3
Cuts Made: 1
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 0
Other: T41

World Rank: 7
Odds To Win: 33-1
Last Six: 21, 22, 6, 22, 1, 8

13. Tony Finau

Tony Finau walks along the eighth tee box during the final round of WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession on Feb 28, 2021 in Bradenton, FL. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

This is one of the few events where Finau HASN’T posted a high, non-winning finish, missing the cut in his first two attempts, and then going T57-T22 the past two years.

His solo-14th in his last start at the WGC-Workday Championship came off the heels of three consecutive runner-up finishes worldwide. He has the third best scoring average on Tour, and ranks fifth in strokes gained: tee-to-green.

Finau is playing well enough, but as usual, the question for him will be about what happens on Sunday if he gets into contention again. Since his solo Tour win in 2016, the answer to that question has been “not enough”.

Perhaps shockingly, he ranks inside the top 50 on Tour in final round scoring average, he just does not seem to make the shots he needs to make when he needs to make them.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 4
Cuts Made: 2
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 1 (T22)
Other: T57

World Rank: 14
Odds To Win: 22-1
Last Six: 14, 2, 2, 2, 4, 31

12. Tommy Fleetwood

Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia
Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia on the 11th hole during day one of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates GC on Jan 24, 2019 in Dubai, UAE. Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The European Tour’s answer to Tony Finau (18 top 10s on the PGA Tour without a win), the Brit who recently turned 30 has shown considerable comfort at TPC Sawgrass, with finishes of T7 and T5 in his last two attempts.

In 2019, he held the 18 and 36-hole co-leads, and was T2 through 54 holes, before spinning in place on Sunday for a 1-over 73.

Fleetwood was just three strokes out of the Sunday lead at Bay Hill last week, but, as has been a habit for him in the U.S., he struggled on Sunday, with just one birdie (par-5 16th) in a 5-over 77. He has knocked on the door both here and on the big stage in the past. Can he finally put four rounds together?

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 3
Cuts Made: 3
Top 10s: 2 (T5, T7)
Top 25s: 0
Other: T41

World Rank: 21
Odds To Win: 40-1
Last Six: 10, 44, 26, 17, 7, 10

11. Paul Casey

Paul Casey
Paul Casey runs to the 18th green after winning the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course on Mar 24, 2019 in Palm Harbor, FL. Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

One of the biggest surprises at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational was that Lee Westwood, and not Paul Casey, was the 40-something Englishman who contended until the very end. Not that Casey was irrelevant; he finished T10 for his fifth consecutive top-12 finish worldwide, including a four-stroke win at the European Tour’s Omega Desert Dubai Classic.

In 2019, Casey missed the cut at TPC Sawgrass despite coming in on a T2-2-T25-T3 tear, so he is not a lock to keep his great play going, but there seems to be something different about him in the past year.

If he gets into contention again, which he will if he gains six strokes to the field tee-to-green over the first two rounds like he did at Bay Hill, we will be very interested to see if his days of Sunday struggles are over. That round four 66 last August at the PGA Championship (finished T2) while in contention may have flipped the script.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 11
Cuts Made: 4
Top 10s: 1 (T10)
Top 25s: 3 (T14, T23, T22)

World Rank: 19
Odds To Win: 33-1
Last Six: 10, 5, 12, 1, 8, 38

10. Viktor Hovland

Viktor Hovland
Viktor Hovland plays his shot on the 9th hole during Day Two of the Saudi International at Royal Greens on Feb 5, 2021 in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Wow… that was some weekend for Hovland at Bay Hill. He came into the Arnold Palmer Invitational scorching hot, with a win, two runner-ups, and a T5 among his last five starts, a large part of the reason we had him ranked No. 1 in the field. He played well in the first two rounds at Bay Hill, but then… whatever THAT was. He shot a Saturday 77, which he then followed with a Sunday 78 that dropped him into a share of 49th place.

Over those 36 holes, he had 10 bogeys and four double-bogeys, and hit just 14 greens in regulation. There is no indication that he got hurt, so we will just chalk it up to inexperience. He is still a phenomenal player who looks like a future World No. 1.

