Excluding the majors, we are entering one of the most anticipated weekends of the PGA Tour calendar. The most talented golfers in the world are set to converge upon Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida to participate in the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
The event is often billed as the fifth-most prestigious on the calendar and has an impressive $25 million purse. Given the prestige of the tournament and prize money available, it’s no surprise that a full field with the biggest names in the sport is anticipated.
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Despite the talent, predicting the winner is difficult. TPC Sawgrass is a relatively short course in length, instead known for its level of difficulty and inconsistency in hole layout. Some specific features include 88 bunkers and 17 water hazards. That’s led to plenty of variance in winners, as only five players have won the event multiple times since 1982: Steve Elkington, Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Davis Love III and Hal Sutton. There has been no repeat winner since the course was remodeled in 2006.
JON RAHM HAS BEEN BEST
Given that the setting is immediately off the ocean in Florida, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that weather has played a significant role in the outcome of the tournament, including the 2022 Players Championship. Things are looking better this year as no day of the tournament has greater than a 37 percent chance of rain, though the highest possibility does appear Sunday for the final round.
There will be no defending champion, as Cameron Smith left the PGA Tour to join the LIV Tour in 2023. Favorites to take the title include Jon Rahm, who has won three of the PGA Tour’s six events this season while also finishing top-10 in five of six events. That hot start has pushed him to the world number one ranking. He also has performed well in the Players Championship, finishing ninth and 12th in 2021 and 2019, respectively.
Rory McIlroy is another favorite. If McIlroy were to win, he would break the aforementioned streak of no repeat winners in the last 16 years, as he won the Players Championship in 2019. He began the 2023 season as the world’s top-ranked golfer, but he has struggled with two finishes outside the top-25 since and is now ranked third. He did win the Dubai Desert Classic and finished second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend, so his form is good enough.
Scottie Scheffler is sandwiched between McIlroy and Rahm in the world rankings, though he has a tough history at the Players Championship. After missing the cut in 2021, he finished 55th in 2022. Given the history of the course, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make a leap forward to contention even if his past results don’t suggest that’s likely.
PLENTY OF CONTENDERS
Other top ranked golfers should also be considered contenders, including Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas and Max Homa. Each brings their own history to the course, as Cantlay will be looking to forget his recent form at TPC Sawgrass having missed the cut in each of the last two years.
Meanwhile, Thomas won the event in 2021 before suffering a step back in 2022 to finish 33rd. Homa has been somewhere in between specifically at Players Championship, but he has rocketed up the world rankings from 17th to begin 2023 all the up to seventh on the strength of his finishes in five events to this point. In that span, he’s tallied three top three finishes and has one additional top-20 finish.
Digging a bit deeper into the field, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Corey Conners could be names to keep an eye on. Hatton tallied a 13th place finish in 2022 at Sawgrass, though more importantly he’s done very well to begin 2023. He’s locked in three top-10 finishes, with his best finish being fourth place at last weekend’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Despite struggling to this point in the 2023 season, Fitzpatrick tallied a top-10 finish in the Players Championship and also logged the first major tournament victory of his career at the US Open last season. Finally, Conners has shown flashes of brilliance – he had the lowest score of the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend – but has broken through for only one win despite tallying 32 top-10 finishes across 216 career events played.