Originally known as the Tournament Players Championship, the Players Championship began life in 1974 when Jack Nicklaus won the first of his three titles. He's still the only man to achieve that feat and only five other players have won the tournament twice - Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton, Davis Love and Tiger Woods.
Universally referred to as the fifth major, the Players Championship is one of the most prestigious tournaments staged throughout the year and this is the 49th edition.
TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Par 72 -7,189 yards
Stroke Index in 2021 - 72.42
Constructed in 1980, specifically for the purpose of hosting this event, the Stadium Course at Sawgrass has been the tournament's venue since 1982. It's a Bermuda-grass Pete Dye design and it's one of the most renowned courses in the world.
With its dramatic island green, the par 3 17th is one of the most recognised holes in golf.
Described as a balanced course, with dog-legged holes going both ways and holes routed so that no two consecutive holes ever play in the same direction, it's a true test that doesn't tend to favour any one type of player.
In 2006, just before the event moved to its May slot (which it occupied for 12 years before switching back to March in 2019) all the tees, fairways and greens were stripped and new drainage, irrigation, and sub-air systems were installed. The changes meant that the firmness of the smaller than average sized greens can be controlled in any weather conditions and they're usually set to run at around 13 on the stimpmeter.
The course underwent a further renovation after the 2016 renewal and the yardage was reduced slightly as a result. All the greens were changed from mini verde to TifEagle Bermudagrass, holes one, four, eight, nine, 11, 13 and 14 underwent modifications to their greens, to better absorb wear and tear, and in some cases, to increase the number of available pin positions.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 11:30 (UK and Ireland) on Thursday
Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2021 - Justin Thomas -14 23.022/1
2020 - Tournament cancelled after round one
2019 - Rory McIlroy -16 17.016/1
2018 - Webb Simpson -18 80.079/1
2017 - Si Woo Kim -10 900.0899/1
2016 - Jason Day -15 14.013/1
2015 - Rickie Fowler -7 65.064/1 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Players Championship?
Sawgrass allows for all player types to prosper so the Players is a magnificent but very open tournament.
Jason Day ranked number one for Driving Distance when he won here in 2016 but the 2018 winner, Webb Simpson, ranked 71st. Simpson prospered because he found more fairways than anyone else. Day only ranked 54th for Driving Accuracy. And the 2019 result demonstrated perfectly how different players can fare equally well.
Rory McIlroy won the event ranking 5th for DD and 49th for DA, with the veteran, Jim Furyk, ranking only 72nd for DD but third for DA, finishing second.
In the decade between 2005 and 2014, the ten winners had an average GIR ranking of just 7.5 and the last three winners have ranked third and fifth and 17th so that looks like a fairly key stat but the three victors before Simpson four years ago ranked 51st, 15th and 37th so it's not absolutely imperative to find greens with consistency...provided you scramble impeccably instead.
The top-eight last year all ranked inside the top-20 for Scrambling, the vast majority of winners scramble well around these much smaller than average greens and that's definitely a key indicator.
This is one of those rare events where putting isn't absolutely key. Thomas ranked only 14th for Putting Average and 42nd for Strokes Gained Putting last year
Is There an Angle In?
If you like a course correlation angle in, check out form at the RBC Heritage, the Travelers Championship and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans as those three events are also played on Pete Dye-designed courses.
Other Pete Dyes to consider are Austin Country Club, which has hosted the last five WGC-Match Plays, Whistling Straits, which staged the USPGA Championship in 2004, 2010 and 2015, Crooked Stick, which hosted the 2012 and 2016 BMW Championships and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, which hosted both the 2012 US PGA Championship and last year's edition.
Sedgefield Country Club is a Donald Ross track but given two of the last four Players Champions, Webb Simpson and Si Woo Kim, have won the Wyndham Championship there, as well as four other Players Champions, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Davis Love III and K.J Choi, that looks like the best form to peruse.
The Wyndham only returned to Sedgefield in 2008, after a break of more than 30 years, but we've now seen six men win at both venues recently and both the 2010 and 2014 Players champions, Tim Clark and Adam Scott (missed a short putt for the title last year), have finished second at Sedgefield.
