COMMENTARY | The Players Championship tees off on Thursday and, as always, it provides one of the best fields of any tournament of the season. In this little list here, I provide my three favorite (fairly obvious) contenders and two relative sleepers who could be expected do a little damage at TPC Sawgrass this weekend.
Tiger remains the No. 1 player in the world. Tiger is in the field. There's not much left to do but put him on top. Even if he weren't the best golfer on the planet, he'd still be No. 1 because he's Tiger Woods, and any time Tiger is in the field, post-fire-hydrant era or not, he will always be the presumed favorite until Rory McIlroy assumes the throne for good.
Aside from Tiger just being Tiger, he is also playing some ridiculous golf. He's No. 1 in strokes gained-putting, No. 1 in scoring average, and No. 1 in percentage of holes under par -- he's birdied or eagled 97 of 360 holes on the year.
Sure, he hasn't won at the Players in 12 years, but that might actually turn out to be a blessing. After all, there has never been a repeat champ in the tournament's existence which dates back to 1974 and which is also why Matt Kuchar, the 2012 winner, is subsequently absent from this list. Woods might just be due.
Winning the Masters goes a long way in my -- or anybody's -- book, especially the manner in which he won it. Scott did it after he proved he could contend in a major -- and then collapse down the finish. This time was different. We got a glimpse of Adam Scott the major champion, not Adam Scott the guy with the best swing on Tour who couldn't put it all together in the biggies. He held off Angel Cabrera breathing down his neck with air-tight 7-irons and pressure-proof putting. It was his first major, his first green jacket and became the first of his country to break the Masters curse. It was momentous, and it shouldn't surprise anybody when he's lurking somewhere at the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.
The Players, as I wrote in a previous column, is not a major, but it certainly has the closest feel to one of any non-major championship. The Stadium Course is an awesome venue for the fans and the players with a nerve-tingling final three holes that favors those who have proven they have the gumption to handle it. Scott proved he could do that when he won in 2004 and since has logged three top 15s here at TPC.
This is a quirky course, with three monsters of finishing holes, and experience here goes a long way, and experience is something that Scott has at TPC.
When will this guy just become the breakout star we all know him to be? Seriously, Rose is 6-for-6 this year in Top 25s, was the runner-up at Bay Hill, is second on Tour in both scoring average and total driving, third in all-around ranking, and in the top 10 in Greens in Regulation.
His putting has been the issue -- he is 147th in strokes gained-putting -- which might help explain why he breaks par far less than Tiger despite hitting greens at a much higher clip. And this is a tournament that is won by players who go fairly low. Greg Norman won it back in '94 with a 24-under which, as the tournament record, is not to be expected, but that does put it in perspective at least a little bit. The highest score in the past 12 years to win it was a 5-under from Sergio Garcia in 2008, and the average in that time period is just shy of 13-under.
So, if Rose can capitalize on all those fairways and greens he hits with a little help from his flat stick, he should have as good a chance as any.
Bo Van Pelt
Here's why I like Bo: He plays all the time. Already, just a few months into the season, the guy has played 11 times, nearly double that of Rose, picked up four top 25s and a top 10. Any rust or kinks in his swing are bound to have been worked out by now. More importantly, his top 10 came at the Wells Fargo last week where he finished T6, a nice confidence booster coming into a course where confidence can easily be shaken.
Now, Van Pelt's record here at Sawgrass is far from gaudy: In eight starts he has made the cut but three times. However -- and here comes the silver lining -- Van Pelt has finished in the top 10 every time he has made the cut.
A guarantee? Not at all. But a solid sleeper if he can put together a solid opening 36? Definitely.
Moore is never spectacular at Sawgrass (he has never cracked the top 25 here) but he's never awful, either (he's never missed a cut). He's also very similar to Rose, though perhaps the poor man's version. He strikes the ball remarkably well -- he hit all 18 greens in the opening round at Quail Hollow last weekend -- but has trouble getting his putter to cooperate.
Much like Rose, if Moore can just coax his putter into helping him out a bit, he should be OK. Look at what happens when he buries a few: At the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February, he went 66, 66, 65, 65 for a 22-under.
Scottsdale is no Sawgrass, but you don't go 22-under without putting at torrid rate. He's shown he can do it, he's just got to get it down consistently.
Travis Mewhirter has been working in the golf industry since 2007, when he was a bag room manager at Piney Branch Golf Club in Carroll County, Maryland, and has been involved, as a player, since 2004. Since then, he has worked at Hayfields Country Club, where the Constellation Energy Classic was formerly held, and has covered golf at the high school, college, and professional levels.
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