The defending champion may not be in town but there’s no shortage of quality about to tee-up in The Players Championship which starts at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday.
With Cam Smith a noticeable absentee since his move to LIV Golf, much of the spotlight will shine on the marquee group of the opening two rounds with Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler set to tussle at Tour HQ.
The trio have been playing a game of musical chairs atop the world golf rankings in recent months and on their day, it seems they can access an extra gear that has separated them from the pack.
The wins have been arriving relentlessly, particularly for Rahm who has captured four PGA Tour titles and two DP World Tour victories in the last 13 months. In the same stretch, Scheffler has enjoyed five victories, including his Masters triumph, while McIlroy has collected three PGA Tour wins, as well as a FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai double, before beating Patrick Reed down the stretch to another victory in Dubai in January.
For now, Rahm holds the advantage atop the rankings, with Scheffler in second and McIlroy in third but that can all change this week at TPC Sawgrass where we’ll see exactly where each of their respective games are at with just a month to go to the Masters.
“It’s getting better. It’s getting better,” McIlroy said at Bay Hill on Sunday. “I feel like I figured out the driver a little bit more this week. Yeah, it’s getting there. I think there’s still a couple little things to tidy up and try to get more comfortable with.
But, yeah, I mean with The Players, Match Play, and then the Masters, so two tournaments between now and then, that’s plenty of time to feel a bit more comfortable with where everything is.”
Aside from the marquee group there’s plenty more to like about the tee-times released late Monday for the opening round in Florida, not least Shane Lowry who tees up alongside Ryder Cup teammates Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland.
A moving day 80 derailed Lowry’s hopes last week at Bay Hill, but that’s never been a course he’s fared well at, and in fact, last week was his first time ever making the cut at the tournament.
Expect a much improved showing this week at Sawgrass where he finished T13 in the weather-disrupted event last year, thanks in part to holing out for an ace at the iconic par-3 17th.
“Yeah, look, you play this game, just special things happen sometimes,” Lowry said having also aced the par-3 16th at Augusta. “It’s pretty cool to do it there, one of the most iconic holes in golf. Yeah, what can I say? It was a special thing to happen, and I’m looking forward to turning on my phone and seeing the messages I’ve got.
“Not only that, it put me back in the tournament somewhat. So it was amazing. It’s been a long day today, and I’m glad to make the call and finish well today. Played the 17 hole twice and did it in three shots, so it doesn’t owe me anything!”
Séamus Power also played all four rounds last week but ultimately propped up the field as the firm and fast Bay Hill conditions got the better of him over the weekend.
Power’s grouped with recent winner Chris Kirk and the consistent Keegan Bradley for the first two rounds at The Players where he finished a very creditable T33 last year.
“I really like the course and it suits my eye,” Power said last year having finished T35 in his only other previous start here in 2019. “I can play it pretty well and that’s always a plus.”
- Full tee-times HERE