A year after the tournament was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the world’s elite will do battle with the first very big meeting of the season at TPC Sawgrass for the 48th edition of the Players Championship, the unofficial “5andMajor”.
They came and they are (almost) all there. 28 of the top 30 in the Fedex Cup as well as 48 of the top 50 in the world will tread the fairways of the mythical course of the Stadium Course of the TPC Sawgrass this week (par 72 of 6,573 meters), designed by the legendary Pete Dye and world famous for its hole 17 (par 3) and its island green. Only missing: ex-world number one Brooks Koepka, who has been ruled out with another right knee injury, rising star Matthew Wolff (hand injury) and of course golf star Tiger Woods, double winner (2001 and 2013) still hospitalized after his serious car accident….
With its record endowment of $15 million (2.7 million for the winner); this essential PGA Tour event, repositioned in March two years ago after being shifted to May between 2007 and 2018 in the US circuit calendar, has never seen an outgoing champion retain his title the following year since its creation in 1974. Can Rory McIlroy end the curse? The 2020 edition had been definitively stopped after the first round due to the pandemic which was beginning to rage across the Atlantic, while the Japanese Hideki Matsuyama had equaled the course record with a fabulous 63 (-9).
The PGA Tour then went on forced break before the following June 11, behind closed doors and under a health bubble. The defending champion McIlroy was nine strokes behind the leader, Matsuyama, and shared 83rd place, during the first round, before the tournament was interrupted….It must be said that the Northern Irishman has lost his luster in recent months. Nothing catastrophic of course. On his last 12 outings, he has never finished further than 21andsquare. But 8andof the last US Open, 5andof the last Masters, the Northern Irishman often finds it difficult to conclude. “I need something, a spark and today I didn’t find it. Some days it’s good, some days it’s not.” Without a win on the PGA Tour since November 2019, he is now 11th in the world, his worst ranking in 3 years. It’s question time. “I’m thinking more of a change in philosophy or maybe things I’m working on in training.”
The former world number one will therefore not leave with the favors of the forecasts. The future winner could well be among the gala party made up of Collin Morikawa, winner of the last US PGA and 15 days ago of the WC-Workday Championship, Dustin Johnson, world number one for 122 weeks in total and winner of the last Masters and Bryson DeChambeau, winner of the US Open and the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend. title on the PGA Tour. Will he attack the target golf that is the TPC Sawagrass. Not so sure: “While there are a few holes where you can take advantage, from a length perspective, you mostly need to put it into play with a great iron game. So that’s what I really focus on. If I can improve my iron game and my wedges this week, I have a great chance of winning with my putting.” Also not sure that he is trying to drive the 18th green with his driver… But with this extraordinary player, everything seems possible. As a reminder, on the tee of hole 6, at Bay Hill, a par 5 of 507 meters, at 377 yards (345 meters), he sent a drive into a bunker placed 80 meters from the green of this par 5!
Victor Perez’s Challenge
The only Frenchman in the running this week, Victor Perez made his first cut (excluding Majors) on the PGA Tour at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, taking 68th place overall. In the first two rounds, he will be associated with Americans Sam Burns and Wyndham Clark. In 2020, he discovered this event by signing a very promising 69 (-3). Enough to hope to compete in four rounds at the Players, a very important event in the race for qualification for the Ryder Cup. It would mark the history of French golf. Since neither Jean Van de Velde in 2000 and 2001, nor Thomas Levet in 2003, nor Alexander Levy in 2018 made the cut in Florida. The Tarbais, like the 144 competitors, will have the chance to evolve with the public. The gauge will be increased to 20% of the site’s capacity, which should allow 8 to 10,000 fans to attend the show each day. A first step towards the return of “normal life”, a year after a sad anniversary.
Players Championship (PGA Tour) – $15,500,000 prize pool (€10,934,347 prize pool)
Players to watch
Rory McIlroy (IdN), Daniel Berger (USA), Patrick Cantlay (USA), Paul Casey (Eng), Jason Day (Aus), Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Tony Finau (USA), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Rickie Fowler (USA), Sergio Garcia (Esp), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Sungjae Im (CdS), Dustin Johnson (USA), Sung Kang (CdS), Si Woo Kim (CdS), Marc Leishman ( Aus), Hideki Matsuyama (Jap), Collin Morikawa (USA), Louis Oosthuizen (AfS), Jon Rahm (Esp), Patrick Reed (USA), Justin Rose (Eng), Xander Schauffele (USA), Adam Scott (Aus) , Webb Simpson (USA), Brandt Snedeker (USA), Justin Thomas (USA), Erik Van Rooyen (AfS), Bubba Watson (USA), Gary Woodland (USA).
The committed Frenchman
To watch the Players Championship (PGA Tour) on TV: Thursday March 11, 1st round: 2.30 p.m.-12 a.m. (Golf +) Friday March 12, 2nd round: 2.30 p.m. – midnight (Golf +) Saturday March 13, 3rd round: 2.30 p.m. March, 4th round: 2.30-11.00 p.m. (Golf +); 7 p.m.-11 p.m. (Canal + Sports)