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.
Last week Rory McIlroy started the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational one shot off the lead and in a prime spot to defend his title but couldn’t get the job done. McIlroy shot even par 72 and finished T6 as seven players caught or passed him on Sunday. It was McIlroy’s seventh time in the final group in the past year, all without a win. Does Rory have a problem and if so, what can he do about it?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): The problem for Rory on Sunday at Bay Hill was putting. It was excruciating watching him miss 8- and 10-footers, but that’s not rare for Rory. Whether or not it’s an issue of choking down the stretch, who knows? I’d like to see the guy win one or two and get himself back into the confidence circle. A win at TPC would do wonders, and I wouldn’t bet against him.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: I’ve said this before. Rory is not alone in this dilemma. Today’s young players burst onto the scene and in a very short time they ‘rocket’ right to the top winning several tournaments perhaps even a major or two which qualifies them for a mega $$$$$$$ endorsement deal. Plus, they are eligible for huge appearance fees and unbelievable attention. At young ages, they are ill-equipped to handle such huge changes to their life. Rory will shoot low scores and always appear to be contention, but he won’t squeeze every drop of golf accomplishment out of his talent.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I mean, it’s a small sample size. Yes, the guy has botched his last 7 final pairings in a row—some outlets have that number as high as 9 and I was too lazy to confirm—and hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in nearly a year, but it’s a small snapshot in time. McIlroy isn’t yet 30 and has already won 4 majors and 14 total PGA Tour events. He may be struggling to close at the moment but that’s not going to last, especially with his driver skills. It’s not like he’s playing badly by any extent. Most players would kill to have finishes of T4, T5, T4, solo 2nd, and a T6 over their last 5 starts . . . and three of those final Sunday rounds have been scores of 69 or lower. Truly, I’m far more concerned about Spieth’s play of late.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It is very surprising that he can’t finish the deal when he’s in or near the lead. Last year he played great to win from behind, with birdies on 5 of the last 6 holes. Not sure why it’s so different when he is ahead. I guess some guys thrive in those circumstances, and some struggle. Just goes to show how impressive Tiger’s career record is when he’s tied or in the lead entering the last round. Hard to say what he can do about it other than visiting a golf shrink to change his state of mind when he gets into those situations.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: On the 72nd hole of Arnie’s tourney Rory ripped a 3 metal 298 yards (298yards!) into position A+. He then hit an indifferent approach and two-putted for par. Mercurial. A year ago, he putted like, well how good…hmmm, like a Molinari. This year, racking up top 5s and top 10s, Rory is putting like his ownself (sorry, Dan) one round and then like me the next. Guessing from afar, Rory has a big alignment problem with his putter. He doesn’t scare the hole sometimes from inside 5 feet. Dave Stockton could fix that in an hour, and he’d be back.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): It would be unrealistic to expect McIlroy to convert his last group pairings at the same rate as Tiger, but this is beyond silly. The guy that played great for three days to get himself into the last group is not the same guy that shows up on Sunday. Sunday Rory looks like he’s afraid of his own shadow and can’t putt to save his life. The other day he said, “he’s just got to sit back and let it happen.” Maybe, but it seems to me the guys who win don’t sit around waiting for it to come to them – they go out and make it happen. I think Rory has to keep the pedal down all the way to Sunday evening.
Legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins died last week at the age of 90. In addition to his brilliant and witty columns in Sports Illustrated, Jenkins was a noted author of books such as Semi-Tough and Dead Solid Perfect. What’s your favourite Jenkins memory and what made him so good?
Deeks: I’m not sure I have a Dan Jenkins memory, although I read a lot of his magazine work over the years. Yes, he was funny, but to be honest, I was a little sceptical of how Dan liked to make himself the story as much as the world he was covering. But RIP Dan, you traveled a lot of miles and made a lot of people smile.
Schurman: Dan Jenkins claimed the most important feature of his writing was to be ‘right’ and then let everything else take of itself. My favourite quote of his is ” A guy came up to me in a bar and says aren’t you Dan Jenkins? Yes, I replied. The guy says, I’ve read some of your stuff and you got a problem.” Jenkins said to him “No, you’ve got a problem, I’ve got the typewriter”.
Kaplan: I didn’t always agree with him, but I loved the way Jenkins never missed an opportunity to take a shot at Tiger Woods while the rest of the media grovelled at the 14-time major champion’s feet. And I always marvelled at how candid his writing felt. It always seemed like you were getting an unfiltered, first-hand account of what players were thinking and whatever was going on behind the scenes. He will be missed.
