PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—The best golfers in the world test their mettle on Thursday as the Players Championship gets underway at TPC Sawgrass just outside of Jacksonville.
The Players carries the second largest purse in golf at $10.5 million as well as exemptions to each major championship. In short, if you win The Players, you get hooked up.
It’s called golf’s fifth major for a reason. It boasts the game’s strongest field every year (47 of top 50 in the world) and the pressure down the stretch is intense. After surviving the island green at 17 and the treacherous 18th at Sawgrass, winners at the Players Championship often exhale instead of celebrate.
Conceived by former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, the Players initially ran into heated opposition from legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. They put on their own tournaments (Bay Hill and the Memorial) and were not eager to share the stage with this upstart. They each wanted their tournament to become the next Masters and the odds decreased with the rise of the Players. As it stands now, both Arnie and Jack’s tournaments pale in comparison to the Players. So they were right to be pissed.
The Players has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. This may be due to Rickie Fowler’s epic performance in 2015. When while trailing by five shots with six holes to play Fowler went birdie-par-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to force a playoff. He ended up making birdie three consecutive times on the par four island hole to edge out Kevin Kisner in a sudden death playoff. It’s arguably the most clutch performance in golf history. How Fowler hasn’t won a major yet is a mystery but if it never happens he’ll always have the 2015 Players Championship.
The course was renovated after last year’s tournament with the most notable change having the 12th hole now a driveable par four. It was 358 yards but now plays 302 yards. A pond was also added to penalize errant drives. The change will make it fun to watch players hit driver into the green with eagle in mind.
Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Thomas are the glamour pairing for today at 1:52. DJ almost scored his fourth victory in a row last week until Brian Harmon drained a 25-footer to win the Wells Fargo. He now stands the best player in the world. That can change, however, and Rory is the player most equipped to snatch that mantle. McIlroy looks poised for a great summer as he is no longer beholden to Nike’s inferior golf equipment after they decided to not manufacture clubs anymore thus freeing Rory from his contract. It should be really fun to see the #1 and #2 players in the world go at it along with Justin Thomas, who, oh, by the way, shot 59 earlier in the year.
Golf Channel coverage starts at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. Breitbart Sports will be onsite offering daily updates.