The Tournament Players Club at Ponte Vedra is one of the greatest venues for stadium golf in the world and The PLAYERS Championship is arguably the strongest field of the year because it’s open to only the highest ranking professionals. Picking a winner is like shooting fish in a barrel since the course favors accuracy over length and the potpourri of recent champions bears that out. The winner is usually the one who drives it the straightest, hits the most greens in regulation, and can handle #16, 17, and 18 on Sunday. The pressure in the final three holes is immense and has broken many a golfer’s heart.
In recent history, the champions haven’t necessarily won the week before, or even in the same season but are generally in good form for the previous month. With that in mind here are your winning picks for 2012:
PLAYERS Champ: Luke Donald. I like him on the strength of his iron game and high GIR potential. Conventional thinking has this coming down to a head-to-head matchup with Rory McIlroy, but I’m a little cool to McIlroy’s 78th place ranking in driving accuracy and 76th place ranking in GIR. Donald is in good form after winning twice, and had a strong fourth place finish here last year. I love his nonchalant approach to the #1 world ranking and results in general. He stays in the moment quite well. Luke’s ready, and will take the first step towards winning a major with a victory here.
Runner Up: Hunter Mayhan. I actually like his ball striking better than Donald’s but his short game is so inferior to Luke’s that you have to give Donald the edge. If Mayhan can stay out of the bunkers (149th on Tour) he’s got a shot to win it but I need to see a win in a big tournament like this before I give him the nod. The image of his chunked chip in the Ryder Cup is still burned in my mind. Is it still in his?
Third Place: David Toms. I’m allowing myself one horses-for-courses pick and Toms drives it straight and had a great TPC last year despite losing in a playoff to K.J. Choi. Also seems to be rounding into form at Wells Fargo after three solid rounds. Momentum is often fleeting on the PGA Tour from week to week, but I’ll ride this horse to a very high finish.
Notes on the field: Bubba Watson is burned out and will not play. Tiger Woods has taken a step back with his missed cut at Wells Fargo and insistence on the root cause being the swing corrections he and Sean (Foley) are working on. Really? Thought he had it worked out after winning at Bay Hill. Again, Tiger has morphed into merely a good PGA caliber pro with a very a high focus on swing mechanics and a long record of success, but in a different virtual lifetime. He’s a very poor pick on this layout since the premium is on ball striking. Last year, Rory McIlroy played the stupid shot off the tree root that injured himself, but he’s in good form at Wells Fargo. I think he comes up short for reasons mentioned earlier. Phil Mickelson is a past champion, but is driving it too inconsistently to threaten. Lee Westwood could make some noise as the venue suits his ball striking, and the greens will not be as fast as Augusta National. With a little less pressure than a major watch him.
Looking forward to some excellent play and a thrilling Sunday finish. Who are your top three picks?