It’s pretty obvious that Tiger Woods won’t break out of the small pack of two-time winners at The Players Championship this year to join Jack Nicklaus as the only three-time winner at TPC Sawgrass. As Tiger attempts to come back from back surgery, there will be however, a strong field of 144 players, including 45 of the top 50 players in the world this week at the tournament dubbed as the fifth major championship of the year.
Sergio Garcia’s meltdown at the 17th hole last year was second on my list of great finishes in 2013, second only to Adam Scott’s victory at Augusta. Tiger Woods doesn’t have to do much to get inside the Spaniard’s head, but he did when paired with Garcia in the early rounds last year, and accused Tiger of showmanship early on, when Tiger pulled a club while Sergio was getting ready to hit.
Sergio’s display of arrogance at the 17th hole was the stuff great championships are made of, and it surely didn’t disappoint the thousands of fans on the course, and the millions at home.
The Players Championship has always been a testament in ball-striking. It’s pretty obvious with the list of former champions who have enjoyed success on the 7215 yard championship layout, designed by Pete Dye, to fully test the professional golfer.
With that being said, you have to put the top ball-strikers on the tour today well at the top of potential winners in 2014.
Had he not had troubles with pulling the trigger on a shot in 2012, and being constantly harassed for slow-play, I think Kevin Na was the best player in the field when he was defeated by Matt Kuchar. The 30 year-old South Korean has done everything in 2014 except win a tournament. He has a second, four top 10’s and eight top 25’s. He has missed four cuts, but is on the verge of breaking through for a second career PGA Tour win.
Kevin Na is an excellent ball-striker, and is at the top of my list to get a big win this week in Ponte Vedra.
Adam Scott certainly fits the bill for the ball-striking criteria, and it’s been ten years since he won on this golf course. Scott has to be considered one of the best ball strikers on the tour today, but the 2013 Masters champion runs hot and cold with the flat stick at crucial times. He tends to lose tournaments as of late in the late rounds when he needs to make a putt, and doesn’t. If he can light-up the long putter on Sunday afternoon, as we saw at Augusta, he can be unbeatable.
It’s been difficult for the FedEx Cup, and Race To Dubai Campion to get back on track in 2014, but the 38 year-old Swede could break out at any point and return to his 2013 form. He last won at TPC Sawgrass in 2009 this could be the week that he breaks out of his year-long slump and put it all together. When Stenson is on, he can be unbeatable as we saw on his final shot at Dubai to win the Race To Dubai.
We saw what Bubba can do now that he has made a new comittment to his golf game. His dismantling of Jordan Spieth at Augusta last month was proof positive that the owner of two Green Jackets can bring a long, difficult golf course like TPC Sawgrass to its knees if he can keep the mistakes to a minimum. And of course getting some putts to drop will help along with keeping his attitude in check. This is Watson’s first action since he won at The Masters.
Rory picked up his fifth top ten finish last week in Charlotte, and just needs to win a PGA Tour event to get his career back to 2012 form. The young Norther Irishman won both of his majors in a runaway, but has lacked the ability to close-out a tournament since changing equipment in 2013. Look out if he gets off to a good start.
I usually only pick five players in my power rankings, but there is so much talent in this field, so I am going to add a pick. I would be remiss to not include Phil as a contender at The Players Championship. Phil is off to a slow start in this wrap-around season, but he is hitting his three wood strong, and needs to be on this list. He won here in 2007, and since Tiger added a second Players title last year, why not Phil this year?