2014 The PLAYERS Championship preview, picks + predictions, plus the Driver-Off-The-Deck BOLD Play of the Week #FINCHEMLOVESCAPSLOCK

The PGA Tour has 4 and only 4 majors, period.  The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship always have been and forever will be the ultimate and defining factors as to the level of greatness of any player’s career.  Any further additions to the number of majors played each year on Tour would dilute the prestige of winning a major, and would wrongfully modify history.

At the end of a player’s career, it’s first a “how many majors did he win” question first, then how many total tournaments won gets asked second.  Case in point- Tom Lehman may have only won five career times on the PGA Tour, but he won a major (the 1996 British Open), and that’s what he’s remembered most for (a close second would probably be for his U.S. Open collapses).

So, what does all of this have to do with this week’s PLAYERS Championship?  Well, the PLAYERS is a tournament of such meaning that at the end of a player’s career, PLAYERS victories get listed immediately following the number of majors won- sort of a 1 and 1a so to speak.  For example, Davis Love III won just one major in his underachieving career on Tour (not a jab, a compliment actually- the man had the talent to win nearly a half a dozen majors on Tour), but he won 2 PLAYERS Championships, so when he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame someday it’ll be a 1 major AND 2 PLAYERS resume for DLIII.

On another level, both Matt Kuchar and Sergio Garcia still have yet to win the big one (a major), but both have proven their games on nearly the highest level as each has a PLAYERS victory.  So, point proven- the PLAYERS is a big deal.  I mean the name of the tourney is in all caps for goodness sakes (Tim Finchem must REALLY love all caps).

The PLAYERS Championship course, TPC Sawgrass, is heavily advertised by the PGA Tour as “Golf’s greatest stadium,” which is a nice way of saying, “It’s not nearly the best course on Tour, but it’s memorable and always captivating.”  Course designer Pete Dye isn’t the fairest architect in the game, but one thing’s for sure; he knows how to build for excitement.

We all remember Adam Scott’s PLAYERS victory, where while clinging onto a two stroke lead heading into 18 he flipped over a 6-iron into the water, but then got up and down holing the dramatic 6-foot bogey putt for victory then fist pumped with sweaty armpits (was that really 10 years ago already?!).  Oh yeah, then there’s the phantom man Craig Perks, who down the stretch chipped in on 16, holed a 50 foot bomb on 17 and then miraculously chipped in again on 18 (for par) to win the ’02 PLAYERS.  Also, wound ball Strata-man Hal Sutton and his famous, “be the right club today- YES!” yell as he defeated Tiger in 2000, which Tiger followed up with his “Better Than Most” putt on his way to victory in 2001 (and also his cheating phantom drop in winning last year).  With victory, there’s also heartbreak, as David Toms, Len Mattiace, Paul Goydos, Sean O’Hair and so many others have painfully bled down the stretch straight from the neck during this pressure packed tournament.  No doubt about it, the PLAYERS just plain oozes drama.

You can say what you want about the quirkiness of Pete Dye’s course designs (I’m in the “not a fan” group overall), but his TPC Sawgrass marquee gem sets up for possibly the most dramatic finish on Tour.  There’s first the reachable-in-2 yet devilishly tricky par 5 16th hole, then the infamous island green par 3 17th and of course the murderous and maniacal par 4 18th. Anything from -4 to +5 or more is entirely possible during the closing stretch.

As for last week, it was definitely a bizarre week for my picks, as my Driver-off-the-Deck BOLD play of the week Brendon de Jonge stormed back from an opening round 80 to tie the course record with a second round 62, ultimately finishing t-6th in his hometown…and yep, that’s about where the goodness ended, as Rickie, Jimmy and Stanley all disappointed and obviously I mightily missed on J.B.’s big week.  Alas, weeks like that are bound to happen, and with a stacked field this week, I’m feeling mighty good about hand-picking the right sticks from the stack…so to speak.

So, let’s hop into some picks:

Adam Scott
Adam Scott
– Must be nice to have a “down year” at the Masters and still finish t-14th.  That comes on the heels of his solo 3rd at Bay Hill, where he had the tourney in his grasp basically right until the end.  Because he plays such a limited schedule and didn’t light things up at Augusta, I have a feeling he’ll be somewhat overlooked this week, which is crazy because he’s the best player in the field.  This year marks the 10-year anniversary of his cotton shirt-sweaty armpits victory here as a Tour youngster, and here’s to betting he’ll be in the mix on Sunday with all sorts of “it was 10 years ago…” talk by Dan Hicks and crew (unless Dan is too busy wishing a goose happy Mother’s Day again this year).  

Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood
– My least favorite player on Tour gave us some serious comic relief last year with an all-out whiff on a shot on Sunday.  Nevertheless, he still finished t-8th last year and fits the tee-to-green ball-striker’s-paradise mold of TPC Sawgrass perfectly (also finished t-4th here in ’10).  I’d expect him to be slightly under-the-radar this week after his MC last week at Quail Hollow, meaning the time might just be right for him to break through for his 3rd PGA Tour victory.

SEMI-FLIER (Last Week: Stanley t-60th)

Brendon de Jonge
Brendon de Jonge
– My Driver-off-the-Deck BOLD pick from last week delivered in a bizarre way—going 80-62 the opening two rounds, ultimately finishing t-6th in his hometown event.  I expected a solid week from the Zimbabwean, but didn’t quite expect him to go from DFL to course record tying round to get there.  Anyhow, he clearly will arrive into this week with some momentum and should have some added confidence knowing he has 8 consecutive rounds here of par or better (finished t-15th here each of the past two seasons).

HOSEL-ROCKET BUST (Last Week: Holmes 1st)

Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson
– Not only is it always a good idea to fade any player coming off of a major victory, but in this case, with an incredibly poor course history like Bubba has here at TPC Sawgrass, I can’t imagine a better high profile fade than #BubbaGolf this week.  For those curious, Bubba’s best career finish here is t-37th, with a handful of missed cuts.  That is incredible for a player of his caliber, with the number of times he’s played here and the fact that it’s in his home state.  The course simply doesn’t fit his eye, and when letdown and I-don’t-really-like-this-place meet, wild and crazy scores can happen (see Bay Hill this year).  Expect a Masters champ-free weekend at Sawgrass again this year.

DRIVER-OFF-THE-DECK BOLD PLAY OF THE WEEK (Last Week: de Jonge t-6th)

Roberto Castro
Roberto Castro
– Roberto was last year’s first round leader with a course record-tying 63, which prompted @TweeterAllis to give us an all-time classic tweet that even Cuba shouldn’t be afraid to chuckle at.  Fast forward one year and up until last week, it had been a rough go for the red-headed Georgia Tech boy, as he came into last week’s Wells Fargo Championship on the heels of 4 of 5 MCs.  But, top form resumed and boom, he finished a sneaky t-8th at Quail Hollow with four straight under par rounds of 71-70-69-70.  He ranks an abysmal 193rd on Tour in Strokes Gained-Putting, but is 48th in Driving Accuracy and obviously has great memories here from last year (he ultimately finished t-19th after his opening 63).  Recall that he qualified for the Tour Championship last year, which earned him his first ever Masters invite (the guy can flat out play).  He’ll go overlooked by most this week, so here’s your time to capitalize.  Roberto Castro is your PLAYERS Championship Driver-off-the-Deck BOLD play of the week!

#isitThursdayyet

Joel Harrington
@joel4deepgolf

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