2015 The PLAYERS Championship picks + predictions, plus the Driver-Off-The-Deck BOLD Play of the Week #isitThursdayyet

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 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 multiple U.S. Open close calls).

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 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 CAPS LOCK).

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 11 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 from 2013).  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.   Ah yes, it’s PLAYERS week folks.  Time to watch Johnny Miller nervously sweat all over the telecast while he and Pete Dye try and intimidate the field.  I mean, time to enjoy the show.

Now, let’s hop into some picks:

LOCKZILLAS (Last Week: Day t-4th, Hoffmann t-36th)

Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood
– Dangit Joel, you’re doing it again!  Yes, I’m not a fan of Lee’s, but when it comes down to it, there’s just no way that I can look past his current form and solid course history here.  Lee ousted the absurdly sizzlin’ Jordan Spieth from the WGC Match Play last week en route to a 3-0 group play record before falling to fellow suddenly scorchin’ Brit Danny Willett in the round of 16.  Enter TPC Sawgrass where Westy has gone t-6th and t-8th the past two years, with a t-4th in ’10 before that.  Top 15 again this year = done deal.

Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell
– No question about it, GMAC has been a ball of rolling disappointment so far this season.  Nevertheless, I’m calling for a sudden change in the tide this week.  After finally making the weekend at Augusta, Graeme notched a t-26th at RBC Heritage in his next start.  He scuffled a bit in the WGC Match Play and failed to advance through the group play, but all that did was give him a few more days rest and time to prep for this week.  Graeme had TPC Sawgrass by the throat in 2011, as he was the leader heading into the final round before ballooning to a 79 on Sunday and falling far adrift from contention.  His first 3 rounds of 67, 69 and 68 that week prove that he can compete here and a top scale player like GMAC is never too far off from rediscovering his major winning form.  Probably more of a gut call than anything this week, but either way—Love me some GMAC this week.

SEMI-FLIER (Last Week: Stricker MC)

Morgan Hoffmann
Morgan Hoffmann
– Oh how quickly he’ll be overlooked after not teeing it up at last week’s WGC Match Play (didn’t qualify).  Leading up to the Match Play, he was running red hot, going solo 4th at Bay Hill, a solid t-28th at the Masters in his first appearance, t-9th at the RBC Heritage and t-36th at the Zurich Classic where a Sunday 73 caused his finishing number to tumble after solid opening rounds of 68-66-69.  Throw in his t-17th here last year here in his first appearance and it’s only a matter of time until the Okie St talent busts out in a BIG way—this very well could be the week.

HOSEL-ROCKET BUST (Last week: Noh MC)

Martin Kaymer
Martin Kaymer
– All too easy to avoid the defending champ here.  For one reason or another, Martin’s game is arguably the most boom-or-bust on Tour, as when he’s on, he is borderline unbeatable (see last year’s PLAYERS and U.S. Open).  But, when he’s off, yowza, 12-handicappers at your local muni beware!  His last 4 starts on the PGA Tour have gone like this: MC, MC, MC, t-34th.  And that tie for 34th was you guessed it, last week’s Match Play where he didn’t advance out of group play.  He is a perfect 6/6 here in cuts made in his career, which means he will get some attention, but I couldn’t care less considering the choppy form he’s in at the moment.  Stay away from Kaymer this week and thank me later.

DRIVER-OFF-THE-DECK BOLD PLAY OF THE WEEK (Last Week: Peterson t-48th)

Marc Leishman
Marc Leishman– After the scare of their lives, Marc’s wife’s Audrey’s health is headed back in the right direction and the Aussie is back on the links.  It didn’t take him long to re-acclimate back to Tour life as in his second round back he fired a scorching 63 in the Zurich Classic, en route to a t-28th finish.  Very respectable given what his family has recently gone through.  Last week Leish advanced out of the group play and lost to eventual runner-up Gary Woodland in the round of 16.  He’s without question one of the streakiest players on Tour and when he gets hot, hop aboard.  I’m telling you right now that hot streak is starting this week at the PLAYERS, where he has gone t-23rd and t-8th the past two years.  Marc Leishman is your Driver-off-the-Deck BOLD play of the week!

#isitThursdayyet

Joel Harrington
@joel4deepgolf

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