Who will win The Players Championship?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Rickie Fowler held the 54-hole lead at the Wells Fargo Championship on the weekend but quickly faded from contention on Sunday. During his spectacular career, when Tiger Woods held leads, he almost always won those tournaments. Did Tiger’s ability to close the deal unfairly raise our expectations for today’s leading players?

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: In every era on every Tour there have been lots of players who turn in their best round of the tourney on Sunday….when they start well back. Fowler won The Players from way off the pace and that may be his schtick. What Eldrick accomplished with the 54-hole lead is probably his greatest achievement; a never-to-be duplicated combination of intimidation, laser focus and determination, and stunning talent. Still, the best of every era could also close a lot of the deals when they got the chance.

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): It probably did, yes. Tiger was a one-in-a-million thoroughbred, like Secretariat. Of today’s stable of horses, my guess is that Spieth and McIlroy have almost the same degree of talent as Tiger, but whether they have similar focus, only time will tell. But with so many great horses in the race — including Day, Fowler, Bubba, Rose, Scott, Oosthuizen, we’re certainly in for a few great years and many great finishes.

Frank Mastroianni, Canadian Golf Magazine (@frank_mastro): By all reports Tiger was good at closing the deal both on and off the golf course. On the golf course, it’s a person’s own misguided prerogative to transfer expectations from one of the greatest players of all time to anyone who has yet to accomplish even a tenth of what Tiger did. Off the golf course, the same applies. As for Rickie, he has a tendency to fall off the lead on Sunday. And now that he and Spieth are all buddy-buddy, I’d look for Jordan to do the same.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): For sure. It was almost a foregone conclusion that if Tiger had the lead on Sunday, it was all over for everybody else. And the hard part for the players was that they knew it too. Currently, nobody has that kind of impact on the rest of the field. Spieth was close last year but that may have been a one-off. Most players are better chasers than leaders and that’s true for Rickie.  Great come-from-behind win at last year’s Players Championship but his career is marked with more blown leads than titles.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Just about every thing that Tiger did over that 10 year span was so incredible that it really is unfair to compare his achievements with the shortcomings of today’s more ‘mortal’ players.  However, Rickie Fowler deserves some criticism here … he is a Top 5 player in the world, yet he only has 3 career PGA Tour victories?  If the 27-year-old is not going to be able to close the door now, in the prime of his career and at a non-major event, then when will he get it done?

Adidas has announced that it is seeking buyers for TaylorMade, Adams and Ashworth. The company said it wants to focus on its core strengths in the footwear and apparel fields but what does the “For Sale” sign say about the golf equipment industry?

Deeks: I guess it says one of two things… either “these businesses are doing great, and we want to capitalize on them by selling them at a premium”, or “we’ve done all we can, there’s too much competition out there, and sales are going to decline in the years ahead, so we’re going to dump these businesses and get out while the going’s good.”  I don’t know what the answer is… although I’d say that whoever the buyer may be, he (or she, Jim!) will be getting three outstanding brands that make excellent products.

Mumford: The market for golf equipment is not growing. Overall, margins are shrinking. New competitors like Parsons Xtreme Golf have deep pocketed owners who can buy into the high margin side of the business. Other niche players are carving out chunks too. I think adidas looked at their returns and realized that TaylorMade and Adams were dragging them down. Ashworth is just a fringe brand that they have to support. By selling these three brands, they can still participate in golf through footwear and clothing but it’s more of a synergy with their existing lines.

Quinn: It looks like Adams and Ashworth were the twosome dragging down TaylorMade in the adidas Golf Division threesome. Mark King, CEO of adidas USA has been pretty blunt admitting golf is not a growth industry, and he was one of the founders with the National Golf Foundation of the Hack Golf initiative to kick start growth in the game. It’s not growing, and shareholders don’t like anything that doesn’t keep growing. TaylorMade makes the best drivers in the game, and some investment company will likely keep that going without the Adams and Ashworth anchors. What does it say about the golf equipment industry? It’s static, or declining, and perhaps the market doesn’t need a new improved model every couple of months.

Mastroianni: The “Fore” sale sign says the equipment industry is in the tubes. Truthfully, I’ve been choking on the proof in the pudding for a quite a while now. I don’t understand why people keep skirting the reality of the situation but then I remember, oh yeah, it’s because of the millions spent on telling them otherwise and because everyone is so obsessed with being positive at the sacrifice of reality. It’s also a sign of what’s going on with golf in general. We can manipulate the stats and figures all we want to make it seem like golf is doing well, but the fact that four more people are playing golf in Timbuktu doesn’t mean golf is flourishing.

Kaplan: It certainly tells you about the lack of demand for any Adams and Ashworth products … But seriously, I have always felt that every facet of the golf apparel and equipment industry is tremendously overpriced.  So, I am not surprised that the equipment bubble has started to burst.  (BTW, I just checked Ashworth’s website for prices. Their cheapest pair of pants is $100.  That’s insane! No wonder this company is causing Adidas to haemorrhage money).

In its annual anonymous player poll, Sports Illustrated revealed some odd questions and even stranger answers. If you had been able to create one question to ask PGA Tour players in this year’s anonymous poll, what would it be?

Quinn: SI always tries too hard to be cute on this poll, like having the only interesting or honest comments termed: Loose Lips. OMG! Not paying for a shot from the mini bar! Anyway, instead of once again confirming that the majority are card-carrying right wingers, they should have asked: Which slow players really piss you off and should they be charged strokes? If not, why not?

Mastroianni: If you were stuck on an airplane in a boat with the Burger King and Twizzlers would you: A) Swim to shore to catch a tiger; B) Order Domino’s Pizza and feed it to the monkeys; or C) Throw the Twizzlers off the plane?

Deeks: I haven’t seen the poll or the results, so I don’t know whether anyone was asked “How do you feel about Scott and Oosthuizen skipping the Olympics… who cares? Or, how could these guys be so selfish?”

Kaplan: If you were able to choose any current PGA Tour player to be your opponent in a playoff at the Masters, who would it be?

Mumford: I’d like to know what changes they would make to the Tour schedule if they could devise it the way they wanted.

The “fifth” major kicks off this week in Ponte Vedra with arguably the strongest field in golf. Who’s your pick to win the Players Championship?

Mastroianni: Sergio Garcia has been in the top 10 the last three years and inside the top 3 the last two. It’s a no-brainer.

Kaplan: Sir Spieth.

Deeks: I’d like to see Jason Day win, and solidify his position as the Third Man in the Spieth-McIlroy-NE1 trio.  That said, I’d also like to see McIlroy win it, ‘cause he needs to re-establish his bona fides.

Quinn: With the top 20 guys and 46 of the top 50 teeing it up, no question it’s the best field of the year and deserves to be ranked the 5th best event. And Dye’s layout — especially the closing three holes — is made for TV drama. Here’s hoping the best of the best rise to the occasion and the new Big Three have it out over the weekend. I think Rory is ready to be number one again.

Mumford: TPC Sawgrass doesn’t favour any particular type of player – just someone who gets really hot for four days. My wife says Adam Scott and Jason Day are hot all the time so I’m picking the Australian duo. Edge to Day.

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