The Players Championship is traditionally known for having one of the toughest fields on the PGA Tour, and this year’s edition is no different, with virtually every big name in the sport competing at TPC Sawgrass. But this weekend includes a special treat, as many of the top stars in golf have been placed into the same groups for the first two rounds.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Rickie Fowler will play together on Thursday and Friday, a threesome that is sure to get the attention of the gallery. But that’s not the only marquee group: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas are also playing together, as the organizers have put together some must-watch pairings for the early rounds.
Mickelson even joked about the level of excitement fans and media have had over his pairing with Tiger this week.
“As I look at the cover of the newspaper and the pairing is on there and the excitement that’s been going on around here, it gets me thinking,” Mickelson told reporters on Tuesday. “Why don’t we just bypass all of the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head-to-head and just have kind of a high-stake, winner-take-all match?”
Strongest Field in Golf?
But Tiger and Phil will hardly be the only players to watch this week. The Players Championship doesn’t have a mechanism for weaker players to qualify, which is why the field tends to be even stronger than those seen in the majors. Every player in the World Golf Ranking was scheduled to be in the field for the tournament, though Paul Casey did have to withdraw on Wednesday due to a back injury.
Such a strong field makes it difficult to predict who will win this tournament. Over the past 16 years, The Players Championship has been won by 16 different golfers, an eclectic mix of superstars and relative unknowns. The defending champion is Si Woo Kim, who at 21 years of age became the youngest player ever to win the tournament when he finished three strokes ahead of Ian Poulter last year.
The course doesn’t play favorites, either. At 7,189 yards, it doesn’t require players to be big hitters in order to compete, and both players known for their control and their distance have won the tournament over the years. The most famous hole on the course is the par-3 17th, which features the island green that has produced both memorable triumphs and tragic moments for those who have ended up in the water.
No Clear Favorites to Start, Johnson Impresses Early
Heading into the tournament, the usual suspects were listed as the favorites, though no single golfer was considered likely to come out on top. Jason Day (14/1), Justin Thomas (14/1), Jordan Spieth (16/1), and Rory McIlroy (16/1) were the top choices at Bovada, while fan favorites Tiger Woods (28/1) and Phil Mickelson (33/1) were given a shot to stay in the mix.
Predictably, those odds had begun to shift even hours after the first round got underway. By noon local time, Dustin Johnson was shooting 6-under-par through 14 holes, putting him just one shot behind leader Si Woo Kim (-7). In-play betting at Paddy Power had already moved Johnson up to be the 4/1 betting favorite, with Kim (16/1) also joining the list of top contenders.