Last year's Wyndham winner, Kevin Kisner, was beaten in a playoff here in 2015 and Luke Donald has finished runner-up at both venues.
It's often advantageous to begin the week early on day one but even more so here. Sawgrass soon dries out and gets fast and firm and Thursday morning is often the easiest time to play it - especially if the wind gets up in the afternoon.
It wasn't the case last year, with the PM-AM side of the draw averaging 1.25 strokes less than the AM-PM starters and there was nothing in it over the first two days combined in 2019 but the 2018 morning starters averaged 1.39 strokes better on Thursday and 0.43 strokes over the first two days combined. The 2017 early starters on day one averaged 1.14 strokes less than those drawn in the afternoon and five years ago it was almost two strokes less. Given this tournament favours the frontrunners (see In-Play Tactic below) getting drawn early on Thursday is often a big plus even if the weather forecast appears not to favour either side of the draw.
Strong current form looks key?
The last 11 winners of the Players have all performed admirably last time out and 22nd is the worst any of them have finished in their previous start. And nine of the 11 had finished tied fourth or better in at least one event earlier in the same calendar year.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
First-timers don't have a great record at Sawgrass. In 40 previous renewals here, only two debutants have won - Hal Sutton in 1983 and huge outsider, Craig Perks in 2002.
Si Woo Kim, who was the youngest ever winner of the event at 21, was only playing the event for a second time three years ago, having finished 23rd in 2016, but the last three winners, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Webb Simpson, and the previous three winners, give us a nice indication of the sort of course form portfolios that are typical.
Justin Thomas 2021 - 24-3-MC-11-35
Rory McIlroy 2019 - MC-MC-MC-8-6-8-12-35-MC
Webb Simpson 2018 - MC-MC-69-MC-15-MC-66-16
Jason Day 2016 - MC-6-MC-19-MC
Rickie Fowler 2015 - MC-MC-2-MC-MC
Martin Kaymer 2014 - 55-34-19-15-43
That could be extended further, as the vast majority of winners have lots of appearances and plenty of missed cuts. It's a difficult event to predict with all sorts of types winning and course specialists are few and far between but there's nearly always at least one decent performance at the track. The last 14 winners have finished at least 23rd or better here previously.
The last two winners have been well-fancied and Simpson was fairly well-backed in 2018. He opened up at 110.0109/1 on the Monday but went off at around 80.079/1 and Jason Day was well-fancied six years ago too, but the list of past champions contains plenty of shock winners so don't be afraid to back an outsider or two as they have a terrific record.
Kim was matched at 1000.0 before the off five years ago, I can't imagine too many picked out the likes of Craig Perks or Fred Funk and I have fond memories of backing Stephen Ames at 170.0169/1.
Fowler wasn't exactly well-fancied seven years ago, as he was matched at 70.069/1 before the off and Kaymer was matched at a triple-figure price eight years ago.
Wily old veterans, who know how to plot their way around Sawgrass, tend to do well here. Funk was no spring chicken when he won in 2005 and when 40-year-old K.J Choi won in 2011, he beat 44-year old David Toms in the playoff. Fellow vets, Kenny Perry and Paul Goydos, both come very close to winning recently and Jim Furyk came close again three years ago. He was matched at a low of 3.211/5 and he traded at just 1.774/5 eight years ago. And 49-year-old, Jeff Maggert, finished runner-up nine years ago.
Americans won the first 13 editions of the Players Championship and for a long time Americans, and to a lesser extent the Aussies, dominated the event but that's changed somewhat in recent years with Americans only winning eight of the last 19 renewals.
Outsiders and overseas players tend to do well here.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2021 - Justin Thomas 2019 - tied third - trailing by three 6.611/2
2019 - Rory McIlroy tied 2nd - trailing by one 3.613/5
2018 - Webb Simpson led by seven strokes 1.171/6
2017 - Si Woo Kim solo 4th - trailing by two 17.016/1
2016 - Jason Day led by four strokes 1.374/11
2015 - Rickie Fowler tied 11th- trailing by three 20.019/1
Justin Thomas started slowly last year and he was matched at a high of 210.0209/1 in-running before a rally on the back nine in round two saw him go in to the weekend tied for 22nd and trailing by only seven strokes but his performance was very unusual.