Hovland made his debut at last season’s event, jumping out to three birdies in his first five holes on his way to a 4-under 68 in that one round played. Whether he is still a first-timer is debatable.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 0

World Rank: 13
Odds To Win: 25-1
Last Six: 49, 2, 5, 6, 2, 31

9. Xander Schauffele

Xander Schauffele TOUR Championship
Xander Schauffele plays his shot from the 4th tee during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Sep 7, 2020 in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Many would be surprised to learn that Schauffele is ahead of Bryson DeChambeau in the world rankings (5th). His T39 at the WGC-Workday Championship two weeks ago was just the second time in his last 23 starts that he finished outside the top 25.

However, due to some recent poor Sundays, he is suddenly facing questions about his ability to close. Still, the four-time Tour winner was runner-up in his 2018 PLAYERS debut, and always seems to be a factor in the biggest events.

Schauffele already has five top 5s in nine starts this season, with three of those being runner-ups.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 2
Cuts Made: 1
Top 10s: 1 (T2)

World Rank: 5
Odds To Win: 20-1
Last Six: 39, 15, 2, 2, 5, 17

8. Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy Wins The PLAYERS Championship
Rory McIlroy and caddie Harry Diamond celebrate after finishing on the 18th green during the final round of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Mar 17, 2019 in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Outside of the world top 10 for the first time in three years, the defending champion has been an enigma in 2021. He has placed no worse than 21st in 11 of his past starts, but is in a lengthy winless drought (by his standards), and just does not seem to have that killer instinct we used to see from him, where he would occasionally impose his will on the field.

Rory looked like he was going to contend at Bay Hill again after opening with a 6-under 66, but struggled to find any consistency in his game the rest of the week, posting rounds of 71-72-76 respectively and finishing a distant T10.

He has tremendous history at TPC Sawgrass, with four straight top-12s from 2013-2016 and then the win in 2019. He showed resiliency with birdies on the last three holes in his one round last year to right the ship after dropping to 3-over.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 10
Cuts Made: 6
Wins: 1 (2019)
Top 10s: 3 (T8, T6, T8)
Top 25s: 1 (T12)
Other: T35

World Rank: 11
Odds To Win: 14-1
Last Six: 10, 6, MC, 13, 16, 3

7. Webb Simpson

Webb Simpson
Webb Simpson reacts after winning THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 13, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. (Credit: Getty Images/Sam Greenwood)

Well, we know what Webb’s best is at TPC Sawgrass, because we saw it in 2018 when he blitzed the field in a four-stroke romp. It was even less close than it looked; he led by seven strokes after three rounds, and just kind of coasted on Sunday, and finished with a double bogey.

In the time since, the world No. 10 has two wins, four runner-ups, has been much more relevant in the majors, and he finished T16 in his PLAYERS defense.

Simpson led the Tour in both birdie average and scoring average a season ago, and has a T4 and a T6 among his last two starts. There’s no considerable weakness in his game.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 10
Cuts Made: 6
Wins: 1 (2018)
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 3 (T16, T15, T16)
Other: T69, T66

World Rank: 10
Odds To Win: 20-1
Last Six: 6, 42, 4, 17, 37, 10

6. Patrick Cantlay

Patrick Cantlay
Patrick Cantlay plays a shot on the 13th hole during the third round of The Genesis Invitational at Riviera CC on Feb 20, 2021 in Pacific Palisades, CA. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The world No. 9 turns 29 just three days after THE PLAYERS concludes, and at No. 2 in the FedExCup Standings, he is in form to contend for what would be the biggest win of his career.

In his last six starts, he has a win (ZOZO Championship @ Sherwood), a runner-up, a T3, and three other finishes of T17 or better. A season ago, despite what felt like something of a down year, Cantlay ranked inside the top 20 in five of the six strokes gained categories, and the one where he didn’t (putting), he has improved from 58th to 36th in the current season.

He definitely has the looks of a PLAYERS Champion, and we would be very surprised if he didn’t improve on his event best of T22 in his 2017 debut.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 3
Cuts Made: 2
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 2 (T22, T23)

World Rank: 9
Odds To Win: 20-1
Last Six: 15, 3, 2, 13, 17, 1

5. Jon Rahm

Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm plays his shot from the 15th tee during the second round of The Genesis Invitational at Riviera CC on Feb 19, 2021 in Pacific Palisades, CA. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Given the recent run of PLAYERS victories for the international contingency, Rahm makes an intriguing bet as the world’s highest ranked international player (No. 2). The 26-year-old Spaniard just racks up one high finish after another.

Since his playoff victory over peak Dustin Johnson at the BMW Championship, the second round of last year’s FedExCup playoffs, Rahm’s 10 starts include six top 10s and three other top 25s.

