The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass Preview, Picks + Predictions Plus the Driver-Off-The-Deck BOLD Play of the Week

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.  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.  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.

So buckle up ladies and gentleman, it’s PLAYERS Championship week.  Now, on to some picks:

4 out of my 5 picks finished in the top 10 last week at Quail Hollow, time to keep the “mo” rollin’ this week.

LOCKZILLAS: (Last week: Westwood t-4th, Watney t-10th)
Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood: Playing some mighty steady-eddy golf (what Lee seems to do best) finishing t-10th (Shell Houston Open), t-8th (Masters) and t-4th (Wells Fargo Championship) in his past three events.  I don’t see him winning this week, but then again if there were odds for Lee to finish in the top 3, I’d be all over it.  Also, three top sixes in 10 career starts at TPC Sawgrass make Westy a surefire lock this week.

Ryan Moore
Ryan Moore
: The UNLV grad is coming off a solid t-6th at Quail Hollow, where he finished just three shots out of a playoff with another fellow UNLVer- Derek Ernst.  Never missed a cut at TPC Sawgrass, feel a solid week coming on for Moore.

SEMI-FLIERS: (Last week: Streelman t-6th,de Jonge t-43rd)

Kevin Streelman
Kevin Streelman
: How has Streels responded after his first career victory (Tampa Bay Championship)?  Oh, just a ho-hum t-3rd at Harbour Town, then a t-6th at Quail Hollow.  Regardless of a t-19th (2011) being his best finish in five career PLAYERS starts, I’m all over Streels and his sizzling streak right now (my second time picking him as a Semi-Flier in as many weeks). Seriously.

Bo Van Pelt
Bo Van Pelt
: BVP notched his first top 10 of the season last week with his t-6th at Quail Hollow.  What has he done in three career starts at TPC Sawgrass?  Oh, just log three top 10s, including a t-7th last year.  BVP is a streaky fella, and despite the fact that he’s undergoing some swing changes, I like the way he’s striking it right now.

HOSEL-ROCKETS: (Last week: Rory t-10th, Mahan t-73rd)

Billy Horschel
Billy Horschel
: After some torrid play through the spring, Billy finally notched his first career victory at the Zurich Classic as nothing could stop Billy Ho’s “Mo” in New Orleans that week. Regardless of how hot Billy was on Sunday at the Zurich and the weeks leading up to that win, the collective exhale and outpouring of emotion on a lifelong goal being achieved is not to be overlooked.  While Billy now has that victory under his belt, he also still remains one of the Tour’s biggest hotheads, and the diabolical trap that is Pete Dye’s TPC Sawgrass is no place to lose your cool.  Bogies can turn into triples and quads in the blink of an eye, and unfortunately, I see some big squares coming on Billy’s card this week.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson
: Phil was quoted as saying he wasn’t sure that there were any drivers at TPC Sawgrass for him this week, so it’ll be a Phrankenwood-fest all week on Pete Dye’s marquee track.  Um, Phil, in the near two dozen times you’ve played at the PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass, how many drivers did you hit?  Sure, it’s a placement course for the most part, but there’s still a handful or more drivers off the tee for even the longest of hitters.  I don’t like the way his thoughts are trending, and anytime Phil gets hot and is made the favorite heading into a big tourney it seems he disappoints.  I see a non-factor t-35th-ish type finish in the cards for Lefty this week.

DRIVER-OFF-THE-DECK BOLD PLAY OF THE WEEK: (Last week: Karlsson t-4th)

Gonzalo Fernandez Castano
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
: Not gonna lie, on kind of a roll here lately with my BOLD picks (Karlsson t-4th last week, Peterson t-8th week before).  The PLAYERS Championship is defined by long shots emerging victorious or at least finding their way into contention.  Just ask Craig Perks and Len Mattiace.  Anyway, Gonzalo Fernandez- Castano is my Driver-off-the-Deck BOLD play of the week this week at the PLAYERS, if for no other reason than his name is awesome.  Gonzalo Fernandez-Cassssstttttaaaaannnnnnooooooooo!


Joel Harrington


  1. Good call on the tall Swede this week. Not so sure on Espana guy. I will take Watney.

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