Field of Dreams
The world’s best always gather at TPC Sawgrass. They did it every March for 33 years, then in May for 11 years and now they’ve gathered in March once more. Tiger Woods is back. That’s the headline. There’s no point in pretending it’s not. Having withdrawn from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a “minor neck strain”, the world and his dog suspect that he’s simply priming himself for Major season, which- for all intents and purposes- starts this week. Jason Day also returns after withdrawing six holes into Bay Hill, and the pair of TaylorMade poster boys are in dizzying company.
The 17th hole. The Island Green. Some love it, some hate it, some relish it, some fear it, but everybody knows about it. It’s produced plenty of iconic moments every year, and 2019 will be no different.
But there are seventeen other holes and none of them are gimmes. This course tends to produce colourful scorecards, with birdie opportunities and bogey traps aplenty. However, it’s changed this year. Having moved back to March, both Phil Mickelson and Jason Day expect the course to yield more birdies; the latter describing it as a “relatively new” course, such is the significance of the different climate. Mickelson expects lower scores- much to his delight- and Rory McIlroy expects that the course looking “as pure as it ever has” could play into his own hands.
Anybody can win. You can try every method under the sun to call The Players, but you better factor in the madness. Nobody saw Webb Simpson winning last year, and eyes popped from sockets when Si Woo Kim walked it in 2017, yet the trophy is etched with the greatest names in golf’s history; Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Sandy Lyle, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and many, many more. In fact, whilst Si Woo Kim’s win came as World No. 78, Jason Day’s victory the previous year came as World No. 1.
The Best Chance
I could try to pull a name out of a hat, but it’d be far more useful to rank my top three players with the best chance of winning.
Firstly, Xander Schauffele. The FedEx Cup leader and World No. 8 finished T2 here on his debut last year and he is no doubt on the rise. I feel he’s been eclipsed somewhat by the big names, but he’ll be a big name himself soon enough so don’t sleep on Schauffele.
Next up is Francesco Molinari. Sure, it’s an obvious choice, but there’s a reason for that. At TPC Sawgrass in March, the birdies will come; it’s the bogeys you need to worry about. And Molinari just doesn’t do bogeys like everybody else. His four wins in the past year have been closed out with bogey-free streaks of 44 (BMW PGA Championship), 28 (Quicken Loans National), 37 (The Open) and 28 (Arnold Palmer Invitational). That’s sensational. In 8 appearances here, he has four missed cuts and four Top-10s. So if Frankie is still hanging about come Saturday then keep your eyes peeled.
Sticking with obvious choices, I’ll round off with Brooks Koepka. Similar reasoning in that his T11 last year came courtesy of a bogey-free -9 final round (including an albatross on the par-5 16th). Besides, it’s no secret that he’s a big-game player and this is one of the biggest games of them all.
Arguably the best field in golf, the highest prize fund, the most World Ranking points outside of Majors and, of course, The Island Green. The stage is set for an exhilarating week of golf. Enjoy!
Written by Joe Carabini