Daniel Box
By Daniel Box

The Players Championship Preview Image Credit: PGA Tour (Twitter)

When it was announced as part of the PGA Tour's schedule switcharound, the Players would be moving to March, it was met with pretty strong support from players, media and fans.

The tournament was in fact held in March for 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, so perhaps it is returning to its rightful place on the golfing calendar.

One thing that's for sure is that the Players always provides a great spectacle. Most people refer to it as the 'fifth major', and you can't really blame them. It has the strongest field of any event of the year, it's a fantastic and exciting course which provides the potential for drama right up to the last shot, and there is always a fantastic atmosphere.

This year though, the feel is slightly different, and possibly even more exciting. When the event was held in May it served as a pick-me-up for the Tour between the Masters in April and the US Open in June, where there are a few smaller events which may not grab the attention of part-time golf fans.

But now it seems to signify the real start of the golfing season. Yes, we've had the WGC Mexico and Bay Hill, but having the Players in March means that there is now one big event to look forward to every month from now until the end of the season. The Masters in April, the PGA in May, the US Open in June, The Open in July and the FedEx Cup Playoffs in August. Can't wait.

The new schedule works really well on paper and this event being in March should mean that both hardcore and casual golfers and golf fans will benefit, hopefully inspiring more people to get out on the course as our own summer seasons get underway.

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, 54 tee shots were met with a watery grave, although only nine of these were during the weekend as the winds eased.

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.

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

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.

With the event being held in March this year, the course could look a little different to previous year. The rye grass has been overseeded to provide a lucscious green look with some unpredictable rough. Early indications from those who have already played the course suggest that whilst it always places an emphasis on approach play, the course will play longer than usual.

The Field

It's called 'the best field in golf' for a reason. The Top 50 golfers in the World Rankings are all here, and they will be handsomely rewarded with the largest prize fund ever for a professional golf tournament, with $12.5 million on offer and the winner receiving over $2 million. No wonder they're all keen...

Tiger Woods was the big question mark coming into the event, after withdrawing from Bay Hill due to a neck complaint. However, he appears to be fully fit and after working with a new putting coach, could definitely be in the mix for his third title here if he continues his strong iron play.

The favourites are understandably Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas. All three players are in fantastic form and the slightly more receptive conditions could mean that their extra power is a real asset to have.

Sawgrass seems to have a knack of suiting certain players, and therefore the European trio of Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter may well contend again on a course that they all seem to love. As three of the best iron players in the world, that's no surprise.

Last Year

Webb Simpson strolled to victory last year after an incredible week of consistent golf, producing his first win for over four years on the PGA Tour. Highlighted by a course-record tying 63 in the second round, Simpson ranked first in driving accuracy whilst also showing sublime ball-striking to finish at 18 under-par for the week.

Jimmy Walker, Charl Schwartzel and Xander Schauffele tied for second place, four strokes behind, and Justin Thomas' T11 was enough to take him to No. 1 in the World Rankings. Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari all missed the cut, as did 2007 winner Phil Mickelson.

Our Tips

We've got a blend of different styles in our picks this week, perhaps demonstrating how difficult it is to call this event. Whilst many people suggest that you don't have to be particularly long to succeed here, the fact that Jason Day, Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler have won here in recent years also proves that it cannot hurt either.

Couple this with the fact that playing the event in March will be an unknown for most in the field, especially as the course has changed quite a bit since it last had this spot in the schedule back in 2006, and there is no clear basis on which to pick.

As a result, we've gone with a blend of experience, ball-striking prowess, form and winning mentality for our three selections this week. Sounds good on paper anyway...

For our full Betting Tips piece, follow the link here to find out who we are tipping to take the title!


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