T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
2014 Players Championship | Five players to watch
Series: Golf Buzz
Published: Wednesday, May 07, 2014 | 10:23 a.m.
The PGA Tour is in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., this week for its flagship event -- the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
There's trouble everywhere on this Pete Dye-designed gem, none more obvious than the treacherous -- even though it's short -- par-3, island-green 17th hole.
The tournament will be without its defending champion, as Tiger Woods remains sidelined after surgery on his back, but there are plenty of contenders who will be looking to claim the Tour's crown jewel.
Here are five of them.
5. Sergio Garcia
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Third at the Shell Houston Open
Reason to watch: Making his first PGA Tour start since a missed cut at the Masters, the 2008 Players Champion has had a steller 2013-14 season. That missed cut at Augusta National was a blip in an otherwise impressive year where he's finished in the top 10 four times in seven starts. Aside from his win, Garcia has three other top-10 finishes at TPC Sawgrass and a bunch of others in the top 25.
4. K.J. Choi
Best finish in 2013-14 season: T2 at the Farmers Insurance Open
Reason to watch: I'm taking a flyer on Choi this week. That tie for second at the Farmers Insurance Open in January was his lone top-10 finish in 12 starts this season. He's missed the cut three times -- most recently last week at the Wells Fargo Championship. I'm giving him a chance this week, though, because he won the event in 2011. It's got to feel good going back to the site of the biggest highlight of your career, no? Choi has been hit or miss at TPC Sawgrass through the years. I think this week could be a "hit."
3. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Playoff loss at the Honda Classic
Reason to watch: Broken record alert! Like the rest of you, I'm waiting for McIlroy to claim his first PGA Tour victory since way back (by his standards) in September of 2012 at the BMW Championship. Is this the week? One of these weeks has to be, right? McIlroy enters this week on the strength of three consecutive top-10 finishes. In each of those, it's been one round that's put a damper on his chances of winning -- a 74 in the third round of the Shell Houston Open where he finished tied for seventh thanks to a final-round 65; a tie for eighth at the Masters where he shot 77 in the second round, but bounced back on Sunday with a 69; and a tie for eighth on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship, where he shot 76 in the second round, only to bounce back with an impressive 65 in the third round. It's a matter of time before McIlroy puts four rounds together.
2. Jim Furyk
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Second in the Wells Fargo Championship
Reason to watch: This is a home game for Furyk. And -- outside of winning -- he couldn't really be playing better at the moment. Furyk has made the cut in every one of his nine starts this season, including four top 10s, highlighted by the runner-up effort on Sunday. It's been a mixed bag for Furyk at TPC Sawgrass over the years, but he has three top-5 finishes overall: T5 in 2009; T3 in 2006; and T4 in 2003. Riding a nice little streak with three top-7 finishes in his last four starts, Furyk is definitely a player to watch this week.
1. Matt Kuchar
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Won the RBC Heritage
Reason to watch: With a victory this week, Kuchar could supplant Tiger Woods as the No. 1 ranked player in the world. That's a little incentive. Kuchar has been outstanding this season -- eight top 10s in 11 starts. That's crazy. Oh, and he also won the last time he teed it up, which was the week after the Masters at the RBC Heritage. He's on a stretch right now with no worse than a tie for fifth in each of his last four starts. Oh, and for good measure, he won the Players in 2012. His chances this week are better than most.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.