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2024 PGA Tour Preview: THE PLAYERS Championship

Chris Gallagher and Everett Davidson contributed to this article.

With just four weeks remaining until Masters Sunday this week, the PGA Tour heads to TPC Sawgrass for the 50th annual Players Championship. Known by many as the fifth major, much of the attention leading up to the tournament has focused on the players who will not participate in the event after departing for LIV Golf. This includes last year's Masters Champion, Jon Rahm, and Open Champion, Cameron Smith. Still, there is no shortage of storylines heading into the weekend. Looking to remain hot after capturing the Arnold Palmer Invitational a week ago, Scottie Scheffler is aiming to become the first player to defend his title at The Players Championship. Furthermore, after finally rounding into form following his return from back surgery, Will Zalatoris has carded back-to-back top-five finishes in his last two starts.

The Course

A Pete Dye design that measures 7,245 from the back tees, TPC Sawgrass offers up one of the toughest tests on the Tour calendar, with trouble lurking at every turn. 17 of the 18 holes on the golf course feature a water hazard, putting driving accuracy at a premium. Along with this, the course also features three-inch-thick rough and lightning-fast Bermuda greens. Known for the famous two-hole closing stretch, the 16th is a short par-5 that offers a true risk-reward opportunity for players. Following this, the 17th is one of the most renowned holes in all of golf. It is a short par-3 with a wide green that narrows to the right side. A popular viewing area for spectators, club selection on this hole will be crucial for golfers.

The Field

One of the PGA Tour's brand new 12 designated events, the players offers a substantial $20 million prize for the winner and 750 FedEx Cup points. As a result, with no shortage of star power, 143 players, including 43 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, are set to make the trip to Florida. Scheffler will look to become the first repeat winner in tournament history. Joining him, Rory McIlroy is still trying to find his form. A winner at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic in January, the 34-year-old finished T21 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational following a disappointing final round 76. Closing out the field is Viktor Hovland, Wyndham Clark, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, Ludvig Aberg, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas.

Chris’ Players Championship Picks

Favorite: Justin Thomas

Coming off a disappointing season a year ago, Thomas has come close to capturing his first victory since the 2022 PGA Championship. The 30-year-old has two top-ten finishes in his last five starts, including a T3 at the American Express. Additionally, the Kentucky native picked up a top-15 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational while gaining over a stroke off the Tee and over 2.5 strokes on approach. Setting up well to attack the tight fairways at TPC Sawgrass, he ranks eighth on Tour in Strokes Gained Tee to Green (1.22) and 40th in driving distance. A one-time winner at this event in 2021, expect a motivated Thomas to be among the final groups on Sunday afternoon.

Favorite: Hideki Matsuyama

A winner at the Genesis Invitational, Matsuyama tied the course record at Riviera with a final round 62. Finally back healthy after battling nagging back and neck injuries, the former Masters Champion also grabbed a top-12 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Moreover, the former world number two also placed 13th at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He is one of the best ball strikers in the field. Matsuyama ranks 15th on Tour in Stroked Gained Tee-to-Green over his last 25 rounds. Furthermore, the Japanese native also ranks 76th in Greens in Regulation (70.58%) and 64th in scoring average (70.986). While he has enjoyed an up-and-down run at the Players Championship throughout his career, the eight-time PGA Tour winner tied for fifth at the event a year ago and is underpriced at his 35/1 odds.

Sleeper: Wyndham Clark

The reigning US Open Champion, Clark, captured the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. He carded a 12 under 60 on Saturday before the final round was ultimately cancelled due to weather. Moreover, the Denver, Colorado native also finished runner-up to Scheffler at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. However, the Oregon University product has struggled in his other starts. Clark finished T41 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, T39 at the American Express, and T29 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. The 30-year-old is one of the best players on the field at scoring on Par 5s. Over his last 25 rounds, he ranks 4th in the field in par 5 scoring, allowing him to attack the short hole layouts at TPC Sawgrass. Currently listed at 60/1 odds, bet on Clark as a feast or famine option.

Everett's Players Championship Picks

Favorite: Will Zalatoris

Zalatoris is coming off two straight top-five finishes, with a T2 at The Genesis Invitational and a T4 last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Zalatoris missed most of last season with an injury, and he looked rusty in his first two tournaments back, but now, he looks like the player who has finished runner-up in three of his first 10 major starts and is statistically more likely to finish in the top-10 at a major than he is to miss the cut. Last year at The Players, he didn't play well and ended up finishing 73rd, but the previous two years he finished 21st and T26, so he does have some familiarity with shooting low rounds around TPC Sawgrass. In 2022, when he finished T26 and nine shots back from winner Cameron Smith, he entered Sunday in contention, but he quickly fell out after a double bogey on Hole 1. If Zalatoris finds himself in contention on Sunday this time, don't be surprised if he ends up finishing the deal.

Favorite: Max Homa

Homa is currently ranked eighth in the OWGR, and he is a very good player who should be in contention for the win this week. Homa has been solid to start the year, with four top-20 finishes in six starts being punctuated by his first top-10 of the season, a T8 finish last week at Bay Hill. He has also had some success at TPC Sawgrass in the past, with two top-15 finishes in the past two years after missing the cut in his first attempt at The Players in 2021. Homa was never in contention in 2022 and shot a 66 on Sunday to finish T13, but in 2023 he finished T6, and had Scottie Scheffler not run away with the tournament, Homa would have been in contention entering Sunday, and he played well, shooting a 69 to keep up with the rest of the field. If Homa is able to string together three solid rounds the first three days, he should be in contention come Sunday, and he has already shown that he has what it takes to shoot a good round on Sunday and pull away to win, both at Sawgrass and elsewhere.

Sleeper: Cameron Young 

Young has never won on the PGA Tour, but he has played extremely well to start off the year, with three straight top-20 finishes before last week's T36 finish at the Arnold Palmer. This is Young's third start at TPC Sawgrass, and he missed the cut in 2022 before earning a T51 finish last year, but Sawgrass sets up well for him, and he has traditionally played well in big tournaments, and he has four top-10 finishes in majors in his first 10 tournaments (albeit, he has missed five cuts, too). Young will likely either be in contention or miss the cut outright this week, and I would lean more toward him being in contention. If he is, he will stand a good chance at finally finishing the job and winning his first PGA Tour event in the Tour's flagship.


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