Sky Sports' dedicated channel showing round-the-clock coverage from the PGA Tour's flagship event; Live coverage from TPC Sawgrass begins on Tuesday at 2pm with 'Live from The Players', live on Sky Sports The Players
Monday 7 March 2022 14:52, UK
What makes TPC Sawgrass such a challenging test and why has no golfer been able to dominate The Players? Mike McAllister takes a look at what makes the PGA Tour's flagship event so tough to win...
Some courses demand strength. Muscle. Brawn. Success is determined by a golfer's ability to overpower the obstacles - which in this case can usually be found on the scorecard under total yardage.
Other courses demand finesse. Strategy. Accuracy. Success is determined through course management and shot-making, the ability to maneuver through tight spots and avoid penal areas.
So what does the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass demand of the 144 golfers hoping to claim The Players Championship title each year? Well, it demands everything.
"It's a great test in golf," Collin Morikawa said. "It really tests all aspects of your game."
Two-time PGA Tour Players of the Year, Dustin Johnson, added: "The golf course is very demanding. You've got to drive it well, hit it well, putt it well. I mean, you've got to do everything."
In other words, the key to success is difficult, yet simple. What makes Pete Dye's historic course - celebrating its 40th anniversary of hosting the PGA Tour signature event, having first done so in 1982 - so unique is its egalitarian trait. No course offers more social equality - it favours everyone and yet favours no one.
You don't have to be the longest hitter, or the most adept shot-maker, or a streaky-hot putter to win The Players. You just have to be the best golfer that week.
Jon Rahm, who could lose his world No 1 status this week, said: The golf course is such a good design, nobody has ever dominated it. The best player truly usually wins it, right?"
Rahm's views are echoed by Australian Marc Leishman, who said: "You need every single shot around there - draws, fades. You need to hit those shots at the right time - and then hit those shots under pressure. If you come to the end of that tournament, you need to execute under the greatest pressure. It doesn't reward one type of player."
There are no horses for courses at TPC Sawgrass. In the most telling aspect of this anybody-can-win approach, consider the one player who has never won on the Stadium Course - the defending champ.
In the 40 years at TPC Sawgrass, just five golfers have won The Players twice, and none in consecutive years - Fred Couples (1984, 1996), Steve Elkington (1991, 1997), Hal Sutton (1983, 2000), Davis Love III (1992, 2003) and Tiger Woods (2001, 2013),
In fact, no defending champ has really come close. The best finish is a tie for fifth - Tom Kite in 1990 and Sutton in 2001-and the closest margin is four strokes off the winning score.
The last time a defending champ even finished inside the top 10 was Adam Scott, who tied for eighth in 2005. The fact that previous success is not a determining factor in how the leaderboard will shape up makes it a rarity among golf courses.
So if TPC Sawgrass doesn't reward past performance, and it doesn't give heavier weight to any particular style of play, is there any specific aspect that it does reward? You could argue one thing: Nerves of steel.
"It's at the calibre of a major championship," says Rahm, who tied for ninth last year, his best result in four starts at TPC Sawgrass. "It's an unofficial major and I think it could very much complete somebody's career."
As the PGA Tour event with annually the deepest field in golf, it's certainly the hardest test when it comes to the calibre of competition, so the pressure is already there before players even step up to their first tee shots in the opening round.
But if you're on your game, you should be in contention on Sunday. You've kept a steady hand, dealt with the high stakes, and have given yourself a chance to win. Then, you reach the 71st hole.
It's the iconic island-green 17th, arguably the most recognisable hole on Tour. It's only 137 yards, but yardage means nothing on this hole. It's a simple test of courage. Can you find the small patch of green in the middle of a lake while thousands of fans lined up along the hole watch your every move?
Muscle doesn't matter. Finesse doesn't matter. The only thing at this moment is how bravely you strike that wedge or short iron. The island green has offered some of golf's most indelible moments, such as Tiger Woods' "Better Than Most" putt in the third round in 2001 that fuelled his first Players win.
There was Sergio Garcia, kissing his putter on the 17th in 2008 after beating Paul Goydos in a play-off. There was Rickie Fowler, who birdied the 17th not once, not twice, but three times in the final round in winning a playoff in 2015. A fearless feat that may never be matched, as he birdied the 17th five times in six attempts that week en route to his biggest professional victory.
Of course, the next year in his title defence, Fowler missed the cut. That's how it goes at The Players. Results do not favour the past, nor predict the future. They simply reflect the present. That's why 144 players will arrive at TPC Sawgrass, each hopeful that it will be their week.
Resumes do not matter - only the quality of play during the four rounds of competition.
Who will win The Players? Watch throughout the week live on Sky Sports' dedicated channel - Sky Sports The Players! Live coverage begins on Tuesday with the 'Live from The Players' show on Tuesday at 2pm.