Daniel Box
By Daniel Box

The majority of PGA Tour players would have been hoping for an easier ride at this week's event, having suffered a brutal battering at the hands of the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational over the past two weeks.

The Players Championship 2020 Preview

Image Credit: The Players Twitter

Across the two events, there were only a combined 20 names under par at the end of play. For a Tour who's slogan is 'Live Under Par', this was a rare departure from the usual birdie-fest and has left plenty of players feeling a little bruised.

But the pressure doesn't relent just yet, as the biggest event of the PGA Tour's regular season is set to get underway with The Players Championship at the iconic TPC Sawgrass.

The Players Championship 2020 Preview

Image Credit: PGA Tour Twitter

Now in the second year of its new March time slot, The Players is clearly the Tour's flagship event. Whilst the 'fifth major' debate has grown a little wearisome over the years, you only have to look at the strength of the field and huge prize fund on offer this week to see just how big this tournament is.

Last Year

Jim Furyk's final round of 67, which included a shot into 3ft on the 18th hole of the day, gave the final groups plenty to worry about as he took the clubhouse lead.

The Players Championship 2020 Preview

Image Credit: The Players Twitter

But whilst Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood faltered, both finding the water late on, it was Rory McIlroy who picked up birdies on 15 and 16, before showing nerves of steel to close with two pars and take victory by one stroke.

The Course

The Players has been held at the Pete & Alice Dye creation, TPC Sawgrass, since 1982. The pair effectively created it specifically for this event, to try and provide a fun and dramatic layout for the Tour's flagship event.

The course features deliberately raised mounds around the holes for fans to gather on, creating a stadium-like atmosphere to add to all of the excitement.

Of course, the feature hole at Sawgrass is the iconic par-3 17th. Known throughout the sporting world for it's 'island green' surrounded by a lake, which has also been known to make or break many a round over the years. Last year, 45 balls found a watery grave across the four days, one of which was Tommy Fleetwood's on Sunday to push him out of contention.

The Players Championship 2020 Preview

Image Credit: TPC Sawgrass Twitter

17 gets all of the attention, but the back nine also features a couple of other holes which are just as interesting and which can be more important for those who want to be right up there on the leaderboard.

The redesigned par-4 12th, usually playing under 300 yards and with water all down the left hand side, is accessible for all golfers in the field and is a great chance to make an eagle or a birdie for those chasing or protecting a lead.

The Players Championship 2020 Preview

Image Credit: The Players Twitter

Similarly, the par-5 16th plays just over 500 yards and is easily reachable in two. The lake sits all the way down the right hand side of the hole and stretches around the back of the green, whilst there are huge oak trees and grass bunkers guarding the left side of a sloped green for those who bail out.

The Players Championship 2020 Preview

Image Credit: The Players Twitter

Get your tee shot in the fairway however, and these guys will be looking at birdie more often than not.

Finally, the 18th hole is perhaps the best on the course, both visually and tactically. It is an intimidating right-to-left dogleg played around the lake, with huge mounds and thick rough up the right for those who aren't brave enough to take on the water.

The Players Championship 2020 Preview

Image Credit: The Players Twitter

Grass bunkers are situated short and right of the green, a very popular spot, leaving a tricky up and down.

Last year, Rory McIlroy stepped up when it mattered most and showed everyone exactly how it should be played!

Anyone who makes birdies (or better) on the 12th and 16th and then plays the final two holes in level par if they're in the mix on Sunday will be very happy indeed.

The Field

If you ask tour players and respected golf writers which is the hardest event to win, and you'll be surprised just how many of them say The Players.

The Players Championship 2020 Preview

Image Credit: The Players Twitter

Yes, the majors are tough because of all the mental strain that comes with it, but, as Brooks Koepka alluded to last year, plenty of the players in those fields have no real shot of winning. Take The Masters for example, where the likes of Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle can still tee it up every April.

The Players is pretty much officially the toughest field in all of golf. 28 of the Top 30 in the OWGR are there. OWGR's strength of field rating places this year's Players at 850, almost 300 points higher than Bay Hill last week, and nearly 800 higher than the Qatar Masters!

This year the only big miss is Tiger Woods, who, to be fair, is probably the biggest of them all. He released a statement last week after missing Bay Hill, explaining that his back is not ready for competition yet.

The American has not been quite right in 2020 so far, perhaps still feeling the strain from his heroic efforts as Playing Captain of the US Presidents Cup Team late last year. Will we see him again before The Masters?

So the headline names are the usual suspects. Rory, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas. Dustin Johnson has had a slow start to the year (when was the last time you could get odds of 28/1 for him to win a tournament?!) but his form is pretty good at this course and he can turn it on any week.

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Similarly, Brooks Koepka still appears to be recovering from last year's knee troubles, but we all know that he lives for the biggest events and so don't be surprised to see him contending this week.

Young stars Collin Morikawa, Matt Wolff and Viktor Hovland are always exciting to watch, and have already proven that they are more than good enough to stand up to a challenge such as TPC Sawgrass.

Sophie's Tips

We've asked ex-LET professional and Golfalot equipment reviewer Sophie Walker to share her thoughts about this week's event, and who she's tipping to do well in Mexico...

The Favourite - Patrick Reed @ 35/1

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Sophie says:

"In fantastic form with a win in Mexico and solid T15 in tough conditions last week. This is a course that should suit his style and natural draw shape. The more you criticise him, the better he plays..."

The Underdog - Matt Kuchar @ 55/1

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Sophie says:

"'Mr. Consistent' won this event in 2012 and had a solid T26 last year in the new March timeslot. Also suits his accurate style of play, where hitting plenty of greens is imperative. In good form too, with a win and T2 in his last five starts."

The Longshot - Sergio Garcia (80/1)

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Sophie says:

"Despite being on the 'wrong' side of 40 you still feel there are a couple of big weeks left in the Spaniard's career. Pure ball-strikers like him tend to have success here - his win in 2008 and 16 consecutive made cuts here are a prime example of that."

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