It may not be the Masters or the Open Championship, but one of golf’s biggest tournaments is up for grabs this week in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida — the PLAYERS.
Call it what you will — the fifth major, overrated tournament held on a gimmicky golf course — but, the PLAYERS Championship is always one of the seasons highlights. With arguably the strongest field (technically it is, I argue that it isn’t) all year and one of the most revered golf courses on the planet — TPC Sawgrass — playing host, it’s always a appointment viewing.
The PGA Tour and PGA of America open their doors and roll out the red carpet for the world’s best this week, but that doesn’t mean that’s who always ends up winning. Just last year, we saw Si Woo Kim hoist the trophy.
In 2010 we got Tim Clark; in 2006 it was Stephen Ames and in 2002, Craig Perks. Yes, THE Craig Perks!
That said, the PLAYERS has, rightfully so, been a tournament dominated by the games best. It’s been the biggest win on a player’s resume before they breakthrough for a major (see: Adam Scott, 2004; Sergio Garcia, 2008;Henrik Stenson, 2009) and remains the biggest win for others (Rickie Fowler, 2015; Matt Kuchar, 2012).
So — who joins the illustrious list of winners this week? Here’s a look a those who will flourish and those who will flounder at TPC Sawgrass:
Jason Day — I kind of hate to take Jason Day here but I kind of have to. On the heels of a victory where he didn’t have his best stuff last week at the Wells Fargo, Day heads to TPC Sawgrass attempting to win back-to-back tournaments. Obviously, this doesn’t happen often so I’m not picking Day to win. That said, the aforementioned victory should do wonders to boost his confidence as he returns to a championship at which he’s two seasons removed from winning. He might not win, but you’ve got to like Jason Day to have a great fantasy week.
Bryson DeChambeau — I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that Bryson DeChambeau has posted three top-4 finishes in his last four starts? I knew I wasn’t alone. It’s time to consider DeChambeau a fantasy favorite week in, week out from this day forward. Now, that’s not to say I expect Bryson to win every week after making this proclamation — He’s obviously going to struggle at times, but the fact is his playi in 2018 is tough to argue with.
Rory McIlroy — What can I say? I’m loyal to a fault. I’m giving Rory McIlroy the starting nod this week at the PLAYERS because he’s due. With four competitive rounds now between him and the Masters disappointment, it’s time for Rors to start focusing back up and the upcoming major tournaments and winning weekly events. His putter is still pretty warm — so if he can find the fairway all week then McIlroy has a great chance to win this tournament — and at worst, give you a great fantasy week.
Cameron Smith — I’m still quite high on the young Australian talent, Cameron Smith, and I think he’s primed for a great week at the PLAYERS. Smith is just the type of player who can sneak up on the best in the game and snatch away the W. For my money, there may not be a better young player with a higher ceiling than Smith. Already a winner on the PGA and European Tours at just the age of 24, Smith has all the talent in the world and, it seems, that his game will take the next step soon.
Matt Kuchar — Still waiting for Kuch to come around and start playing more consistent golf. To be honest, the former bull dog hasn’t looked like himself since falling to Jordan Spieth in the Open Championship last summer. Matt Kuchar may be a former winner at TPC Sawgrass — but he won’t return as a defending champion in 2019.
Chesson Hadley — The human windsock from North Carolina was on a tear as of late, but this week I’m not quite ready to insert Chesson Hadley into my starting lineup. Taking nothing away from Hadley — he’s been great in 2018 — but I feel like the Stadium Course will take a bite out of him this week.
Hideki Matsuyama — The best player from Japan — ever — is still looking for his first big win. This week, I don’t think that comes. Matsuyama is streaky. Not Billy Horschel-streaky, but still runs hot and cold to say the least. The fact that you haven’t heard much from him in recent weeks tells you all you need to know. When he’s hot, start him. When he’s cold, sit him.
Sergio Garcia — Sergio Garcia gets around TPC Sawgrass almost as well as he does Augusta National. That said, he’s not really gotten around anywhere that well since he donned the green jacket in April 2017. There’s still plenty in the tank, but you’ve got to proceed with caution with Sergio until something — or someone — lights a fire under his ass. Until then, it seems like he’s content on and off the course. Which is good for him — but makes me weary of his fantasy forecasts.