“The 17th at TPC Sawgrass.”
Sports fans need only hear those words, and many will be keeping at least one eye on TV screens this weekend, when the most famous hole on tour once again taunts the world’s best players with the Tour equivalent of a do-or-die shot in a match at TopGolf.
THE PLAYERS Championship might not technically qualify as a major, but that could not be deduced from the feel of the week, nor could it from more tangible aspects like the prodigiously strong field, purse ($12.5 million), and FedEx Cup points (600).
Despite shooting a final-round 73, Webb Simpson won last year’s PLAYERS Championship in record-setting fashion. But if he wants to repeat, all he’ll need to do is hold off the entire golf world, including two-time champion Tiger Woods, who will lead an elite 144-man field into Ponte Vedra Beach, featuring each of the top-50 ranked players in the world, and the same number from the current FedExCup standings.
Trying to predict what will happen this weekend is a fool’s errand. The only thing we can say with certainty is that balls will go into the water on 17 at very inopportune times for at least a few players. (A total of 54 missed the island green last year, down 15 from 2017, but the second highest total since 2008.)
The PLAYERS Championship Primer is powered by Nike Golf Belts.
Tournament: The PLAYERS Championship
Dates: Mar 14-17, 2019
Where: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Course: TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course
Distance: Par 72/7189 yards
Architect: Pete Dye
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $2,250,000
Points: 600 (FedExCup), 70 (OWGR)
Defending Champion: Webb Simpson
TV, RADIO AND ONLINE
Rd 1: Thu 1-7:00 pm (GOLF)
Rd 2: Fri 1-7:00 pm (GOLF)
Rd 3: Sat 2-7:00 pm (NBC)
Rd 4: Sun 2-7:00 pm (NBC)
Rd 1: Thu 12-7 pm (PGA TOUR Radio)
Rd 2: Fri 12-7 pm (PGA TOUR Radio)
Rd 3: Sat 1-7 pm (PGA TOUR Radio)
Rd 4: Sun 12-6 pm (PGA TOUR Radio)
PGA TOUR Radio available on Sirius 208/XM 92.
First teeing off in 1974, THE PLAYERS Championship might not have the longest history on Tour, but the history it does have is undeniably rich. The tournament is the brainchild of former PGA Commissioner Deane Beman, who earned a reputation for being a capacious dreamer.
It helped Beman’s vision that the inaugural event, held at Atlanta Country Club in Marietta, Georgia was won by Jack Nicklaus, the biggest name in golf.
The PLAYERS bounced around between several Southern locales in the 70s, with Nicklaus also taking the 1976 and the 1978 tournaments. The tournament was drawing big names and high-level drama, but something was missing, something that would eventually turn THE PLAYERS into one of the best shows in professional sports.
Beman knew for The PLAYERS to really take off, it would need a permanent location for fans to associate it with. He teamed up with legendary course designer Pete Dye, and in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, built the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, which would almost instantly become one of the most iconic locations in the game.
It was important to Beman that the course demand a complete arsenal of shots, something that Dye smashed out of the park.
The list of winners has been diverse, with the course not favoring any specific kind of golf. With TPC Sawgrass becoming the regular venue in 1982, winners have included such stars as Fred Couples, Sandy Lyle, Tom Kite, Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson.
Nicklaus is the only three-time winner of the event, although all three championships occurred in the pre-Sawgrass days. Couples, Love III, and Woods, in addition to Hal Sutton and Steve Elkington comprise the list of two-time TPC Sawgrass champions.
History: Tournament Names
1988-2019: The Players Championship
1974-1987: Tournament Players Championship
History: Recent Winners
2018: Webb Simpson (-18)
2017: Si Woo Kim (-10)
2016: Jason Day (-15)
2015: Rickie Fowler (-12)
2014: Martin Kaymer (-13)
2013: Tiger Woods (-13)
2012: Matt Kuchar (-13)
264 (-24) Greg Norman, 1994
3 – Jack Nicklaus (1974, 1976, 1978)
Webb Simpson played conservative golf on Sunday, carding a final-round 1-over 73 at TPC Sawgrass en route to a 18-under par total, still good for a four-shot win over Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker, and Xander Schauffele.
Simpson finished his final day in Ponte Vedra Beach with three birdies (Nos. 7, 11, and 16) against two bogeys (Nos. 8 and 10), along with a meaningless double bogey on the 18th, to claim his fifth career PGA Tour title at THE PLAYERS Championship.
Final Top-5 Finishers
Pos-Player-Score (Final Rd)
1. Webb Simpson -18 (+1)
2. Charl Schwartzel -14 (-5)
2. Jimmy Walker -14 (-5)
2. Xander Schauffele -14 (-5)
5. Jason Day -13 (-4)
5. Jason Dufner -13 (-4)
THE COURSE: TPC SAWGRASS
The Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass (TPC Sawgrass) is located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, southeast of Jacksonville.
Opened in the fall of 1980, TPC Sawgrass was the first of several TPC facilities constructed in the world, and is home to the PGA Tour, annually hosting The Players Championship – its flagship event.
