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Punch Shot: Who wins The Players; who benefits from weather; favorite Tiger moment

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The Players Championship begins Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, with a wet and windy forecast ahead. The GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with their predictions.

Pick to win and winning score:

Rex Hoggard: Rory McIlroy. Based on his last 36 holes, a horrid run of 8 over to finish a miserable week at Bay Hill, the Northern Irishman isn’t exactly a no-brainer pick. But he does have Mother Nature and history on his side. He won The Players in 2019 with a dominant performance and has always been most comfortable on a soft golf course, which is in the forecast at TPC Sawgrass. McIlroy wins his second Players title with a 13-under total.

Ryan Lavner: Collin Morikawa, 12 under par. Throughout his short but spectacular career he’s proven to be a fast learner, and TPC Sawgrass should accentuate his gifts as one of the game’s premier ball-strikers (take note of his best-of-the-day closing 66 last year). And when the conditions deteriorate over the weekend, he has the perfect temperament and self-belief to handle them.

Brentley Romine: Will Zalatoris. Ball-striking. Ball-striking. Ball-striking. I don’t care that he’s likely going to miss a few putts inside of 5 feet. He’s also going to hit more greens than just about everyone. In red numbers every day here a year ago, Zalatoris shrugs off a closing 79 at the API and gets his first PGA Tour title on the biggest non-major stage. As for the winning score, who knows; things could get crazy with the weather forecast, so I'll play it safe and go a couple of shots under the over/under: 9 under does the job.


Full-field scores from The Players Championship


Pick to benefit from the wind and rain:

Hoggard: Jon Rahm. The world No. 1’s ball-striking has been sublime this year, but he continues to struggle with his putting. That ball-striking will come in handy when the winds are expected to gust to 30 mph on the weekend and upwards of 4 inches of rain will slow the normally slick greens to more manageable speeds.

Lavner: Matt Fitzpatrick. There are plenty of folks on Tour who can absolutely flush it, a skill that will come in handy when it’s howling 30 and it’s imperative to hit it on the screws. But just as vital will be his scrambling. Fitz enters the week with five straight top-12s, flights it nicely in the wind and is one of the best around the green. A nice sleeper pick this week.

Romine: Corey Conners. Riding the hot hand. Brutal conditions at Bay Hill did not stop the Canadian flusher from going 6 under on the weekend, including posting a final-round 66. It’ll be softer this week, but the wind is still expected to blow. While some may let Mother Nature dictate their mood, Conners is the type of player to put his head down and play on.


Pick to disappoint:

Hoggard: Collin Morikawa. The five-time PGA Tour winner is on many short lists as a potential champion this week, and he certainly has the game to contend on the Stadium Course. Where he disappoints is in his quest to overtake Rahm atop the world ranking. Morikawa needs just a tie for second place to claim the top spot but seems destined to come up short again.

Lavner: Jordan Spieth. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t been a good match, and it wasn’t lost on anyone that Spieth canceled his Wednesday press conference to squeeze in some more prep. Outside of a T-4 in his 2014 debut, he has four missed cuts and two other finishes outside the top 40. Yikes.

Romine: Justin Thomas. No one has ever won back-to-back Players titles. In fact, the past 10 champions who defended have combined for two top-25s, no other finishes better than T-48 and four missed weekends. If there was ever a time for a player to buck the trend, it’s JT – who is currently enjoying a run of 10 straight top-25s – but I’m just saying don’t be surprised if history repeats itself yet again.


Stenson: Woods 'revolutionized the game of golf'

Stenson: Woods 'revolutionized the game of golf'


Pick your favorite Tiger Woods moment:

Hoggard: There are 14 other major victories, and 81 other Tour victories, that could all qualify as a favorite Tiger moment, but the 2019 Masters had it all – redemption, celebration, emotion. With his family watching from the clubhouse, Woods completed a comeback with his 15th major victory that for so long didn’t seem possible.

Lavner: I’ll always have fond (and personal) memories of his 2005 Masters victory. My 18th birthday fell on Masters Sunday, and it was the best possible gift: my mom brought me an endless stream of my favorite snacks as Tiger attempted to hold off the scrappy Chris DiMarco. When Tiger’s chip dropped on 16, I leaped off the couch and – I swear – touched the ceiling. After that iconic fist pump on the final green, my closet soon was stocked with mock-neck polos, in every color.

Romine: It’s so hard to narrow down a singular achievement. The 2019 Masters was pretty special, but for me, it’s Woods’ runner-up finish alongside his son, Charlie, at the PNC Championship last December. After Woods’ horrific car crash the previous February, it was hard to envision when – or if – Woods would ever play again, and if he did, what that would even look like. But seeing Woods compete with his son, trading fist bumps and smiles and laughs, was a memory that will stick with me forever.