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The Players storylines: Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, English hopes, Tiger Woods' absence and more

Scottie Scheffler chases back-to-back victories and Rory McIlroy searches for a first PGA Tour win of the season - watch The Players throughout the week live on Sky Sports, with coverage beginning at 11.30am on Thursday

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Who will win The Players? Watch the opening round live on Thursday from 11.30am on Sky Sports Golf

Can Scottie Scheffler defend his title? Will Rory McIlroy return to the winner's circle? Could we see a shock winner at TPC Sawgrass? Storylines to follow at The Players this week, live on Sky Sports...

Will Scheffler defend his Players crown?

Scottie Scheffler is bidding to become the first golfer in Players Championship history to successfully defend his title, with the world No 1 arriving as the overwhelming favourite for back-to-back victories.

Scheffler claimed a five-shot victory in last year's contest, which was his most recent PGA Tour success - other than the Hero World Challenge - until his impressive triumph by the same margin at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday.

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We hear from some of the biggest names in golf to discuss why there has never been a back-to-back winner of The Players Championship

That win at Bay Hill is his seventh victory in 25 months on the PGA Tour and extended his advantage at the top of the world rankings, with Scheffler's new-found confidence on the greens ominous for those trying to beat him this week.

Scheffler has been a top-10 machine over the past two years and has only been denied more success by inconsistency with his putting, although finished inside the top-five of that metric at Bay Hill to accompany a consistent tee-to-green display.

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Andrew Coltart and David Howell debate whether Rory McIlroy should have given Scottie Scheffler putting tips after the world number one stormed to a dominant win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

The American tops the FedExCup standings after five top-10 finishes in his first six starts this season, so it would be no surprise to see the PGA Tour's star player triumph again this week at TPC Sawgrass.

Can McIlroy find some form at TPC Sawgrass?

Rory McIlroy enjoyed a winning start to the year on the DP World Tour at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, a week on from missing out to Tommy Fleetwood at the Dubai Invitational, although has failed to seriously contend in his four PGA Tour appearances this season.

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McIlroy has impressed off the tee in recent weeks but experienced putting struggles at various points, before seeing progress over the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, while the Northern Irishman has admitted his iron play was also a concern heading into The Players.

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Rory McIlroy looks back through his 'rocky history' with the PGA Tour's most iconic tournament, The Players Championship

"Another great week off the tee," McIlroy said after his tied-21st finish at Bay HIll. "I feel like I found a good feeling with the putting as well. Just the iron play's let me down. It has sort of been the same story the last few weeks.

"Struggling with a left miss with the irons and it's hard because the longer clubs, the woods, feel so good and then the irons don't really feel that good, so I feel like I'm having to put like two different swings on the woods and the irons at the minute, which is a struggle."

McIlroy won The Players in 2019, when the tournament also finished on St Patrick's Day, although has missed the cut in two of his last three appearances - including by three strokes last year - and arrives without a top-20 finish on the PGA Tour this season.

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We look back at the highlights from Rory McIlroy's live Watchalong on Sky Sports, where he relived his win at The Players with Nick Dougherty and Brandel Chamblee.

The 34-year-old has already fallen that far behind Scheffler at the top of the world rankings that even a win will not end the American's reign as world No 1, with McIlroy looking to improve results in his penultimate scheduled event ahead of The Masters.

Will the PGA Tour stars deliver again?

The tournament is one of the biggest dates in the golf calendar and has previously been regarded as the unofficial "fifth major" due to the strength of field it has historically produced, although that status will be called into question due to the notable names now missing from the event.

The divide at the top of the men's game means many of the sports' biggest names won't be able to feature since joining the LIV Golf League, with major champions Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka - along with 2022 champion Cameron Smith - among those to miss out.

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A look back on how Rory McIlroy's stance on LIV Golf appears to have changed over the course of the last two years

The Players has delivered high-profile champions in recent years, with McIlroy, Scheffler, Smith and Justin Thomas all lifting the trophy, although the PGA Tour has seen plenty of unlikely winners so far this season.

Four of the last 10 victories in Ponte Vedra Beach have come from first-time winners, including Frenchman Matthieu Pavon and amateur Nick Dunlap, with plenty of players in the field this week looking for a maiden PGA Tour title.

Could we get a first-time English winner?

It seems unfathomable to think that The Players has never produced an English winner, given the calibre who have featured through the years, although that anomaly remains heading into the 50th appearance.

Last year's runner-up Tyrrell Hatton, 2021 runner-up Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter have all joined LIV Golf, making them ineligible to feature, meaning it will be down to a different Englishman to try and buck that trend.

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Players and pundits examine why an English player has never won the Players Championship and predict who will be the first

All three English players who qualified for the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week - Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose - were among the 11 players to miss the cut at Bay Hill, with no Englishman winning on the PGA Tour this season.

Aaron Rai's best finish so far this year was a share of 19th at the Mexico Open and Matt Wallace - a winner on the PGA Tour last season - has finished no higher than 33rd in his seven starts, while Harry Hall makes his debut.

The Players Championship Live

David Skinns produced the best performance of his PGA Tour career by claiming a share of fourth at the Cognizant Classic, where he took a share of lead into the final round, with Callum Tarren and Ben Taylor the other English players in the field looking to making history.

Why is Tiger not teeing it up?

Tiger Woods was expected to make his first appearance at The Players, which would have been his first at TPC Sawgrass since 2019, only for the 15-time major champion to be a surprise absentee from the field when it was confirmed on Friday.

The Players Championship Live

Woods qualified for the event as a major winner in the past five years but the 2024 contest is the last where he gets an exemption for his victory at The Masters in 2019, with the former world No 1 now needing alternative ways to qualify for future editions of the tournament.

The 48-year-old won the in 2001 and 2013 but has only featured in The Players three times since his most recent victory at TPC Sawgrass in 11 years ago, playing a limited schedule in recent years since sustaining career-threatening injuries in a car crash in February 2021.

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Tiger Woods reflects on his two Players Championship wins, including his victory in 2001 which included one of the most iconic moments in his career

Woods had a "tournament a month" plan for the season ahead but has not appeared since withdrawing mid-round through illness at last month's Genesis Invitational, with his absence from this week's event meaning fans are unlikely to see him back in action again before The Masters.

When is The Players live on Sky?

Sky Sports Golf will once again be the home of The Players in 2024, with nearly 60 hours of live coverage during tournament week and a host of extra content available for you to enjoy. Live coverage begins on Thursday at 11.30am.

Bonus coverage will be available via the red button for all four tournament rounds, with featured groups and bonus marquee groups there to enjoy every day alongside a special featured holes feed.

Watch The Players live from March 14-17 live on Sky Sports. Stream the PGA Tour and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - just £21 a month for 12 months. No contract, cancel anytime.

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