It may or may not be the game’s fifth major but there’s no question this week’s PLAYERS’ Championship is the game’s fifth most important tournament.
Featuring the strongest field of any tournament in golf, majors included, the only thing the annual event at TPC Sawgrass lacks is the history of the big four events.
For the seven Australians teeing up this week, however, none of that will be of any interest.
World Number 3 Jason Day and World Number 11 Adam Scott, both former winners, headline the Australian challenge at TPC Sawgrass but history confirms that any golfer playing well can win this week.
Unlike many modern PGA TOUR venues, TPC Sawgrass doesn’t reward only long, high ball hitters meaning those who don’t play the power game are on equal footing this week.
Aaron Baddeley, Greg Chalmers, Rod Pampling, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith will all be well aware of that and hence will like their chances.
Defending champion Jason Day will attract the bulk of the headlines this week, not only in Australia but on site as well.
2017 has been a difficult year for the Queenslander away from the course and that has been reflected in his play which is yet to reach the heights of late 2015 and 2016.
But with his mother now making positive steps in her battle with lung cancer and his troublesome back seemingly healed Day, whose last PGA TOUR victory was at Sawgrass last year, says he is ready to begin the climb back to the top of the game.
Having fallen behind Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy in the world rankings the 29-year-old isn’t short on motivation in Florida.
“That’s what I’m trying to focus on—getting back to that winning form, getting back to the workload I was doing—and hopefully the results will come after that,” he said in his pre-tournament press conference before recalling what it was like to be the world’s best player.
“I honestly felt that there was no one better than me in the game, and it didn’t matter who it was, I was going to beat them.
“That was my mentality going into every tournament through that stretch. I had the self-belief in myself, and that’s the one thing I probably struggle with the most out of my whole game, the actual self-belief. When it’s there, I usually play some very, very good golf.”
While Day has already been in the limelight this week 2004 winner Adam Scott is flying under the radar and that will be to his liking.
Like Day, Scott has yet to produce his best golf in 2017 though has been steady with just one missed cut in eight starts.
His record at Sawgrass, like most players, is somewhat erratic with just two top-10’s in 15 starts aside from his victory.
Importantly, though, Scott has only missed the weekend three times in all those years and the last of those missed cuts came six years ago.
While his long game statistics weren’t quite as sharp as usual at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship Scott will be pleased with his putting at Eagle Point.
His Strokes Gained Putting statistic was in the positive all four days and assuming he has has shaken off any ball striking rust he will be a threat this week.
Australia’s net highest ranked player is Arnold Palmer Invitational winner Marc Leishman who makes his eighth appearance at The PLAYERS’.
After missing the cut in his first two starts the Victorian has come to terms with the layout and played the weekend each of the last five years with a best result of T8 in 2013.
Fresh from a three week break, Leishman will be mentally ready for the challenge this week and his consistency in 2017 will give him plenty of confidence as he heads to the first tee Thursday.
The other Australian many will be watching closely this week is recent Zurich Classic winner Cameron Smith who makes his debut at TPC Sawgrass courtesy of that victory.
The Queenslander has already shown a liking for difficult golf courses in his short career and with his confidence at an all time high his first appearance at TPC Sawgrass will be interesting.
The democratic nature of the course plays directly into Smith’s hands whose wedge game, putting and course management are strengths which will all be at the fore this week.
Rod Pampling makes his 10th start at Sawgrass but with only one made cut in his last three starts, and a best of T27 here more than a decade ago, there is little to suggest he will contend this week.
Aaron Baddelely, too, has a streaky track record at this venue though with a season best fifth place finish last start at the Valero Texas Open will be hoping to break a run of five straight missed cuts at Sawgrass.
The final Australian in the field is Greg Chalmers and the likeable left hander will need a major turnaround in form if he is to contend this week.
He has missed his last four cuts on the PGA TOUR, including last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, and in nine Sawgrass appearances has made the cut only five times.
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