A fast start is extremely beneficial here - hence why I like the early starters on day one - and as many as three of the last seven winners - Simpson, Day and Kaymer - have won wire-to-wire!
In the previous 48 renewals, as many as 15 winners have been leading after round one, half of the winners (24) have been positioned inside the top-three after day one and 22 winners have either been leading or only one off the pace after round one.
Interestingly, 15 first round leaders have gone on to victory but only 20 third round leaders have won so being out in front through 54-holes isn't necessarily a big plus.
Even including the three wire-to-wire winners (who shot final rounds of 71, 71 and 73 to hang on), since Elkington won the second of his two titles in 1997 by seven after a 69 on Sunday, as many as 28 players have led or co-led through 54 holes and only one of them (Stephen Ames in 2006) has shot a round in the 60s on Sunday.
Ames fired a 67 to win by six having led by one 16 years ago but the 18 third round leaders/co/leaders since Ames converted in style are a combined 51-over-par with a scoring average of 75.
Up with the pace is definitely the place to be but you're clearly there to be shot at if you're leading at Sawgrass through 54 holes.
If you are planning to trade in-running, the first two holes are straightforward but it gets tough after that and the scoring section (if it can be classed as one) is between holes nine and 12. The final hole on the back nine is a par five that averaged 4.74 last year, the par four 10th isn't too taxing, the 11th is another par five (averaged 4.66 last time) and the drivable 12thaveraged below par (3.88). It's a grind all the way in after that though with the only slight respite coming at the par five 16th.
It's tight at the top with the defending champ, Justin Thomas, the world number one, John Rahm, and the reigning Open Champion, Collin Morikawa, all vying for favouritism and despite his strong current form, the stats suggest Thomas is the first one we can dismiss.
Nobody has ever defended the title and of the last 11 defending champions, only Webb Simpson, who finished tied 16th in 2019, has recorded a top-55 finish. McIlroy missed the cut last year and he wouldn't have fared much better if they'd have managed to complete the 2020 edition.
The event was cancelled two years ago after the opening round, as the world shut down because of covid, and Rory was sitting tied 83rd and nine off the lead.
Jon Rahm threw this event away three years ago (traded at long odds-on before a poor finish saw him slip to 12Th) and he was ninth last year so Sawgrass suits him but he's not at his best at present and I'm happy to swerve him.
Since losing his way at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, where he finished third after shooting 72-71 over the weekend, his form hasn't been great, and his figures read 10-21-17.
There's been money for Morikawa and I can see why. He signed off his Sawgrass debut with a 66 last year to finish 41st and he was second last time out at Riviera.
Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland are both trading at around the 20/1 mark, and I prefer the latter named. Both will be disappointed with their finishes at Bay Hill over the weekend but as highlighted in the De-Brief, Hovland stuck to his guns far better than Rory. There is one sizable negative though - he missed the cut here on debut last year.
Matt Fitzpatrick was my sole selection before the off last week and had he parred the last instead of making a bogey five form 165 yards out in the fairway he'd have placed at 28/1.
That was obviously a bit frustrating but I'm happy to stick with him here at 46.045/1 on the exchange and 40/1 each-way with eight places with the Sportsbook.
He has course form figures reading MC-MC-46-41-9 and current form figures reading 6-10-9. He's yet to bag that illusive first win in the PGA Tour but it's only a matter of time so why not now. He's in form at a course that suits and I thought 40/1 was fair.
*The weather forecast suggests there may be a slight advantage to the latter starters in round one so with that in mind, I've added Billy Horschel, at 70.069/1.
Matt Fitzpatrick @ 46.045/1
Billy Horschel @ 70.069/1 (added on Wednesday after the preview first published)
I'll be back tomorrow with the MyGolfLife Open preview and I'll have a few picks here for with the Find Me a 100 Winner column later in the week.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter