It’s Players Championship week! The fifth best week of the year.
Relax, I’m joking. Every self-respecting golf fan loves the Players and can surely conjure a host of memories from the event at a moment’s notice. TPC Sawgrass plays a signature role in all of this, of course. It’s one of the few layouts that prompts as much excitement as the players who grace its fairways. And best of all, because the event doesn’t hop around like three of the four Major championships, it spells out some clues about what might happen next.
What does that mean for the 2018 event? Run down the list of Players Championship winners from the past 25 years, and you’ll find that there are basically four types of winners:
Examples: Davis Love III (1992, 2003), Henrik Stenson (2009), Martin Kaymer (2014), Jason Day (2016)
Monstrous power tends to correlate well with success at the Masters and at many US Opens – courses that present room to miss and reachable par 5s, and where high clubhead speeds make gouging out of the rough slightly easier.
None of that describes TPC Sawgrass, though. The bombers who thrive at the Players tend to be the ones who can keep things under control. They’re disciplined players who prefer to harness their power by lasering a 3-wood or long iron, rather than squeezing a driver through a tree-lined fairway. Do it right, it’s an almost unbeatable combination – especially when you putt as well as Day did in 2016 (eighth in strokes gained/putting for the week).
Examples: Justin Leonard (1998), Fred Funk (2005), Stephen Ames (2006), Tim Clark (2010)
Power is great if you can control it, but history tells us that distance usually takes a back seat to precision at the Players Championship. You could argue that Stephen Ames was more of an out-and-out ball-striker than a short-and-straight hitter, but considering he ranked 88th in driving distance the year he took home the top prize, it’s hardly a stretch to include him in here. Funk, meanwhile, is maybe the straightest driver of the golf ball in US PGA Tour history.
The Should’ve-Won-More Players
Examples: Adam Scott (2004), Sergio Garcia (2008), K.J. Choi (2011), Matt Kuchar (2014), Rickie Fowler (2015)
It’s strange that Kuchar hasn’t won a Major. Same with Choi and Fowler (though he still has time on his side). Indeed, all five of these players boasted a combined zero Major wins when they won their Players Championships. Stenson would’ve qualified for this category, too, and even though Garcia and Scott ended up winning their Major, nobody in their right mind would argue they shouldn’t have won more.
Yes, each of these players have their own individual strengths and weaknesses, but there’s a more common thread between them: that the Players tends to be a venue where very good golfers – that for whatever reason haven’t won as many Majors as they perhaps should’ve – bolster their resumes.
Also watch out for…
Examples: Fred Couples (1984, 1996), Steve Elkington (1991, 1997), Hal Sutton (1983, 2000), Davis Love III (1992, 2003), Tiger Woods (2001, 2013)
I was hesitant to include this group because I’m not sure it’s a trend that really exists anymore. After a glut of four repeat winners in eight years between 1996 and 2003, we’ve had only one since. Keep a passing eye on the horses-for-courses picks, that’s all I’ll say.