The 2014 Players Championship will be without its defending champion, Tiger Woods, when it opens on Thursday, but the PGA Tour’s “fifth major” will still pack a punch when it comes to star power. The event is played on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL, which features the island green on the famed 17th hole.
Rory McIlroy is the early favorite to capture the $1.8 million first prize at 12-1, with Adam Scott listed at 14-1. McIlroy will tee off at 8:29 a.m. (ET) on Thursday with U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and Harris English on the tenth tee. Scott has an interesting pairing, as he will play the first two rounds with Rickie Fowler and Steve Stricker. Fowler is one of the young guns on the PGA Tour while Stricker is a seasoned veteran who has cut his appearances down to, in essence, only the biggest events. They will be going off of No.1 tee at 1:39.
Fans watching the McIlroy group will not have to go far to find another featured threesome, as the group of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia will tee off 10 minutes later on the same tee box. Mickelson won the Players Championship in 2007 and Garcia took the top prize in 2008.
The talk early in the week was of the greens at Sawgrass, specifically those on holes 4, 11 and 12, which were undergoing work because of damage from a hard winter and an error in the application of lawn products. Mickelson told ESPN that he thought the greens were fine “the greens are putting great and they’re going to be a little bit slower and softer than in years past, but that’s just going to lead to more birdies which isn’t a bad thing.”
The golf world will get its first look at Bubba Watson since his Masters win in early April. The Players is not a tournament in which Watson has had a lot of success over the years, missing the cut three times and finishing no better than a tie for No. 37 last year. He jokingly remarked in his news conference that he could finish at 36 and “I get my best finish ever.” Watson will be playing the first two days with 2013 champion Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker, the only three-time winner on tour this year. The group will go off of No. 1 tee at 1:49 p.m.
The man who battled Bubba Watson through all four rounds of the Masters, Jordan Spieth, will be playing in his first Players Championship along with Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell. They will be starting at 8:28 off of the tenth tee. Spieth has taken two weeks off to rest for this week’s event which is rare for him. He said he “didn’t do that at all last year” in the busy part of the season. He is coming in to the Players Championship riding a streak of four top-20 finishes in his last five events.
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Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky