Matt Kuchar returns to TPC Sawgrass to defend his PLAYERS Championship title this week with all of the game’s best ready to square off in Ponte Vedra Beach.
This is often referred to as the deepest field of the year, and I see no reason that isn't the case this week. It’s also a rich purse, so for gamers in formats where cash earned is a standing, it’s important to land some solid picks.
Rather than the normal dozen, I've expanded this week’s power rankings to 20 since there are more boutique games than usual going on this week that may require your deeper consideration.
Here we go:
- Luke Donald – The Englishman’s flown largely under the radar this season, but his play has been good. His highlights this year include a T3 at the RBC Heritage and a T4 at the Tampa Bay Championship, representing a Pete Dye course in Hilton Head and a Florida course. He’s made seven of his last eight cuts at Sawgrass, including a T2 in ’05 and back-to-back top sixes. The stars are aligning for a top five for Donald this week.
- Adam Scott – The 2004 PLAYERS Champion tied for 15th in this event last year and pops his head up or the first time since his Masters win. Count me among those very interested to see if his major breakthrough frees him up to go on a huge roll. He’s also used to managing a light schedule at this point, so that he took three weeks off should not be a concern.
- Sergio Garcia – Sergio has completed six tournaments this season and finished inside the top 20 in all of them. He’s made 11/13 cuts at Sawgrass with a win and a runner-up on the resume. What’s not to like?
- Lee Westwood – Have to love Westy's trend, with top 10s in each of his last three starts dating back to the Shell Houston Open and including a T4 at Quail Hollow last week. He’s made 7/10 cuts here with three top 10s and an additional top 25. It’s always hard to pick Westwood as a winner, but a top 10 is well within reach.
- Tiger Woods – His last three events have gone W-W-T4, so there’s that. The only reason he isn't much higher than this is that he only has one top 10 at this event (8th in ’09) since 2001. Tiger’s good where Tiger’s good, but he hasn't been comfortable at TPC Sawgrass in a very long time. It’s hard to bet against him, though.
- Billy Horschel – I’m not sure that there’s a player on this list with more confidence than the Zurich Classic of NOLA champ. To boot, that win came on a Pete Dye course as did his T9 at the RBC Heritage. I don’t love first-timers in this event, but who knows? He’s playing out of his mind on a course that demands confidence and commitment with your shots.
- Phil Mickelson – Anybody’s guess.
- Jim Furyk – A hometown event for the veteran, Furyk’s made 14/17 cuts here with three top fives and eight top 25s. He’s made every cut this year, with a T3 at the Valero Texas Open and a T7 in Tampa Bay the highlights. That tells me to expect a top 25 and possibly better.
- Matt Kuchar – Defending champs are having a bad run of late. Kuchar’s probably not going to be a guy to run away with a tournament, rather emerge from the scrum with one. He prefers to be a below-the-radar guy, which he will not be this week. This feels like a vintage top 20 for Kuch.
- Justin Rose – Hitting it great, but hasn't been able to make a putt to save his life. Add to that, he’s a meager 5/9 with no top 20s at TPC Sawgrass. I’ll go out on a limb and say he nets his first top 20, but it’s hard to bump him above any of the above given his flat stick and track record.
- Charl Schwartzel – He hasn't missed out on a top 25 in a stroke play event on the PGA TOUR this year, but he’s flirted with breaking that streak of late. He’s a steady 2/3 with a T26 in 2011 as his highlight. It could be that he’s finally figured this course out and will contend, but it also could be the end of his top 25 streak. Given his world ranking and other options this week in games like Yahoo! and Golf Channel, he would be an against-the-grain option for many.
- Henrik Stenson – Don’t let his missed cut at Quail Hollow throw you off his scent, he’s played some really good golf this year. He had three top 20s immediately before that missed cut, and there are plenty of valid reasons to throw QH out. He’s 5/7 (all top 25s) with a win, a T3 and a T15 last year on his resume. He’s a sneaky pick this week.
- Jason Day – This could go either way. He’s only 1/3 here, but it was a T6 in ’11. He also didn't perform all that well in 2012 in general, so we could conceivably dismiss that one. I’ll put it this way. I’m happy to have him on my season-long salary cap team so I can reap his rewards this week without risking him in a weekly format.
- Ian Poulter – He’ll be a sexy pick this week, but he hasn't snared a top 10 since the Match Play. He snuck away to Merion to look at the U.S. Open venue last week per his Twitter account, so he made the most of a late W/D from Quail Hollow. He’s 7/9 with a runner-up in 2009, but that serves as his only top 20. Form isn't good enough for me to jump in too heavily with him this week, but I’m paying plenty of attention to how he plays with the U.S. and British Opens coming up on courses that could be a great fit for him.
- Graeme McDowell – He won at Harbour Town in his last start, which may be as close of a test as is available to TPC Sawgrass, but his record in this event isn't all that good. He’s made 4/5 cuts, but never scratched out a top 25. He’s very high on my list for Merion, so I’d prefer him to begin a build-up to that event rather than waste a bunch of high finishes on events leading up to it anyway.
- Nick Watney – He’s finished inside the top 15 in his last three starts this year, with a T10 last week the pinnacle. It may take him a little while to get over his final-round collapse at Quail Hollow, or it may not. He’s 4/6 at Sawgrass with a top 10 and an additional top 25. Good, but not great.
- Kyle Stanley – He’s the answer to the trivia question of the only guy on TOUR with top 10s in both New Orleans and Quail Hollow headed into this week. You may remember, those are his first two top 10s since his win in early 2012. He missed the cut in his first trip here last year, but did so with a respectable 2-over-par 73-73=146. That’s really not all that bad for a first-timer.
- David Toms – He’s racked up top 10s at Sawgrass in three of his last four starts. Ironically, it’s his only three top 10s in 20 trips to this event. His form this year isn't all that great, but he seems to have cracked some sort of code in Ponte Vedra.
- Tim Clark – Had a T11 at the Masters and probably disappointed a bit with a T24 at the Heritage on a course that was seemingly a better fit for him anyway. He’s a past champion in this event, winning his first PGA TOUR event here in 2010, and has made 5/9 cuts overall.
- Peter Hanson – He’s 2/2 with two top 20s, but is on the wrong end of the current-form bell curve at the moment. If you want to take a flier on someone (if he’s considered a flier), he’d be a good pick.
We’ll be back tomorrow to take a look at some of the specific gaming formats. Feel free to shoot me a comment or email if you have a question that isn't related to the formats we normally cover.
Best of luck!