It's a loaded leaderboard at The Players, with Chris Kirk up by one and nine chasers within two shots. Who will claim victory on Mother's Day at Sawgrass? Our writers debate:
By WILL GRAY
Predicting a winner from this crowded leaderboard is a tricky exercise, but I’ll take one of the Tour’s most consistent players in Bill Haas.
Haas will begin the final round tied for second, and while there will be plenty of birdies at TPC Sawgrass, I expect Haas won’t have many squares on his scorecard. After a rocky Thursday, he has played his last 36 holes with only one bogey, that coming Saturday on the difficult 14th hole.
Haas won the Humana Challenge in January and is the only player among the top 16 to have hoisted a trophy this year. A player who typically flies far under the radar, Haas has a $10 million payout that proves he has what it takes to perform in the clutch.
By the end of the final round, he’ll have another marquee title to his name.
By REX HOGGARD
Of all the unknown quantities on the leaderboard – a list that ranges from Kevin Kisner to Justin Thomas to Scott Brown – it is Chris Kirk who has been (if not exactly here) as close as one can get.
The pressure on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass will be immense, particularly with 30 players within five strokes of the lead, but it will pale in comparison with where Kirk found himself last fall. With a potential Ryder Cup pick hanging in the balance, Kirk closed with three rounds in the 60s to win the Deutsche Bank Championship by two strokes.
Tom Watson passed on Kirk as a captain's pick, but the American continued his solid play with a tie for fourth at the Tour Championship, with arguably an even larger prize within his grasp – the FedEx Cup.
Kirk finished second to Billy Horschel in the season-long race but his closing 68 at East Lake was a strong indication of how the fifth-year PGA Tour player handles pressure.
On a golf course that accepts nothing short of one’s full attention, Kirk said he has no interest in leaderboard watching. It’s the type of mental toughness that wins big events.
By RANDALL MELL
Kevin Kisner isn’t going to be intimidated Sunday by the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course or the stellar field competing for the title at The Players Championship.
After Saturday’s round, he sounded like a guy getting ready to have some Sunday fun with friends, minus his revved-up E-Z-Go golf cart and the cold beer he likes to shove into a cooler.
That’s how Kisner plays with his pals back in Aiken, S.C. His buddies have dragged him to TPC Sawgrass a few times to play. Kisner couldn’t have much more more fun than he has had the last two rounds on the Stadium Course. He shot 31 on his back nine on Friday and 31 again on his front nine Saturday. He’s hot. He’s also confident in his position, one shot off the lead.
Though Kisner hasn’t won on the PGA Tour yet, that playoff loss to Jim Furyk at the RBC Heritage Classic three weeks ago didn’t beat him down. It emboldened him. He rode momentum coming to Sawgrass, and he’s riding it into Sunday’s final round.