The PLAYERS Championship is the undoubted spring highlight on the PGA Tour, and this year’s renewal comes with added lustre as Dustin Johnson requires his best ever performance in the event to hold onto the world number one ranking he’s held for 64 weeks.
The world’s best are here at the famous TPC Sawgrass this week for The Players, the PGA Tour’s signature event and unofficially golf’s fifth major. While a win at Sawgrass doesn’t quite stack up to claiming a major championship, winning The Players is a giant boost to a player’s resume.
As an aside, this is the last year the Players Championship will be played in May, as it’s moving to March as part of the Tour’s reshuffling of the schedule starting in 2018-19.
The golf course
The host venue this week is officially named the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, as there’s another course at Sawgrass called the Valley Course, a track that hosted the Web.com Tour Championship from 2013-15. Pete Dye designed both courses, and the Stadium Course is arguably his most famous piece of work anywhere in the world. It features many of Dye’s signature touches: deep bunkers, in-play water hazards, small greens and difficult par 4s.
The most famous hole on the golf course, and arguably the most famous golf hole in the world, is the par-3 17th, which features an “island green.”
That hole has hosted a number of memorable moments throughout the years. Tiger Woods’s bending “BETTER THAN MOST” birdie comes to mind. So does Rickie Fowler birdieing the hole three straight times (once in regulation, once in a three-hole playoff against Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia and once more in sudden-death against Kisner) to win in 2015, and Sean O’Hair misclubbing and finding the water in 2007.
The best in golf, bar none. You might think the majors would boast more impressive fields, but consider that all four majors feature non-elite players who get in through specific avenues. A number of players well outside the top-100 in the world get into the U.S. Open and British Open through truly open qualifiers (if you pay and have a low enough handicap, you can try to play in the U.S. Open), and 25 club professionals get to tee it up in the PGA Championship (and virtually none make the cut). The Masters is a small field that a number of quality players fail to get in, and Augusta hosts a number of top amateurs each and every year.
This week, there’s none of that. No players who grinded through multiple qualifying stages. No club professionals. And no amateurs at all. Before Paul Casey pulled out due to a back injury on Wednesday morning, every single player in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking was set to tee it up. Usually in this section I list some big names that are in the field, but that would be academic this week. Apart from Casey, literally all of the biggest names are here—including the world’s 92nd ranked player, a 14-time major champion by the name of Tiger Woods.