2016 PLAYERS Championship Picks, Including 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 career, 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, Rickie Fower, 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 12 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.

A solid week for my picks last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, as my Lockzilla Phil Mickelson finished t-4th, Semi-Flier Gary Woodland posted a t-24th and my BUST of the week Kevin Kisner missed the cut, as predicted.

Now, let’s hop into some picks for this week:

LOCKZILLA (Last week: Phil t-4th)

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth
– Remember him?  Obviously, it’s been quite the past month in his life, coming off his Masters debacle and then #SB2K16, but no Johnny, he will not be “haunted” by his collapse.  Trust me folks, he’ll be more than just fine.  In fact, I expect him to bounce back in a BIG way this week at a course which doesn’t require excessive length, and on a venue where he’s played well before (t-4th in ’14).  Look for Spieth to make some noise this week and add another top 5 finish to his PLAYERS resume.

*Also count Chris Kirk as a Lockzilla this week

SEMI-FLIER (Last week: Woodland t-24th)

Branden Grace
Branden Grace
– Just because Branden has taken the last two weeks off from PGA Tour play doesn’t mean that you should overlook him, as he’s in prime form at the moment rolling in on the heels of his first Tour victory at the RBC Heritage, followed up with a t-9th at the Valero Texas Open.  He’s a big game hunter and raises his game to another level for the biggest events, as most recently evidenced by his t-4th at last year’s U.S. Open and solo 3rd at the PGA Championship.  I’m feeling very Martin Kaymer-y about him this week (think the 2014 Kaymer that won both the PLAYERS and the U.S. Open).

HOSEL-ROCKET BUST (Last week: Kisner MC)

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson
– “I can’t believe I’ve actually won here.” – Those were Phil’s exact words last year after missing the cut, his third straight at this event.  Oddly enough, the PGA Tour found that as some sort of compliment (I can assure you that it’s not- Phil hates this place) and has used it in their marketing materials for this event, hilarious!  Anyway, you can straight up ignore any current form (good or bad) that Phil enters in on, as this course does NOT setup well for him.  Sans his 2007 victory here (a player of his caliber can have a really good week anywhere), he hasn’t finished better than t-14th here since 2004.  Look for a flustered Phil to be quickly departing the premises on Friday.  Three MC’s in a row for Phil here, going for one more.  Reminds me of those old Connect Four ads.  (“Three in a row, go for one more, go for it, I win!, connect 4! (missed cuts)).

DRIVER-OFF-THE-DECK-BOLD-PLAY-OF-THE-WEEK (Last week: Norlander t-71st)

Marc Leishman
Marc Leishman– It’s been a mostly quiet, but steady season for the 32-year-old Aussie, as he’s posted a very solid 8 top 30 finishes in 11 stroke play events played.  Ok yes, I realize that 3 of those were limited field events, but regardless, there’s a reason that he sits 35th in the OWGR.  After a couple MC’s to begin his PLAYERS career, he’s 3 for his last 3 in cuts made, all of which have gone for top 25’s, including a t-8th finish in ’13.  Marc Leishman is your Driver-off-the-Deck BOLD play of the week!

#isitThursdayyet

Joel Harrington
@joel4deepgolf

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