Yet, it somehow feels like he has been underwhelming in 2021. After struggling in his first two attempts at TPC Sawgrass, he improved to T12 in the 2019 edition.

Granted, that looks less impressive when you consider that he had the 54-hole lead, but he is not someone who is going to shoot many final-round 76s.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 3
Cuts Made: 3
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 1 (T12)
Other: T72, T63

World Rank: 2
Odds To Win: 16-1
Last Six: 32, 15, 13, 7, 7, 7

4. Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas Winged Foot Golf Club 2020 U.S. Open
Justin Thomas plays his shot from the second tee during the first round of the 120th U.S. Open Championship on September 17, 2020 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The world No. 3 has been all over the place at THE PLAYERS, although that is probably appropriate given that in his last five starts anywhere, he has three top 15s and two missed cuts.

He also had a stretch last season where he went WIN-CUT-T3-CUT-T6-T10-T8-CUT-2.

Still, over the course of full seasons, the 13-time Tour winner has been consistently great. The 27-year-old leads the Tour in birdie average and led last year’s Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green. He also ranks in the top 6 in both par 3 and par 4 scoring.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 5
Cuts Made: 5
Top 10s: 1 (T3)
Top 25s: 2 (T11, T24)
Other: T75, T35

World Rank: 3
Odds To Win: 16-1
Last Six: 15, MC, 13, MC, 3, 12

3. Bryson DeChambeau

Bryson DeChambeau Wins the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Bryson DeChambeau plays his shot from the sixth tee during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club on Mar 7, 2021 in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

With unprecedented power, the polarizing DeChambeau is on the verge of becoming the PGA Tour’s biggest non-Tiger draw. His drives on 6 at Bay Hill went viral last week, but it was much more than his length that allowed him to capture Arnie’s event for his eighth career win.

DeChambeau led the field in par 3 scoring, and made several clutch putts on Sunday to stay bogey-free after the first hole.

The reigning U.S. Open champ shows little difficulty dealing with pressure, and has gone back-to-back on Tour in the past, winning the first two events of the 2018 FedExCup Playoffs.

At first on Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee, tee-to-green, and total, there is little reason to not have confidence in the current FedExCup points leader at TPC Sawgrass.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 2
Cuts Made: 2
Top 10s: 0
Top 25s: 1 (T20)
Other: T37

World Rank: 6
Odds To Win: 14-1
Last Six: 1, 22, MC, 18, 7, 34

2. Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson Wins WGC-Mexico Championship
Dustin Johnson celebrates on the 18th green after winning the WGC-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec on Feb 24, 2019 in Mexico City. Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Just when it felt like the landslide World No. 1 was incapable of an off week, the reigning Masters champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year, DJ looked very much not himself at the WGC-Workday Championship, opening with a 77 and closing with the 78, leading to a T54 finish.

That Sunday 78 was even WITH five birdies on his scorecard. It is unlikely to start a new trend though; DJ is the best player in the world right now, and until he shows extended weakness, the 24-time Tour winner has to be among the favorites every time he tees up.

THE PLAYERS has not been his best event, as he did not record his first top 10 until his 11th try, which was the most recent PLAYERS held and finished. He was T5 after three 69s and a 68.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 11
Cuts Made: 9
Top 10s: 1 (T5)
Top 25s: 2 (T12, T17)
Other: T79, T34, T57, T59, T69, T28

World Rank: 1
Odds To Win: 11-1
Last Six: 54, 8, 1, 11, 1, 2

1. Collin Morikawa

Collin Morikawa Wins 2020 PGA Championship
Collin Morikawa walks up to the 18th green during the final round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on Aug 9, 2020 in San Francisco, CA. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The 24-year-old world No. 4 will be making his PLAYERS debut this week, but it is REALLY difficult to use that against him much, seeing as how ridiculously accomplished he has been in his early career.

Morikawa is coming off a three-stroke victory at the WGC-Workday Championship At Concession, won the PGA Championship last August in just his second career major start, and has two other wins since July of 2019.

It is a very good sign for his chances at TPC Sawgrass that he leads the Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green, third in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and greens in regulation. He just needs to bring the putter he used at The Concession.

PLAYERS History:
Starts: 0

World Rank: 4
Odds To Win: 18-1
Last Six: 1, 43, 68, 7, 7, 10

Next Five: Louis Oosthuizen, Sungjae Im, Will Zalatoris, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia


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