Handicapping the Players

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The time has come to determine a favorite for the Players Championship which will get underway this week at the Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass.
 
Almost to a man, the players call this tournament (their tournament)'the TPC. And every time they do, a PGA Tour official winces. The name of the event is The Players Championship. Players, for short, is acceptable. Technically TPC stands for Tournament Players Club.
 
Anyway, the favorite for the Players must be a player who can avoid (or handle) the rough, which, early reports say, is as high as it has ever been at the Stadium Course. This is a conscious effort on the part of the Tour to reign in the so-called bombers'players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh'who arent so much concerned with hitting the fairways as they are getting the ball as close to the green as possible off the tee so they can hit less club into the greens.
 
The winner at the Players this week will almost certainly have to hit a respectably high percentage of fairways.
 
So who are the favorites?
 
Woods is one because he has won The Players Championship and he played so well a few weeks back against a monster field at Doral.
 
Singh is one because hes striking the ball as well as anybody in golf right now.
 
Padraig Harrington is a strong favorite off his recent win at The Honda Classic and his two straight second place finishes at Sawgrass.
 
I was very much liking the chances of David Toms, who won the Accenture Match Play earlier this year and has four top fives in his last five events. But then I looked at Toms record at the Players. He has missed the cut each of the last two years and he missed the cut the first six times he showed up at Ponte Vedra Beach.
 
Similarly the past records of Ernie Els and John Daly offer little to suggest that they will be in the contention late Sunday afternoon.
 
Kenny Perry, on the other hand, hit a ton of fairways during his win at Bay Hill last week AND he finished tied for third at Sawgrass last year. Perry is a streaky player who likes the course. Dont count him out.
 
The irony of the long rough, as Golf Worlds Ron Whitten recently pointed out in that magazine, is that it keeps especially wayward shots from finding the trees. Architect Pete Dye didnt design the course that way. He wanted very little rough. The logic was that if you hit it crooked youd run into and/or under the trees and the overhanging branches.
 
The real favorite, in any event, will be the golf course which becomes more identifiable to fans each passing year at this championship.
 
Want a longshot? Try Stephen Ames. Hes playing well again after a slow start this year. And hes the guy who finished second at Sawgrass in 2002 when winner Craig Perks needed a total of just one putt in the last three holes on Sunday.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard ' The Players Championship
  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship