2018 THE 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 certainly 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 was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, it was a 1 major AND 2 PLAYERS resume for DLIII.

On another level, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and some others 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 (the now retired Tim Finchem used to 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.   Oh yeah, and the Tour recently poured a boatload of cash into renovations on reshaping greens, moving some tee boxes and totally revamping the 12th hole into a driveable par 4.  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.

My picks last week at the Wells Fargo Championship all made the cut, but other than Rory at t-16th, none were a factor and all were relative disappointments.

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

LOCKZILLA (Last week: Rory t-16th)

Henrik Stenson
Henrik Stenson
– Past champ.  4th at Bay Hill, t-6th at Houston and t-5th at the Masters in his past 3 individual PGA Tour events.  Don’t over-complicate it- the Swedish Terminator is an absolute LOCKZILLA this week.

SEMI-FLIER (Last week: Scott MDF)

Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama
– Normally a player of his caliber wouldn’t land in this spot, but given the strength of the field and the fact that he’s still on the road back from his injury, it’s warranted.  He’s never been worse than t-23rd here in 4 appearances, including a t-7th in 2016.  Has the talent to put it all together and burst through at any point, so he’s definitely on my short list of contenders this week.

HOSEL-ROCKET BUST (Last week: Phil t-5th)

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler
– Yep, straight up fading the 2015 champ this week.  Why you ask?  Well, other than that 2015 PLAYERS victory (a mighty thrilling one I must add), here’s his PLAYERS record since: MC, t-60th.  And before 2015 you ask?  t-77th (MDF), MC, t-2nd, MC, MC.  So yeah, a victory, a t-2nd and a plethora of black numbers.  Total boom or bust and this week I’m calling for more of the latter.

DRIVER-OFF-THE-DECK BOLD PLAY OF THE WEEK (Last week: Cauley t-67th)

Adam Hadwin
Adam Hadwin
– This dude is just straight nails and inevitably will seriously contend and likely win a BIG event at some point very soon.  He’s made his last two PLAYERS cuts, going t-39th and t-30th, but he’s a different/more solid player now.  Since the TOC in Hawaii in Jan, his stroke play results have gone as such: t-3rd, t-35th, t43rd, t-6th, t-9th, t-12th, t-24th, t-16th.  How’s that for consistency?!  Adam Hadwin is your Driver-off-the-Deck BOLD play of the week!

#isitThursdayyet

Joel Harrington
@joel4deepgolf

 

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