Situated in the Ponte Vedra Beach’s Sawgrass development, TPC Sawgrass includes two championship golf tracks – the Stadium and Valley courses.
The famous Stadium course was designed by architects Pete and Alice Dye, and is considered to be one of the most difficult golf courses in the world. It was constructed specifically to host The Players Championship, and employs a distinctive “stadium” concept where fans sit in “stands” made of raised mounds of grass. The “stadium” at TPC Sawgrass Stadium course has a capacity of 36,000.
It is known for its signature hole, the par-3 17th hole, known as the “Island Green” which measures just 137-yards.
STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
A look at five storylines to follow this week at TPC Sawgrass for the 20th event of the 2019 PGA Tour season, including a new (but old) month for THE PLAYERS; Tiger Woods targeting Jack Nicklaus; Rory McIlroy trying to make it a threesome; Justin Thomas seeking to knock out Rory; and Phil Mickelson going for a deuce.
- THE PLAYERS will once again be contested in March. It’s the month for which architect Pete Dye specifically designed the famous closing holes at the Stadium Course… “Go back to March and all of a sudden 17 and 18 play they way they were designed,” said NBC analyst Gary Koch in an article on Jacksonville.com. “Since we’ve moved to May, everyone is hitting wedges into No. 17 and playing No. 18 2-iron, 8-iron. Neither hole was designed to be played like that. I think that with the improved irrigation and the Precision Air, they’ve got all the tools they need to minimize any stoppage of play.”… Jerry Pate, who won the maiden PLAYERS at the Stadium Course, feels the wind in March is part of the tournament’s character. “It takes the fun out of the tournament,” he said. “Golf without wind is like a face without a nose. It’s character-less.”
- Tiger Woods is a storyline no matter where he tees it up. He will make his 19th start at TPC Sawgrass and owns wins both March (2001) and May (2013). With a win, he would tie Jack Nicklaus for most victories in tournament history. Although he bears watching closely after he baked out of last week’s Arnold Palmer, citing neck pain.
- Rory McIlroy, who has posted top-10s in each of his last five starts, will be looking to join Henrik Stenson and Tiger Woods as the only players to win THE PLAYERS, the FedExCup, a major, and a World Golf Championships event.
- Phil Mickelson will be making his 26th start at THE PLAYERS, while seeking to become its oldest winner, and just the sixth player to win the PLAYERS two times. A win would be career title No. 45 for Lefty.
- Justin Thomas has less than two months to join Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Jack Nicklaus as one of only five players in PGA Tour history to reach 10 career wins. Woods holds the record (23 years, 6 months, 4 days), while Nicklaus is the third-youngest to reach 10 wins (24 years, 3 months, 12 days); Thomas, who will be 25 years, 10 months, 18 days on Sunday could pass Rory McIlroy who was 25 years, 11 months, 29 days when he crossed the 10-win threshold.
Two-time tournament winner Tiger Woods will make his 19th career start at TPC Sawgrass, and will attempt to join Jack Nicklaus as the only three-time champ in tournament history.
Other former winners teeing it up this week include Adam Scott (2004), Phil Mickelson (2007), Sergio Garcia (2008), Henrik Stenson (2009), Matt Kuchar (2012), Martin Kaymer (2014), Rickie Fowler (2015), Jason Day (2016), Si Woo Kim (2017), and Webb Simpson (2018).
Woods (2007, 2009) is also one of 10 former FedExCup champions in the field, but the only one owning a PLAYERS title as well. Other season-long points champs include Vijay Singh (2008), Jim Furyk (2010), Brandt Snedeker (2012), Henrik Stenson (2013), Billy Horschel (2014), Jordan Spieth (2015), Rory McIlroy (2016), Justin Thomas (2017), and Justin Rose (2018).
ODDS TO WIN
Betting favorites include Dustin Johnson (12-1), McIlroy (12-1), and Thomas (16-1).
DJ enters off a win in Mexico, while McIlroy and Thomas have done everything but win yet – each owning a Tour-best four top-5s, along with an additional top-10 finish.
Ironically, with a win, Thomas would oust McIlroy as one of the four youngest players with 10 career wins, joining Woods, Spieth and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to reach double-digit victories before turning 26-years old.
Other popular betting picks include Fowler (20-1), Rose (20-1), and a pair of reigning major winners in Brooks Koepka (22-1), and Francesco Molinaro (22-1).
THE PLAYERS | TPC Sawgrass | Ponte Vedra Beach, FL | Mar 14-17, 2019
The official preview of the PLAYERS Championship from the PGA Tour.
15. Patrick Cantlay
14. Bryson DeChambeau
13. Tiger Woods
12. Webb Simpson
11. Tommy Fleetwood
10. Jon Rahm
9. Sergio Garcia
8. Justin Rose
7. Rickie Fowler
6. Dustin Johnson
5. Brooks Koepka
4. Rory McIlroy
3. Xander Schauffele
2. Justin Thomas
1. Francesco Molinari
Read the full Power Rankings post.
Joel Cook and Carey Hoffman contributed to this preview.
Credit: Getty Images, PGA TOUR Media, Bovada, OWGR, Wikipedia