This week the PGA Tour returns to the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida and the site of it’s “fifth major”, The Players. The tournament is rich in history and has no shortage of memorable moments — “Better Than Most”, “Be the right club today”, Freddie’s ace on 17 (and his slam dunk for par), Jerry Pate’s swim, David Duval winning on the same day as his dad, Craig Perks’ chip-ins, and the list goes on. This tournament always seems to offer up its share of highlight reel material, and we’ll see if this year’s Players adds to the list.
Perhaps one of Nike Golf’s athletes will become a part of the history of this tournament. Three have already won this prestigious event: Justin Leonard, David Duval and Stephen Ames. This year there are nine athletes (Anthony Kim has withdrawn with a thumb injury) vying for the crystal:
WD Anthony Kim
All of these athletes will tee it up on Thursday with the hopes of becoming the next Players champion. Here I offer five who I think have a chance of taking home the title on Sunday:
MY FIVE TO WATCH:
Tiger is obviously unhappy with missing the cut last week at Quail Hollow. It will be interesting to see how he rebounds this week — his inconsistent play has me wondering if he can find a fix this quickly that will carry him to the top of the leaderboard this weekend. The word from earlier today was that he found something on the driving range, and we’ll have to see if he can translate that remedy into success on the course. But I’m putting my money on Tiger’s frustration with his play last week, and his sheer determination to bounce back from a poor performance and once again prove he is the best player in the world. Let’s also not forget who’s threatening Tiger’s #1 world ranking — you know Tiger does not want anyone to break his streak of 258 weeks at #1, let alone the current #2 player in the world. I believe Tiger will return to his winning form sooner than later, we’ll see if it happens this week — I think that’s a distinct possibility.
In the last 5 months Charl has two wins and a second place finish on the European tour. He also finished second at the WGC CA Championship (behind fellow countryman Ernie Els) and T9 at the WGC Accenture Match Play, as well as finishing T30 at The Masters. Charl plays well in big events, look for him to challenge for the title this week at The Players.
The 2006 Players champion has had an up and down year so far, but a T6 at the Transitions in March and a T14 at the Verizon Heritage a few weeks ago indicate his game is in good shape. Stephen generally does well at the players, and after finishing 5th in 2008, perhaps he can keep his streak of high finishes in even-numbered years going in 2010.
Francesco is one of the rising stars on the European Tour, and he is ripe for a breakout performance in a PGA Tour event. With a T30 at the Masters and a T4 the week before at the Open de Andalucia in Spain, Francesco is swinging the club well of late — look for him to have a high finish at The Players.
The TPC Sawgrass is a layout that does not require the winner to be a long hitter, and it rewards steady play and accurate shotmaking. Several of its holes also require a right-to-left shot shape. Justin won this event in 1998 with a game that fits these requirements — though he’s not particularly long off the tee (but longer now with his SQ MachSpeed driver), his accuracy off the tee, consistent iron play, ability to hit a draw and steady (Method) putter will put him in contention on Sunday.
It’s set to be an exciting four days at the TPC Sawgrass, and there are sure to be several instances of both triumph and tragedy at the signature 17th hole’s island green. I’ll be keeping my eye on the leaderboard this weekend to see if a Nike athlete can hoist the crystal trophy on Sunday evening — and I for one hope that’s the case.