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5 things to watch heading into The Players Championship

By Will Brown
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The Players Championship tees off Thursday morning in Ponte Vedra Beach. More than 140 of the best golfers in the world, including the top 46 in the Official World Golf Rankings, will try to tame The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

For the first time since 2006 The Players will be held in March. As reigning champion Webb Simpson said at last month's media day, the tournament is the first big event on the golf calendar.

"I think the new date is actually going to make the event even bigger and more special, and I think more attention will be on it, because like I said, it's the first event of the year where you really do — you're going to have everybody here that you want to have," Simpson said. "Guys take off certain events that are big events, but no one has ever taken The Players off from what I can remember."

WATCH: How to watch The Players Championship | PGA Tour LIVE

Here are five things to watch for heading into this week's tournament:

May the records fall

The lowest single-round score at The Players Championship was a 9-under 63, which has been carded eight times, one of which was a stellar second round from 2018 winner Simpson. Of those eight, six were shot when The Players was held in May.

Greg Norman shot a bogey-free 63 in the first round of The Players in 1994 en route to setting a tournament record with a 24-under 264.

MORE: These are the craziest things that have happened on TPC Sawgrass' 17th hole

One and done

Over the past 10 years, the winner of The Players has been within three shots of the lead after the first round eight times. Tiger Woods was four shots off the pace in 2013, but Day 1 leader Roberto Castro followed up his opening round 63 with a 6-over 78.

K.J. Choi was six shots behind Nick Watney after the opening round in 2011 but shot 68 and 67 in the middle rounds to vault his way into contention.

In short, few win The Players on Thursday — Norman was the last wire-to-wire leader 25 years ago — but one's tournament hopes can be sunk like a golf ball off the Island Green after a poor start.

Don't sleep on No. 16

The Island Green is what has made The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass one of the most recognizable courses in the world. But, the neighboring 16th hole has a propensity to thrill.

No. 16 has been the easiest hole on the course in eight of the past 10 years. While birdies are expected and eagles are commonplace, the par-5 has also been home to two of the most memorable shots in tournament history.

There have been four double eagles in the history of The Players, two have come at No. 16 in the last two years. Rafa Cabrera-Bello hit an 8-iron from 182 yards during the final round in 2017. Last year, Brooks Koepka, who went on to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, highlighted his final-round 63 with an albatross from 208 yards.

 

 

Sorry, Simpson

It has become a part of tournament lore that no one has ever won The Players in consecutive years. That is not good news for Simpson — and his caddie Paul Tesori of St. Augustine.

Over the past two decades, only two reigning champions have come close to repeating.

Adam Scott and Hal Sutton are the only two winners to finish in the top 10 in their quest to repeat. Scott finished tied for eighth at 5-under 283 in 2005, four shots behind Fred Funk. Sutton was tied for fifth at 7-under 281 in 2001, seven shots behind Woods.

Eyes on the Hall

The Players is the PGA Tour event that is in the closest proximity to the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine.

In order to be considered for the Hall of Fame, a player must win at least 15 events on the PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, Sunshine Tour, Asian Tour or PGA of Australasia. The other route to golfing immortality is winning at least two majors or The Players twice.

Should former Players champions such as Scott, Jason Day and Matt Kuchar add a second title at The Stadium Course to their resumes, or men like Ponte Vedra Beach resident Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson and Justin Rose win The Players for the first time, their Hall of Fame hopes will have more heft. 

This article is written by Will Brown from The St. Augustine Record, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.