Players Championship 2021: Preview

Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm will be among those at the Players Championship trying to stop Rory McIlroy achieving what no other golfer has ever achieved.

McIlroy claimed a one-shot victory in 2019 but saw his title defence cut short last year when the tournament was cancelled mid-event due to Covid-19. Now, the 31-year-old has another opportunity to become the first golfer in history to claim back-to-back Players Championship titles.

The Northern Irishman could also become just the sixth two-time winner of this event, a feat last accomplished by Tiger Woods who will miss the tournament as he recovers from a car accident. McIlroy has struggled with his game since the Covid-19 hiatus was lifted, but with two top 10s in his last two events his best form could make a timely return.

Who are the favourites?

World numbers one and two, Johnson and Rahm, along with DeChambeau off the back of his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, will be hoping to win their first Players. As will a resurgent Jordan Spieth, along with world number three Justin Thomas. 23-year-old Norwegian Viktor Hovland will be one to watch after four top-5 finishes in his last six events, including victory at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Brooks Koepka, though, is sidelined with a knee injury.

Will fans be present?

The Players will be only the fifth PGA Tour event to allow fans since golf resumed. But the golf course will only be at 20 per cent capacity due to Covid-19 restrictions and fans must wear a face mask at all times.

Why is it considered golf’s ‘fifth major’?

The Players Championship is widely considered to be golf’s fifth major in all but name. Inaugurated in 1974, it’s now the PGA Tour’s flagship event. Like the Masters, it’s played at the same course each year which adds to its iconic status – TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The Pete Dye-designed ‘Stadium Course’, like Augusta National, has become one of golf’s greatest venues.

The quality of the field for the Players is arguably the strongest line-up of the year. While the PGA Championship offers 20 places for club professionals and The Open, the US Open and the Masters all allocate invites to amateurs, The Players consists of the world’s top 50 ranked players, recent winners of majors, WGC and PGA Tour events, and leading players in the FedEx Cup standings from the current and preceding seasons.

The biggest purse in golf

This year’s prize money is a whopping $15m – the highest for any golf tournament in the world, with the winner receiving $2.7m and 600 FedEx Cup points – the same number given out at the four major championships.

TPC Sawgrass

TPC golf courses are a chain of public and private golf courses operated by the PGA Tour. TPC officially stands for ‘Tournament Players Club’, though it is often interpreted as ‘Tournament Players Course’. TPC Sawgrass is the headquarters of the PGA Tour and was specifically built to host the Players.

One of its innovations was ‘stadium seating’ around the greens in the form of slopes, where fans get views of the action below. Hence the name ‘The Stadium Course’. Opened in 1980, It’s known for its signature hole, the par-3, 137-yard 17th, known as the ‘Island Green’, one of golf’s most recognizable and exciting holes.

Keys to success

Driving accuracy has not usually been an indicator of victory here, but greens-in-regulation and form with the putter are both vital. Tiger Woods first won this title in 2001, the year of his legendary 60-foot ‘better than most’ putt at the infamous 17th island green. That birdie, which saw the ball break in several directions, sparked huge scenes of celebration from Woods and the crowd and he went on to seal a one-shot victory over Vijay Singh.

Who has the most wins?

Who else but Jack. Nicklaus won in 1974, 76 and 78, but never at TPC Sawgrass, as it wasn’t held there until 1982. Two-time winners are: Fred Couples (1984, 1996), Steve Elkington (1991, 97), Hal Sutton (1983, 2000), Davis Love III (1992, 2003) and Tiger Woods (2001, 2013).

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