World Class Field for Unofficial Fifth Major
The Players Championship, golf’s unofficial fifth major, gets underway on Thursday. Played at the iconic TPC Sawgrass, the field must navigate one of golf’s most famous holes, the par-three 17th known as the ‘Island Green’.
Surrounded by nearly 360 degrees of water, this dangerous hole saw the field lose their balls in the water hazard a total of 36 times during last year’s event. This year is expected to outdo that with the largest field expected to tee off on Thursday since 2004 with 147 players on the start list.
Of those 147, 48 feature in the OWGR Top 50, proving the tournament’s draw and importance to both the PGA Tour and the world’ best. World No. 3 Jason Day claimed the title last year and this year’s betting odds has the Australian, slightly less favoured at 20/1, due to his personal commitments and lack of appearances.
Unsurprisingly, World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is favourite at 7/1 with 888sport and comes into the tournament in form after narrowly missing out on a fourth straight win on Tour (a record only surpassed by Tiger Woods), eventually settling for second when lefty Brian Harmon birdied his final two to win by one at the Wells Fargo Championship last weekend.
The Players Championship’s makes reputations too. In 2015, trendsetter American Rickie Fowler had just been voted (alongside Britain’s Ian Poulter) as golf’s most overrated professional by fellow players. A week later, Fowler answered his critics in the best possible way by winning the Players Championship in a playoff over Spain’s Sergio Garcia and American Kevin Kisner.
Four months later, Fowler also went on to win the Deutsche Bank Championship (part of the PGA Tour’s Fed Ex Cup final events) proving that victory at Sawgrass can be lift-off for any professional, especially with three majors still to play this season.
It’s not just reputations that are built at the Players Championship. Bank balances and caddie bonuses go through the roof too. The total purse is $10.5 million. A sum second only to the amount shared at the US Open, which has just recently upped its tournament prize pool to a cool $12 million.
Dustin Johnson picking up just shy of $2 million and a big leap up the FedExCup Rankings.
However, winning requires navigating a bunch of major course design changes.
The biggest has taken place on the 12th hole, which has now been reinvented as a modern, drivable Par 4 playing anywhere between 285 – 320 yards.
Another subtle change you probably won’t notice is the grass. Look closely and the agronomists among you will notice the greens have been changed. Technically it has gone from MiniVerde ultradwarf Bermuda grass to TifEagle, a third-generation hybrid Bermuda said to withstand northern Florida’s winters (what winter?) better than MiniVerde.
Whoever wins come Sunday will be propelled to instant millionaire status (although they probably already are) and with a long season still to go, it will be the perfect platform for the rest of 2017.