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The Players Championship 2024 Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 11 Mar 2024

Where did that time go? Unbelievably, The Players Championship takes place at TPC Sawgrass this week, with the PGA Tour’s best players tackling Pete Dye’s fiendish layout.

Scottie Scheffler strolled to victory last year, beating Tyrrell Hatton by five strokes. Scheffler ran off five straight birdies in the middle of his round, built a six-shot lead and left all the drama to everyone else on his way to a three-under 69 to win the richest prize on the PGA Tour.

The victory was worth $4.5 million and sent Scheffler back to No. 1 in the world, a position he has held ever since. It also gave him his sixth win in 27 starts - and he's a winner again after claiming the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

I am not going to lie - I am really excited about this year’s Players.

Why? You really don’t need me to explain that to you, do you?

I love professional golf, but even with all the LIV defections, this looks like it could be a very special season on the PGA Tour.

Scottie Scheffler

We saw Hideki Matsuyama bouncing back to winning ways after a two-year drought when he produced a truly special final round to win the Genesis Invitational. The Japanese golfer had tumbled down the world rankings but was back to his brilliant best at Riviera and that surely won’t be his last victory of the season.

And I am absolutely delighted by the return of Will Zalatoris. The young American missed most of 2023 after undergoing back fusion surgery, and there were serious question marks about his long-term future. He returned at the Hero World Challenge and struggled horribly. And when he missed the cut at the Sony Open it was beginning to look like the merchants of doom might be right.

But then he finished tied 34th at the American Express with four rounds in the 60s and tied 13th at the Farmers Insurance Open. He had turned a corner and his runner-up finish to Matsuyama was one of the most heart-warming displays this season. He shots rounds of 66, 70, 65 and 69. His ball striking was flawless for four rounds but the best news of all for Zalatoris fans is that he has finally sorted out his putting woes. He has returned with the same long putter that helped Lucas Glover return to the winners’ circle and looked as solid as a rock on the greens.

Zalatoris is back, and we should all rejoice after everything he has been through - he revealed after the Genesis that he had just lost a close family member and had struggled with emotions all week long.

And he is not the only top golfer showing great early-season form. 

Xander Schauffele has made a sparkling start to 2024. In his first five starts he was tied 10th at The Sentry, tied third at the American Express, tied ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open and tied fourth at the Genesis. In 19 rounds he had 16 scores of 70 or better. Schauffele is a seven-time PGA Tour winner and, without argument, is one of the best players yet to have won a major.

And then there is Patrick Cantlay. He is a golfer who continues to divide opinion. There are those who are driven bonkers by his pace of play and lack of interaction with the galleries - and I count myself among that number. And then there are those who simply adore the way that he swings a golf club. And I count myself among that number too!

I have been surprised at how slow Viktor Hovland has been to emerge from the traps in 2024. I was expecting big things from him from the off after his wonderful play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs but he may well be suffering something of a hangover. He has been steady enough but clearly has not been firing on all cylinders. That will change - and it will change soon. 

Sawgrass is a course that should not suit Rory McIlroy but he did win here in 2019. He has already won this year but his form on the PGA Tour to date has been streaky at best, and he needs to sort that out, and soon.

This is a venue that always provides fabulous drama, boasting one of golf’s great finishing stretches. The 16th is a par five with water all the way down the right. It is a proper risk-and-reward hole that can and does yield eagles. But get your approach wrong and it could all end in tears.

The 17th is one of the most iconic holes in golf, the world-famous island green par three. Over the years we have seen many, many golfers come to grief here. You can be sure that it isn’t one of Sergio Garcia’s favourite holes.

And then there is the 18th, a brutal par four with water all the way down the left. If you come to the last leading the Players Championship your knees will be trembling until you see your drive land safely in the middle of the fairway. And then the nerves kick in all over again with your approach - the green slopes right to left, so tug your approach even slightly left and you are heading for a watery grave.

When Rickie Fowler won the tournament in 2015, he was five behind with six holes left to play. He finished birdie, par, birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie to force a playoff with Garcia and Kevin Kisner. After a three-hole playoff, Fowler and Kisner were still tied so they headed back to the 17th - and Fowler birdied it again.

Tournament Winners:

The tournament was won in 2015 by Rickie Fowler, in 2016 by Jason Day, in 2017 by Si Woo Kim, in 2018 by Webb Simpson, in 2019 by Rory McIlroy, in 2021 by Justin Thomas, in 2022 by Cameron Smith and last year by Scottie Scheffler. It was abandoned after one round in 2020 because of the global pandemic.

The Course:

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was designed by Pete Dye. It is a par 72 and measures 7,245 yards. The iconic 17th, a par three measuring 137 yards, is one of the most iconic holes in golf. Completely surrounded by water, it claims an estimated 100,000 golf balls every year. The 16th is a par five with water running down the right - it is a hole where eagles can be scored, but a wayward approach could just as easily result in a double-bogey, or worse. And the 18th is a fearsome par four with water on the left.

Form Guide:

Will Zalatoris is a fantastic iron player, and that is key to scoring well here. He has also now found a way to putt, and that make him extremely dangerous. And Xander Schauffele has come racing out of the traps and is definitely ready to win again. I also fancy that Hideki Matsuyama may have something to say about the outcome this week.

To Win:

Hideki Matsuyama. Back to his best

Each Way:

Xander Schauffele. No weaknesses

Each Way:

Scottie Scheffler. Impossible to ignore

Five to Follow:

Hideki Matsuyama. Wonderful temperament

Xander Schauffele. In fabulous form

Scottie Scheffler. Winner at Bay Hill

Viktor Hovland. Has every shot in the book

Rory McIlroy. Struggling to find some consistency

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Tags: PGA Tour Golf Previews FedEx Cup

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