Rule: The first thing I think of when I hear Dan Jenkins, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this one, is the fake interview he posted in Golf Digest with Tiger Woods. I have to admit, it seemed a bit strange to me, but did also make me laugh. And let’s be honest, as much as I like Tiger as a golfer, and want him to succeed on the course, the things he mentions in the article probably aren’t far from the truth!
Quinn: I was lucky. My early years in journalism involved editors and writers with two or three ashtrays on their desks and at least one bottle of scotch in the bottom drawer. You never knew when you were going to pull an all-nighter. Jenkins was of that era, and earlier, and he lived it large and to the fullest. You don’t come up with lines like his after a kale salad and a jasmine tea. Semi-tough came out a couple of years after tendon and cartilage tears and broken bones ended my dreams of pro football. Like the rest, it made me laugh at the whole deal and at myself. My favourite Jenkins legacy is the expressions that are now so much a part of sport and life that we forget the origin. Dead solid perfect, life its ownself, you gotta play hurt, 10 stages of drunkenness, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, and on and on. He was great because he was honest. And my favourite line, when Eldrick was #1 and didn’t want to meet him, Jenkins wrote: “Only two things can stop him: injury or a bad marriage.” RIP.
Mumford: I always loved reading Jenkins’ recap of the majors in Sports Illustrated. Even when it was weeks later and you knew who won, the way Jenkins described it was like you were seeing it for the first time. His unique perspective, unparalleled access to players and witty irreverent writing brought events to life even better than live television. That translated into his novels too. Dead Solid Perfect is still one of my favourites. There’s a lot of competition and jealousy among sports writers and Jenkins certainly had his detractors, but I suspect deep down, all of them wished they could write like Dan.
The Players Championship kicks off this week. Many players say the course was designed with a March date in mind, when the winds will be tougher and the temperatures not quite as inviting. Who’s your pick to win the so-called “fifth major”?
Deeks: Having said what I said about Rory above, I’m gonna say he’s my pick this week. He’s playing well, and if he can keep his head on Sunday, and make SOME of those 10-foot birdies, why wouldn’t he be a good choice? The Players, though, does have a history of having some never-anticipated winners, so if you’re asking who’s an outside choice, I’d say Tommy Fleetwood. And for a real off the wall pick, how about Kevin Kisner?
Schurman: Here we go! The new schedule and finally I think they have it right! The first major of 2019, the Players is right where it should be; leading the pack. It has the strongest field, a great course and at the right time of year. In days of yore, the kick-off event was the Crosby at Pebble. That’s when you began polishing your clubs and putting on the carpet. With the combined season schedule nobody knows when it is, but the Players in March will do the trick! As the fifth major, it will attract ‘major’ attention and the ‘major league’ players will be ready. The usual cast of characters will be there: Rose, Rory, Bryson and Thomas. But the guy who is playing the best of them all is DJ. Johnson will ‘smoke’ them!
Kaplan: I’m feeling lucky, so I’ll go off the board and select Patrick Cantlay. He has finishes of T17 or better in 7 of his 8 starts this season, finishes of T23 and T22 in his only two career appearances at Sawgrass and somehow hasn’t won since November 2017. The man is due!
Rule: Well the weather doesn’t look terrible the first couple of days this weekend but turns cool and rainy on the weekend. Typically, Pete Dye courses are made for ball strikers and Sawgrass is no exception. So, the way that Molinari is playing right now, it would be hard to bet against him! But I’m going to go out on more of a limb and pick his Ryder Cup bromance partner Tommy Fleetwood to win this week.
Quinn: Back to the future, again, with the Tour. I played it in March, and we had a two-hour frost delay. Not sure, but it seemed like the greens were running about 15. Seemed fair. This time around it could be a non-American, sorry International, fist pumping on that green at the end of a ribbon of Bermuda along the lake. Mr. and Mrs. Dye were pretty well fixated on the 18th at Pebble when they concocted this one. Anyway, I think it would be great if Rory figures out his putter and wedges (a tad), or Fleetwood gets just a bit more self-confidence. The world is poised, so many great players. Don’t think we’re going to see anther Webb-like winner.
Mumford: TPC Sawgrass is probably one of the most democratic courses on the PGA Tour. It doesn’t favour anybody. The Players Championship has been won by bombers and bunters and improbable longshots. It’s a shot-maker’s course but also one that must be managed supremely well. The move to March may put even more pressure on course management. Molinari would appear to have the hot hand at the moment and another win by the Italian wouldn’t be a surprise. However, I think the other half of the Molywood combo, Tommy Fleetwood, might be the last man standing on Sunday night.