Outside of the four Major Championships, there is one tournament where the test is so great in terms of the quality of the field, the difficulty of the course and the prestige in which the tournament is held, that makes it rank as the ‘fifth Major’. That tournament is The Player Championship, and it begins this Thursday.
A rejig of the golfing calendar means that the tournament now takes place in March, as opposed to late summer/early autumn and it also adds further prestige to the event as it now serves as the perfect big tournament warm up for the four Major championships, which are played across April (The Masters), May (USPGA), June (US Open) and July (British Open).
With five of the biggest tournaments coming in a five-month spell across the year, players are now entering the most important time of the golfing calendar, when all their hopes of a Major title are set to either be realised, or dashed and that process begins in earnest on Thursday.
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Let’s now take a look ahead to the tournament starting on Thursday by giving you the lowdown on the tournament’s short but intriguing history, some of the big and not-so big names that have lifted the famous trophy, and of course a look at the famous course itself, which features arguably the most iconic hole in all of golf.
The Players Championship – A Brief History
The Players Championship was first contested back in 1974 and in its first three years, was played in Georgia, Texas and then South Florida. However in 1977 it moved to Sawgrass and by 1982, it had moved to the newly created Stadium Course opposite the famous Ponte Vedra golf course.
The move was not initially a successful one. The new course took a while to bed in and playing conditions for the early events at the Stadium Course, were slated by a number of players. Jack Nicklaus was a vocal critic claiming the greens were as difficult to hit as hitting a five iron onto the bonnet of his car.
However, a number of modifications, expansions and changes have turned the famous course into one of the most recognisable today and its layout, traps, clever use of water and its iconic 17th island green, all make it one of the most recognisable courses in the world.
Since those tricky early years, The Players Championship has matured into an event that many golfers now revere it as the fifth Major of the year, often stating that this tournament is more difficult to win than any of the Four Majors that come after it.
Who Has Won The Players Championship Over The Years?
The first winner of the tournament, and record holder for number of wins in the event, was Jack Nicklaus. He landed the trophy three times in his career. Five players have won the event twice, Hal Sutton, Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods being those players.
American players dominated the event in the early years, and it wasn’t until 1987 that a foreign-born player landed the trophy. That was Sandy Lyle and the Scotsman’s victory heralded a new era where a greater number of foreign-based players landed a win in the event. Greg Norman, Nick Price, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Steve Elkington, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer being just some of the players to land wins here.
The current champion, with no event played in 2020, is Rory McIlroy, who won the event when it was last played in 2019. Other recent winners include Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Kim Si-woo and Jason Day.
TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course – A Real Challenge And An Iconic Hole
It’s seems strange to think that the first couple of times The Players Championship was held on the Stadium Course, players were fiercely critical of the course. However, tweaks and modifications over the years have turned it into one of the finest and most consistent tests in golf and one that tests all aspects of a player’s game.
The most famous hole by far, and perhaps the most famous hole in golf, is the famous island green 17th hole. Not originally designed to be an island green, architect Pete Dye took advice from his wife and used the natural properties of the land to create this iconic hole.
Each year, many thousands of players try their luck on the hole and it is estimated that 100,000 balls are removed from the water around the green each year from failed tee shots that land in the water. Top pros are not immune to this. In one wind-swept round of a recent Players Championship tournament more than 50 tee shots ended up in the water.
The Field At The 2021 Players Championship
Although there will be the usual stellar field of stars at the 2021 Players Championship, two big names will be absent. Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka will both miss out through injury and there is no doubt that both will be missed by their fans and other viewers watching on.
However, even without two star players, this is still a very strong field. Many experts feel that this event has the strongest field of any tournament in golf and that is certainly borne out by the depth of quality in the field today.
Amercian players will once again have a very big say in this event with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa likely to be amongst those that are in with a shout. Others from the U.S. also to watch include Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson and Max Homa.
However, it won’t just be US players in the reckoning with a host of top foreign stars also competing include the likes of Rory McIlroy,Hideki Matsuyama, Viktor Hovlund, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood all reckoned to be in with a good chance.
Who Are Our Top Picks To Shine At The Players Championship?
The first thing you should note here is that bet365 Sport are offering 1/5 odds on players that finish in the top eight and ties in this event and that is a great value deal and one that you should really consider as picking a winner from these events can be incredibly tough.
To that end, the top each way bets I’d be considering for a variety of reasons are:
- Henrik Stenson – 250/1
- Gary Woodland – 200/1
- Rickie Fowler – 140/1
- Justin Rose – 100/1 and
- Paul Casey – 55/1
If you are going to place a bet on someone to win the event, then my pick here would be the American Justin Thomas. He has the all-round game to win this event and in addition, he is long overdue a win, his last victory coming back in August 2020. He has won big tournaments and Majors before so I think at 18/1, he is a great option with bet365.