Competitors will face a new-look TPC Sawgrass this week with Tifeagle grasses introduced on all the Stadium Course's greens over the last 12 months and most holes tweaked with several undergoing drastic change including the par-four 12th which has been converted into a driveable but potentially dangerous par-four.
With its US$10,500,000 purse, the event is second only to the US Open (US$12 million) in terms of prizemoney levels on the PGA Tour, a position it shares with this year’s PGA Championship.
When Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural staging of the event in 1974, the first place cheque he received was for US$50,000 which then was considered one of the more lucrative first prizes on the PGA Tour.
43 years later, the winner this week will earn US$1,890,000, which is the same total defending champion Jason Day received when he won the title by four shots over Kevin Chappell 12 months ago after leading wire-to-wire.
Day’s historical record at the Players has been mixed with three missed cuts in six attempts but he arrived at Sawgrass last year in some of the best form of his life and duly converted. His form is not at that level this year but his weekend at Augusta National at his last start gave hope that his mind is now well and truly focused after the off-course issues he was pre-occupied with earlier in the year.
While Day is aware his game is not far from where it needs to be, he is not content with anything other than a win.
“All I'm saying is that winning is what needs to happen, and regardless if you win great or win ugly, it doesn't matter, it's a win," said Day today. “That's the biggest thing for me is it doesn't matter if I'm leading or if I'm coming from behind, I just need to win.”
Day was World Number One when he arrived at The Players last year and although he has slipped two places to number three, he sees advantages in both.
“I handled it (being number one) well for about a year and a half, and then it got to me finally. I'm just like, whoa, this is too much. You know? Yeah, really, it kind of, it mentally, I burnt myself out just constantly doing stuff.
“I never really got time to kind of get away, because I always joke around, I sit there and you play competitive golf, you say you're warming up, you're with your trainers, you go play competitive golf, you try to beat the best players in the world and then you go see fans, media, then you go back home and be father of the year.
“It can be very, very tough at times. Unfortunately, like I said, just going back to the question before, it just feels like you're getting pulled in all sorts of directions and it feels like you're suffocating sometimes, and that's not what you want to feel when you're at the top.
“But saying that, I would do anything in the world to get back there.
“Yeah, it's been a while (since he won) I mean, I came close at the PGA last year. I could sense that being No. 1 and all that stuff was getting pretty hard mentally more so than physically, just the mental demand that you have on you, the expectations.
Day has not won anywhere since his victory at The Players 12 months ago.
To do so however, he must tackle, amongst others, the hottest golfer on the planet, Dustin Johnson, whose return after the back injury in the lead-up to the Masters at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship was very impressive.
The World Number One was chasing his fourth consecutive win last week and finished just one shot behind the winner, Brian Harman.
Johnson though has a woeful record at TPC Sawgrass having never finished better than 28th in six starts. Whether he can overcome that voodoo remains to be seen but he is playing the best golf of his life and should surely improve on his record in the event.
Rory McIlroy struggled in his early days at the The Players, missing his first three cuts, but has finished no worse than 12th in his last four ventures to Sawgrass. Like Day, McIlroy closed off the Masters with a very good weekend in what was his last competitive event and has since been very busy off the course.
“The last few weeks have been really cool,” McIlroy said. “Obviously got married and went on the honeymoon and enjoyed that. Got back home to Florida last Thursday, been trying to lose a bit of weight before this week, and that's sort of been, trying to shed a few pounds before here, but, yeah, everything's been great.
“I feel like my game's in good shape. I needed to address a few issues in between Augusta and here, and I did that sort of with the first 10 days after Augusta and then turned my attentions elsewhere, but feel really good coming into this event.”
Sergio Garcia has a great record at the Players Championship having won in 2008 in addition to two runner-up finishes and a third.
He is now a major champion, elevating him to a new-found status in the game and off the back of his breakthrough success at the Masters, he must now start as one of the warm favourites this week given his current form and his record at The Players.
Hideki Matsuyama has not been quite at the same level of late that he was earlier in the year but his 11th place finish at the Masters was solid and he has played this event well in his three starts. He finished 7th last year after being tied for second heading into the final round and this appears to be a golf course where he could do well.
Jordan Spieth has missed the cut in each of his last two appearances at the Players Championship after a debut 4th in 2014. Like Matsuyama, his form has waned since early 2017 but he also finished tied for 11th at the Masters and could improve considerably.
Justin Thomas has become almost the forgotten man of late but his wins earlier in the year had him as one of the game’s hottest players. He finished 3rd last year in just his second start in this event and although his form has been mixed in recent starts, he has shown enough to be a contender this week.
2004 Players Champion Adam Scott appears to play this golf course well on a regular basis. His midfield finish last week came after a few weeks off following Augusta where he finished 9th.
THE WEEK IN GOLF: PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP & ANGEL YIN
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