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Playing the field

Rob previews one of the biggest events of the year

Rob Lee Posted 9th May 2012 view comments

Just as every footballer wants to win the Players' Player of the Year Award, so every golfer wants to be considered the Players Champion.

It seems they've really bought into this event and it has a big-occasion feel that most tournaments don't possess. The crowds are huge, the course is great and the best golfers in the world turn up every year.

McIlroy and Fowler: can either of them conquer Sawgrass

McIlroy and Fowler: can either of them conquer Sawgrass

It's held at the PGA Tour headquarters on a course that was built specifically for the tournament. Using the same venue every year gives any event a certain cachet and the fact it's called the Players Championship - and doesn't have a corporate sponsor - also helps.

Drama is guaranteed with the way the finishing holes have been built up. The par-three 17th is one of the most recognisable holes on the PGA Tour, even though it is extremely short (132 yards).

Brandel Chamblee has urged him to sack Sean Foley and get back with Butch Harmon. Well, personally I think he could win a couple of majors with my mum coaching him. Surely it's about the player rather than the coach?

Rob Lee
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A big gallows crowd gathers around that hole and, a little bit like the 12th at The Masters, they're all wanting to see good shots - but secretly hoping to see a few guys dump their scorecards in the water.

On that hole there's nowhere to bail out; there's no safe side. You have to hit a good shot and you get punished if you don't.

Overall, you don't have to be monstrously long to win around Sawgrass and everybody has a genuine chance of winning here. We saw that when Steady Eddie Tim Clark in 2010 and KJ Choi won last year.

All of those elements come together, combined with a colossal prize fund, to give you one of the biggest events of the year - and also one of the strongest fields.

Absentee

The only major absentee this year is arguably Bubba Watson, who has opted to spend time with his family instead.

It seems strange that an American would skip this one, but I'm not surprised by anything he does. When you've got a name like Bubba you're going to do things to a different beat. He's unique and he's different.

I'm sure there will be plenty of times throughout his career when we'll just have to say: 'that's Bubba'. It's his life and he can do what he wants, but you would want the Masters champion at the Players Championship ideally.

However, Tiger Woods will be there. He was quite pithy in his press conference as he answered endless questions about minute aspects of his golf swing. Those questions came after he missed the cut last week, but as he said, at least he had longer to prepare for the Players Championship!

Brandel Chamblee has urged him to sack Sean Foley and get back with Butch Harmon. Well, personally I think he could win a couple of majors with my mum coaching him. Surely it's about the player rather than the coach?

He's on his third swing now and in the last few months he's won the Chevron and at Bay Hill, as well as coming second at the Honda Classic. That's not bad.

We all know the Masters was a setback. I thought he would be in top shape at Augusta, but as can always happen in golf, it just didn't go well for him.

I think he's got a chance this week.

Fortitude

It will be interesting to see what last week's maiden PGA Tour win does for Rickie Fowler.

He was highly feted and his fortitude was never in doubt to anybody who watched his last four holes at the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.

But he had never really shown that inner strength coming down the stretch in a Tour event before last week. He was magnificent in the play-off and Rory McIlroy just had to hold his hands up and accept defeat.

That will give Fowler a lot more belief. I remember early on his career when he was in contention and had a chance to go for the 15th green in the final round of the Phoenix Open. Unlike his playing partners, he chose to lay up and I questioned his aggression. Sometimes when you're in that position you have to pull the trigger.

He's now learned that sometimes you have to play a shot, rather than the percentages, and he hit three great shots in the play-off at the Wells Fargo Championship last week.

He's now hit the PGA Tour with a bang and he'll love going to the Players this week. However, it can be hard to focus the week after a big win, so we'll see if he can answer more questions here.

Produced

McIlroy was beaten in that play-off, but he's still playing very well.

Europe has only produced two winners in the last 24 Players Championships - Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson - but I think Rory, in particular, has a chance this week.

He didn't play here last year and he later admitted it wasn't the smartest decision he'd ever made, but he arrives at this year's event on a Tiger-like run of consistency with one win and three top 3's's on the PGA Tour already.

That's why he's my pick for the tournament.

Rob's Sky Bet Tips

Players Championship - Rory McIlroy: I tipped him last week and he wasn't too far off and for all the reasons I have outlined above I can't see past him again. He's 10/1 with Sky Bet.

Madeira Island - Alastair Forsyth: This is a chance for the players that don't get a start every week to earn a European Tour exemption and I think Forsyth at odds of around 25/1 might do well. He's played more golf than some members of the field and has a few good rounds in him.

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