THE PLAYERS: Your Essential Guide to Golf’s ‘Fifth Major’

THE PLAYERS Championship, TPC Sawgrass, 17th hole, (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
THE PLAYERS Championship, TPC Sawgrass, 17th hole, (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

If the Players Championship tells us anything, it’s that major season is just around the corner.

Since 2019 the unofficial “Fifth Major”, and coincidentally the fifth designated event this season, has taken its place in the schedule in March and marks the most anticipated event of the golfing calendar so far.

The unusual nature of the current golf climate continues this week as the 2022 Players champion, Cam Smith, will not be present to defend his title after joining the LIV golf tour. It is perhaps, therefore, fitting that the Players tournament record score is held by (you guessed it) Greg Norman at 24-under par (264) from his 1994 triumph.

The most recent previous winner to be in this week’s field seeking another win will be the world number 9 Justin Thomas.

This week will mark the 42nd Players Championship to be held at TPC Sawgrass.

Sawgrass is the home of one of the most iconic holes in golf. The par-3 island green 17th hole is a simple wedge shot for most of the tour players as it can play as little as 123 yards.

Despite this, the unassuming 17th played as the second hardest hole in 2022, with an average score of 3.267 across the whole tournament. In 2022 only the par-4 18th played harder with an average score of 4.533, helped by clocking 128 bogies (30 more than any other hole) and 56 doubles or worse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the four par-5s on the course will prove crucial to posting a competitive score as they have been the lowest-scoring holes for the last two years. In particular, the par-5 16th has been the lowest scoring hole for the last two years with a disrespectful average score of 4.552 in 2022.

Driving accuracy off the tee will be crucial throughout the tournament due to the countless water and bunker danger scattered across the entire course.

A look through the past winners of the Players tells you that the big names generally win this tournament. However, that is by no means guaranteed. Last year’s top 10 shows how players can find some unexpected form at this course and make a charge.

Last year’s solo second place was claimed by Anirban Lahiri who only managed two other top-10s in that season and missed the cut at the Players in four of his six career appearances. Similarly, Russell Knox and Doug Ghim both finished T6 last year despite only managing one other top-10 that season between them.

Kurt Kitayama will be making his first appearance at the Players this week whilst seeking to capitalize on his current good form.

Getting a win at the Pete Dye-designed course will mean having to beat one of the strongest fields on the PGA Tour calendar and having a plan to manage the bermudagrass throughout the course.

The Players is often thought to have a stronger field than any of the four majors due to the large number of players involved, lack of sponsor exemptions, and the stringent qualifying criteria.

The challenge of winning here is demonstrated by the Players Championship only having six players who have multiple victories and none of them being able to defend their title to win in consecutive years.

"Previous Winners of THE PLAYERS Championship2022: Cam Smith -132021: Justin Thomas -142020: Cancelled2019: Rory McIlroy -162018: Webb Simpson -18"

Whether you follow golf closely or casually, one thing is clear: a lot of money has been injected into the game over the last few years. However, not all of this injection has been where you would expect to see it.

For those familiar with the Sunday afternoon trophy lift to crown the Players champion, you may recall the golden trophy adorned with a 24-carat mid-swing miniature golfer. In a not-so-anticipated move, last year’s TV coverage was accompanied by an animated life-size version of the trophy-topping golden golfer walking around the course and mimicking iconic golf shots.

Commentators on social media (including PGA Tour pro Dylan Frittelli) were quick to question “Gold Man” and whether it was a productive use of golf proceeds. The prospect of Gold Man making a return in 2023 remains to be seen.

Next. 2023 PLAYERS Championship Odds: Rahm Favored Over Rory. dark

Whether the Players Championship brings you memories of Tiger’s monster “better than most” putt at the 17th green in 2001, or unusual images of an animated Gold Man, you can be sure that this week’s tournament will be full of storylines and big names making a charge on Sunday afternoon for their share of an eye-watering $25,000,000 purse and a $4,500,000 first place reward.