After a decade and change of being lost in the shuffle, THE PLAYERS Championship is re-establishing its identity.
With the move from May back to March, THE PLAYERS Championship can now stand back on its own two feet and is no longer between the four major championships at the end of spring and dawn of summer.
THE PLAYERS Championship is making the move back to March with the highest purse on the PGA Tour and one of the game’s largest playing fields.
If there were ever a time for THE PLAYERS to renew its place as golf's unofficial fifth major, it would be now.
With a massive field of players headed to TPC Sawgrass in mid-March, all will be competing to be the first holder of the brand new PLAYERS Championship trophy. Here's who we think will be in contention in Ponte Vedra.
Golfers To Watch At THE PLAYERS
If winning the 2018 Tour Championship was the resurrection of Tiger Woods, then THE PLAYERS Championship 2018 was the first sign that the stone was rolling away. After barely surviving the cut through two rounds, Woods ignited the crowd with a third-round 65 and a final-round 69 to charge all the way back to T-11 on the leaderboard.
Ten months on from that performance, golf's most dominant player in recent memory is returning to TPC Sawgrass, but this time he’s hoping to put together a quartet of solid outings.
While many feel that Woods is destined to finally break his 11-year wait for major number 15 in 2019, it wouldn't hurt to garner momentum at THE PLAYERS. With the atmosphere and difficulty of a major championship, Woods can cement his place back on the map with a career-redefining performance. He's done the deed in 2001 and 2013, but the landscape has drastically shifted since then.
There has been a lot of discussion about THE PLAYERS moving dates, but most of the noise is strictly about the tournament's relation to the four major championships on the calendar.
But for Dustin Johnson, his focus about the move has been directed towards the different playing conditions present, even with the tournament only shifting two months back. The No.2 player in the world has cited his previous struggles at THE PLAYERS due to the time of year, and says the ball should travel much less off of the bounce due to the overseeding of the course in March. This plays to his advantage as one of the best drivers in the sport. Johnson averaged 314 off the tee in 2018, good for 6th on the PGA Tour, and he's still considered the best driver of the ball on the planet. He's currently averaging 304.6 yards per drive through five tournaments this year, but we expect those numbers to rise back up as the season progresses.
If Johnson can make good contact consistently throughout the weekend, expect to see him in contention on Sunday.
Similar to Johnson, Brooks Koepka should come in to TPC Sawgrass with an advantage just due to the change of date. Koepka's driving power rivals that of Johnson, but he's yet to put together the decade of dominance at the tee that we've seen from Johnson to consider the two equals just yet.
Koepka, the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, will be a factor in this tournament. Last year, the Florida native shot an average of 308.9 yards off the tee, which ranked second over the weekend. At the time, he was still recovering from a wrist injury that was affecting the back half of his swing. With the course conditions we already discussed with Johnson, and a fully healthy wrist and the momentum of his entire 2018 campaign, there's no telling what Koepka's ceiling is as he returns to TPC Sawgrass.
In a world where Koepka's meteoric 2018 campaign didn't happen, Francesco Molinari would have walked out of last year with the PGA TOUR Player of the Year honors. But even with Koepka's star-making year, Molinari's breakout 2018 is one worth basking in.
Whether it was becoming the first Italian champion of The Open in history or being crowned as a European hero for his record-breaking, undefeated run at the Ryder Cup, there's a lot of reasons to believe that Molinari will get right back on the saddle at the biggest tournament of 2019 so far. Molinari announced before the calendar flipped that he'd be focusing more on the PGA Tour in 2019 after claiming the European Tour's Race to Dubai in 2018. The decision is derived from a desire for higher purses and a more consistent calendar of events. Well, with THE PLAYERS Championship's $12.5 million purse and move to March, this could be Molinari's justification for his PGA Tour focus this year.
The reigning champion at TPC Sawgrass may not be returning to Florida on the hottest of streaks, but there's one thing we need to remember — Webb Simpson won last year by shooting the best score (-18) at THE PLAYERS in over two decades.
The odds of repeating in back-to-back years are low — no golfer has done it in the 44-year history of the tournament — but very few players have shown the mastery of TPC Sawgrass that Simpson did last year. In the second round of his 2018 conquest, Simpson shot a 63, which tied the all-time course record. He also entered the final round with a seven-shot lead, the largest ever going into a Sunday at THE PLAYERS.
Recent form makes Rickie Fowler a name to watch heading into the opening round. The 30-year old took home the Waste Management Phoenix Open championship on February 3, marking his first win of 2019 and earning him 500 FedEx Cup points. In total, Fowler has three Top 25 and two Top 10 finishes in six events played so far this season.
Fowler's dramatic playoff win at THE PLAYERS 2015 still resonates heavily in the mind, but his recent form at TPC Sawgrass has told a direr tale. He didn't make the cut at the 2016 or 2018 editions, and finished T-60 in 2017. If that's not a descriptive picture of the highs and lows of Fowler's young career so far, then I don't know what is.
THE PLAYERS Championship 2019 Prediction
It's been beaten to death, but you really have to take in the time of year, course conditions and recent form into account when looking at this tournament as a whole. While many of the golfers listed have ebbed and flowed in the past calendar year, one has remained consistent throughout and has a clear advantage due to style of play — Dustin Johnson. With the consensus that he's one of the top players in the world, 2019 is a massive year for Johnson to start collecting the trophies that turn a star into a legend. He's won the U.S. Open and has finished Top 5 in the other three majors, but a successful 72 at TPC Sawgrass could be exactly what D.J. needs to propel himself forward into one of the most important summers of his life.
We know he'll drive the ball better than most in the field, but it will be Johnson's short game that will determine if he's got the DNA of THE PLAYERS Champion.
Want Tickets To THE PLAYERS Championship 2020?
Golf's unofficial fifth major is back in its home month and the conditions should be crisp at one of the most famous courses in the world. With an Official Package from THE PLAYERS Experiences, you can get a ticket to the tournament and access into THE PLAYERS Club, the most exclusive hospitality space at TPC Sawgrass. Get on the 2020 wait list today!