The PGA Tour heads to TPC Sawgrass this week for the Players Championship, the most prestigious non-major tournament on the calendar.
A 144-man field, including all of the world's top 50, will compete for the $2.25-million winner's check, providing golf fans with the perfect appetizer for the Masters in a few weeks time.
Here are five major storylines to follow at The Players:
Will a top player tame Sawgrass?
The top six ranked players in the world - Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, and Rory McIlroy - have only two combined top-five finishes among them at the Players Championship, with zero wins and no runner-up results. Moral of the story? TPC Sawgrass is hard.
Long-shot winners - from Tim Clark to Stephen Ames - populate the history of The Players. Si Woo Kim - who, in 2017, became the youngest Players champion ever at 21 - is just the most recent example of how historically wide open the tournament has been.
However, that narrative could change this year based on the top players' recent performances.
DJ is coming off a dominating win at the WGC-Mexico Championship; McIlroy's worst finish this season is sixth; Koepka finished runner-up at the Honda Classic two weeks ago; JT leads the tour in multiple statistics and nearly won last moth's Genesis Open; Rose and DeChambeau both collected wins in January.
If there's a year where the cream will rise to the top and finally win at TPC Sawgrass, this is it.
Tiger Woods is a must-follow story heading into any tournament, let alone the Players Championship a week after a neck strain forced him to withdraw from Bay Hill.
Aside from his two wins, Woods owns a spotty resume at TPC Sawgrass - likely a testament to the difficulty of the course and the variability it presents.
He enters this week coming off a top-10 showing in Mexico, where he struck the ball beautifully but struggled off the tee. He's finished no worse than 20th this season, improving in each of his three starts.
If Tiger can play all 72 holes, keep the ball in the fairway off the tee, and turn in an average putting performance while maintaining the same iron play he's displayed so far this season, there's a solid chance he collects career win No. 81 and his third Players Championship.
Will Spieth's slump continue?
Jordan Spieth will forever be under the microscope after winning three majors before the age of 24, especially when he plays poorly. Now, amidst the worst slump of his professional career, Spieth's performance will be a story every week he tees it up.
He's yet to finish inside the top 30 of the five events he's played in 2019 and he's slipped to 25th in the world golf rankings. No aspect of his game is clicking, evidenced by these awful strokes-gained rankings on Tour:
- Off the tee: 197th
- Approach: 116th
- Around the green: 132nd
- Putting: 114th
- Tee to green: 168th
Spieth's struggles have clearly impacted his confidence; despite shooting opening rounds of 65 and 64 at Torrey Pines and Riviera, respectively, he's quickly unraveled after a couple of bad holes.
He's not considered a favorite at The Players, but perhaps flying under the radar is exactly what Spieth needs to get the monkey off his back.
Will there be a break-out win?
From Fred Couples in 1984 to Adam Scott in 2004 to Rickie Fowler in 2015, the Players Championship has a long history of providing young up-and-comers with their first premier PGA Tour win and turning them into stars.
Heading into this week, youngsters like Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, and Bryson DeChambeau are all looking for their first break-out victory; a triumph over the strongest field in golf would elevate one of their already-impressive resumes to another level.
Meanwhile, journeymen like Paul Casey and Ian Poulter will try to replicate Fred Funk in 2005 and K.J. Choi in 2011 by breaking out and finding their greatest PGA Tour success at The Players.
Move to March
The Players moves back to March for the first time since 2006, creating a completely different set of conditions for the tournament.
First, the cooler and potentially wetter conditions will make the 7,200-yard course play longer than normal, which will at times force players to hit drivers off the tee in order to have a chance at making birdies.
More importantly, northerly winds typical for this time of year will make TPC Sawgrass' famous closing holes even harder to navigate than usual, forcing players to hit long irons on their approach shots for the treacherous 18th rather than a driver-sand wedge or 3 iron-9 iron, for example.
In general, it makes sense to move The Players to March and make it the heart of the PGA Tour's Florida swing. However, how it impacts the tournament in terms of scoring and excitement remains to be seen.
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