THIS week’s Players Championship will draw the cream of golf to a tournament justifiably dubbed the Fifth Major, yet the world’s top two, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have surprisingly poor records at Sawgrass.
Woods has managed just one top-10 finish at the event since winning in 2001, although his form this year is so good that he remains very much one to watch when play gets underway tomorrow.
He boasts three victories already in 2013 and would have won the Masters last month had his shot at 15 not now infamously hit the pin and rolled into the water during the second round. He will have been bitterly disappointed so should not lack motivation on his first appearance since Augusta.
McIlroy, meanwhile, has played Sawgrass three times previously but has never made the cut. It’s a statistic I found tough to believe and still hard to understand as it’s an excellent course and should suit the best players, like Rory.
The Northern Irishman has had other worries this season but lately has shown signs of getting used to his new Nike clubs, such as at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, where he was in contention before finishing with successive rounds of 73.
McIlroy also performed well at the Masters, apart from a third-round 79, but we are well into the season now, the winter cobwebs should have been blown away long ago, and it’s time for him to step up and start winning tournaments, or at least seriously contest them again.
Sawgrass’s thick, punitive rough places extra emphasis on accurate driving and should suit the likes of Matt Kuchar, the defending champion, and Sergio Garcia, who claimed the title in 2008.
Four-time Major champion Phil Mickelson, a Players Championship winner six years ago, has a good record there. He suffered a late collapse at Quail Hollow on Sunday, bogeying 16 and 17 to miss out on a play-off, but great players lift themselves from such setbacks.
England’s David Lynn made that play-off, only to lose to rookie Derek Ernst, but has been playing well on the US PGA Tour and is definitely another to watch this week. His countryman Lee Westwood was also a challenger last week, playing fantastically but suffering on some very difficult greens. He should have no such problems with the surfaces at Sawgrass and I strongly fancy him to be back in contention.
Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @torrancesam