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.

There was certainly lots to get excited about in last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Mid way through the final round, the leaderboard showed Bryson DeChambeau on top with Lee Westwood, Corey Conners and Jordan Spieth just a shot back. What was the most compelling storyline for you on Sunday?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I guess I’m just an old sentimentalist, but I was very sorry that Lee Westwood couldn’t pull it off and win one for us old guys.  Fifty years from now, Lee’s name will be a pretty obscure one in the list of top pro golfers of days gone by (like, say, Hubert Green of the ‘70s, or Mike Souchak of the ’50’s), but it shouldn’t be.  He’s been a fine player for a long time, and so often a bridesmaid when a better putt or two might have made him a major champ.  Winning the API would’ve been like a major to him, at this point.  But, good on DeChambeau… he’s made his awe of AP known before, so I’m sure this was a very delicious victory for him, too.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): For me, last week a good chunk of excitement was Conners, but ended up being Westwood vs Goliath. We got a great storyline in the old fart (47) vs the Hulk (easily one of the top and most talked about players in the game right now), and you know what, it was awesome, coming down to the very last putt. I was really hoping Westy would sneak it out, but I enjoyed the event, nonetheless.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Mine was Cory Conners. He has been posting more and more high finishes and as he does so, he gets more and more comfortable near the top. He was in a great position to win with nine holes to play but missed four quite short makable putts. On the other hand, Bryson (as winners often do) holed one from 30 ft and another from 40 ft. Next up, The Players, another ball striker’s course…….maybe.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (GolfAwayTJ): For me it was Corey Conners.  He’s such a great talent and I was excited to watch and see if he could hold off the others through the weekend.  In the end, he came up just short, but it was great to watch.  I was also cheering hard for the old guy Westwood to pull out his first PGA Tour Victory in over 10 years!

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): It was simply great theatre. Like everybody else, I wanted to see BDC hit the ball over the lake on #6. Beyond that, I was pulling for Conners because he’s Canadian, Westwood because he’s old and Spieth because he’s Spieth, and who doesn’t love a great comeback story. In the end though, DeChambeau may be the most talked about golfer on the PGA Tour. He’s doing something unconventional and making it work. Fans love it. It’s John Daly without the mullet. Very impressive. Very colourful. People always ask who the next Tiger is? We may be watching him right now.

We’ve seen and heard lots of discussion recently about rolling the ball back, bifurcation and generally limiting distance for tour professionals. The set-up at Bay Hill was quite tough, with only three players breaking par on Sunday. It would appear therefore that there are ways to set up a golf course so that it’s tough but fair; isn’t a birdiefest; and is still entertaining for golf fans. Would you agree and is Bay Hill a recipe that can be applied to other Tour stops?

Deeks: I’m not sure what they did to make it tough this weekend, but DeChambeau still came awfully close to driving the ball 375 yards across a lake, so I’m still in favour of bifurcation.  That said, if the Tour could control the wind, that would go a long way to keeping scores reasonable.  Or least, giving creative and truly skilled players a better chance to fight against the bombers.

Loughry: I agree with the sentiment of this question. You’ve heard me preach this before, courses can be setup super tricky and difficult to reduce the advantage of distance to bring the rest of the field closer to the super bombers, primarily putting an emphasis on hitting the fairway. If that means 10-inch rough to slow the BOMB and gouge guys down, then so be it. But long term, that isn’t sustainable. What do you think the cost of that is, and if the audience is emulating what they’re seeing, where does that leave the game? Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed with what Bryson has done, he’s earned it, and it is a skill (and he’s also quite accurate for hitting it that long). But is that what we want to see? A disregard for hitting the fairway (a skill of the game) with virtually no penalty for missing? I don’t have the answer, I just know it’s a set-up that puts more of a premium on accuracy. And no, this doesn’t fit with every course on Tour; Bay Hill is the exception. Over the years, we have lost courses in the rotation of hosting because they are no longer long enough or didn’t have the room or money to expand. Look what Augusta has done to keep up. Is that sustainable?

Schurman: There are two different opinions here. One says “let them shoot 20 under to show the average member at a Club what a push-over their course is. The other says “the TOUR should only play courses that can handle their skill level”. I enjoy both. I know older courses are obsolete but so are cinder racetracks in the Olympics. It annoys me to see -20 because it displays the differences in the style of game that is played today compared to 50 years ago. I like my technology for myself, I just wish I was the only person who had it.

Rule: I thought the setup was great, and the wind on Sunday certainly added to the challenge.  Any time you have wind, firm greens and lots of water, there are bound to be high numbers.  Sometimes you need birdiefests, but not often, so I’d like to see more courses set up like Bay Hill last week.

Mumford: For sure. The set-up didn’t just favour the bombers. Spieth is 88th, Westwood 105th and Conners 114th in driving distance. All average in the 295-yard range. Firm, fast greens, lush rough and a 20-mph wind kept everybody scrambling. Bay Hill showed that a good course set-up can test all the skills and make it fair for everyone. DeChambeau may have driven the lake on #6 but still made the same score as Westwood who was 200 yards back.

The Players Championship kicks off on Thursday, a year after it was postponed and started the COVID shutdown on Tour. Unfortunately Brooks Koepka has withdrawn due to a knee injury but all the rest of the top players in the world are competing. Based on their recent play, who’s your pick to win The Players on Sunday evening?

Deeks: This is a tournament that players really want to win, and as a result, the big names often try too darn hard and come up short.  I’d love to see McIlroy, or a resurgent Spieth, or a young riser like Collin Morikawa win, but I don’t think they will.  Instead, I’m going to suggest Corey Conners, who’s been playing like a Trojan recently. Or how about Lee Westwood?

Loughry: I do look forward to the Players Championship. Who’s my pick? If Spieth continues his fine play of late, I like his chances, especially if he can manage to drive it just a little better this week. Will Finau win? Nope, but I’d lay a bet on him to finish in the top 10. If Reed can cheat a little, he might be a good pick too. I’ll go with Jon Rahm this week though, if its not Spieth. He’s just too good a ball striker and I think he’s ready for this.

Schurman: How can we not all hope for Conners to do something very special but my pick is two guys who have sniffed around the lead at every event but haven’t quite put it all together: Patrick Cantlay and Rory. My bet is on Rory.

Rule: I normally don’t get too excited for the Players but given the field, it’s hard not to get jacked up for this weekend.  Last year I picked Tommy Fleetwood and he went out and shot 80 the first round.  So, I won’t pick him, which means he’ll probably do well.  I hope Corey Conners continues his hot play and is in contention.  It’s a ball striker’s course so he’s got as good a chance as anyone else.  But if I had to pick a winner, I’ll take Rory to defend his 2019 title.

Mumford: Odd that nobody picks the #1 ranked player in the world. He is an enigma. Lots of other players get way more attention. Dustin Johnson just wins quietly. The reality is that there’s so much depth on the Tour these days, that almost anyone can win. That should be especially true at TPC Sawgrass, which is supposed to be as democratic a course as there is, not really favouring any particular type of player. In addition to DJ, I like the way Viktor Hovland has been playing and think maybe Justin Thomas is due for a rebound from Sponsorgate.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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