By Michael McGill ( @MickSportsNews )
All eyes this week will be on Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
This Tournament draws a World Class field and is considered by most to be the 5th Major. It was established in 1974 when the inaugural winner was Jack Nicklaus. He took home a winners purse of US$50,000 that year and was also successful in 1976 and 1978.
This years Purse is US$9,500,000 with the Winner now taking home US$1,710,000. It is the highest Winning Share of any Tournament on the PGA Tour including the 4 Majors.
TPC Sawgrass has been the home of The Players Championship since 1982. The Stadium course was designed by Peter Dye in 1979 then went through a redesign in 2006. It is a Par 72, 7,215 yard course with 93 sand bunkers and 24 water hazards. There are also four Par 5′s. It has the reputation of being one of the toughest courses on the Tour. The Greens are Bermuda grass and they are tough and fast.
The Par 3, 17th hole is one of the most recognized holes in World Golf. It is commonly known as the ‘Island Green’ and is the signature hole of the Stadium course. Even although it only measures 120 metres from tee to green it has caused many headaches to even the most experienced players over the years. There are many factors that come in to play. Firstly there is the visual factor of the green being surrounded by water, then you have the undulating green factor of knowing where to land your ball, and lastly there is the weather factor which makes club selection all that more difficult when there is some wind around the course. In 2007 there were 50 balls that ended up in the water, and that was in one round!
After you get over the fear of the 17th you then have to contend with the Par 4, 18th which has water all along the left side of the fairway. You need to make sure your drive off the tee is accurate other wise your ball could be in danger of landing in the drink again.
To play well here you need to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. If you can not do this then you are in for a tough two days as you will probably miss the cut. This course has a habit of biting you hard if you get into trouble. It also helps to be a good scrambler incase you do find yourself in trouble.
All the past winners have ranked highly in greens in regulation stats as well as scrambling so look for someone that hits it straight and hits their fair share of greens. It is also worth noting that players who have played here several times in the past are more successful than those that are new to the course. Experience here counts for everything.
Looking at the field this week we have 38 of the Worlds Top 40 players teeing it up and as such the odds on offer are very inviting.
The Bookies Top 5 in betting this week are 9/1 Tiger Woods, 17/1 Rory McIlroy, 20/1 Adam Scott, 22/1 Luke Donald and 26/1 Phil Mickelson.
The Past 5 Winners of The Players Championship are:- 2012 Matt Kuchar, 2011 K.J.Choi, 2010 Tim Clarke, 2009 Henrik Stenson and 2008 Sergio Garcia.
So who will be the Winner in 2013?
I have three players who I believe fit the bill and should be up there challenging on Sunday afternoon.
Luke Donald 22/1
The former World No.1 is having a great season on the PGA Tour. He has made at each of his six starts. Five of those starts resulted in Top 25 finishes.
His two Top 10’s are T4th at the Tampa Bay Championship and T3rd in the RBC Heritage.
It is worth noting that the Tampa Bay Championship in Florida is played on Bermuda grass and the RBC Heritage is played at Harbour Town which was designed by Pete Dye. TPC Sawgrass is a Bermuda green course and was designed by Pete Dye.
This season Donald’s stats have him ranked 49th in driving accuracy, 48th in strokes gained putting, 8th in scoring average, 17th in scrambling and 16th in 3 putt avoidance.
His last event was the RBC Heritage where he was ranked 17th in driving accuracy, 19th in greens in regulation and 36th in putts per round.
When it comes to Sawgrass Luke has started ten times and made seven cuts. In 2011 he finished 4th while he was 6th last year.
Luke is coming off a 2 week break and should be primed for a good showing at a course that appears to suit his game.
Henrik Stenson 70/1
Henrik is based in Florida and has a real liking for Bermuda grass courses. This is one reason why he has been selected this week.
The other two reasons are his excellent stats this season and his experience at TPC Sawgrass.
Stenson started the season on the European Tour where he had the four starts resulting in T22nd, T23rd, T16th and T26th finishes. He then moved over to the PGA Tour where so far he has had seven starts. Two of those starts resulted in Top 10 finishes.
He was T8th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and T2nd in the Shell Houston Open. That was followed up by a T18th at the Masters Tournament. He is coming off a missed cut at the Wells Fargo Championship.
His stats shout out at you from the page. 3rd in driving accuracy, 1st in greens in regulation, 1st in ball striking, 7th in scrambling from the rough and 29th in par 5 birdie or better average. These stats suit Sawgrass very well indeed!
Course experience is a big factor this week and Henrik has plenty of it. From seven starts he has a 15th last year, MC in 2010, MC in 2009, 1st in 2009, 10th in 2008, 23rd in 2007 and 3rd in 2006.
With a Florida connection and a love of Bermuda grass and the Sawgrass course Stenson represents a great each way selection.
Kevin Streelman 120/1
The Duke University graduate is having the time of his life this season.
From 12 starts he has made 9 cuts and had four Top 10s which include a Win at the Tampa Bay Championship in March.
After starting the season ranked No.222 in the world, Streelman rocked up to No.74 with his win in Florida. And now finds himself at No.54 after continuing his excellent form.
His last two tournaments have resulted in T3rd RBC Heritage and T6th Wells Fargo Championship. There is no stopping this season as he rides the crest of a wave with a lot of confidence.
A few little things stick out about his current results which will be an advantage this week. His Tampa Bay Championship win was in Florida and on Bermuda grass, just like The Players Championship. His 3rd place at the RBC Heritage was on a Pete Dye designed course; again just like TPC Sawgrass.
At the Wells Fargo Championship he was ranked 14th in greens in regulation, 20th in driving accuracy and 29th in putts per round.
This season his stats have him 24th in driving accuracy, 35th in greens in regulation, 24th in strokes gained putting, 10th in scoring average, 21st in Par 5 birdie or better average and 15th in ball striking.
This will be his fifth trip to TPC Sawgrass after starting with two missed cuts then following that up with a T19th in 2011 and T51st last year.
Expect to see Kevin use his confidence to work his way up the leaderboard this week and continue the fantastic season he is currently having.
Good Luck and Good Punting.