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 and the quality of the field 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 players with a high enough FedEx Cup and PGA Tour money list standing from the previous season.
As with the Masters, it’s played at the same course each year – TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, home to the PGA headquarters. Like Augusta National, the Pete Dye-designed ‘Stadium Course‘ has become one of golf’s iconic venues, with its distinctive stadium concept of grass banks for spectators and one of the world’s most recognizable holes, the treacherous 137-yard, par-3 17th ‘Island Green’.
The prize money on offer actually exceeds the majors. This year’s tournament has been given a hike from $12.5m to $15m, making it the biggest purse in golf, with the winner receiving $2.7m. The prize money for The Open is $10.75m, with the winner receiving $1.935m, the Masters $11.5m and $2.07m, the US Open $12.5 and $2.25m, and the PGA $11m and $1.98m respectively.
World number one and defending champion Rory McIlroy starts as favourite and tees off with world numbers two and three, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka. He could become the first ever player to claim back-to-back victories. The 30-year-old arrives with seven consecutive top-five finishes, but doesn’t always get it done on Sundays.
After his final round 76 at Bay Hill last weekend, which saw him drop to T-5, he said: “There’s a lot of similarities between the start of this year and the start of last year. A lot of chances not converting, but knowing that the game’s pretty much there.”
Among golf’s exciting ‘next-gen’ players, look out for Norway’s 22-year-old Viktor Hovland, who won his first PGA Tour title at the Puerto Rico Open in February, and American Matthew Wolff, 20, another young talent who will tee off alongside him. 23-year-old American Collin Morikawa could also make his mark. The former amateur world number one claimed his first PGA Tour title at the Barracuda Championship in July and currently leads the Tour for consecutive cuts made (21).
30-year-old South African Erik van Rooyen, who hit a course record-tying 62 at the WGC-Mexico a few weeks back, could be a good outside bet.
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).
2020 will mark the first championship since the passing of legendary golf course architect Pete Dye, who died on January 9. The ‘Stadium Course‘ he built is one of the world’s most exciting golf venues for players and spectators alike. The par-72, 7,189-yard layout last underwent major renovations in 2017. The biggest change took place on the greens which were rebuilt with Tiff-Eagle Bermuda grass, while Dye transformed the 12th hole into a dramatic, drivable Par 4.
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. He won again in 2013 and now only trails Nicklaus’ three victories. But last year the 17th got its revenge. Inside the top 10 during the second round, Woods found the water twice and carded a quadruple bogey. He would finish T-30.
He will not play this year due to a back injury and has not seen competitive action since the Genesis Open in February. He’ll be hoping to be fit enough to defend his title at the Masters in April.