It was at this tournament last year when “normal” went out the window. On Tuesday of the Players Championship in 2020, thousands of maskless fans packed the 17th hole to watch the Chainsmokers perform. By Friday morning, players were clearing out their lockers, and golf—and the rest of the world—was on hold.
The world’s best return to TPC Sawgrass this week for a Players Championship that, barring anything really crazy, should last longer than one round. As always, the field is a “who’s who” of the game’s elite; 49 of the top 50 will tee it up for the richest prize on the PGA Tour: $2.7 million to the winner from a overall purse of $15 million. It’s not a major, but it’s the next best thing.
To help you make wagers, win your pool, fill out your daily fantasy squad or simply be a more informed viewer, Golf Digest has ranked the top 100 players teeing it up in Ponte Vedra Beach. Happy reading, and happy viewing.
100. Phil Mickelson
Age: 50 World Ranking: 31 Players starts: 26
Best Players finish: WIN, 2007
Father Time seems to finally be on the offensive against Lefty, who turns 51 in June. In eight starts on the PGA Tour this season, he’s missed the cut four times and has no finishes better than T-44. In related news: He’s slowly starting to shift his focus at least a bit toward the PGA Tour Champions, where he won his first two starts before settling for a T-20 in his last appearance. The rumor mill says broadcasting is on the table as well. Mickelson does have a victory at the Players but has not played TPC Sawgrass well as he’s aged, missing the cut in six of his last seven starts and posting no sub-70 rounds since Saturday in 2011. In related news: Phil’s misses are big, and big misses at TPC tend to result in penalty strokes. He’s surely got a few more pushes in him and he could well win again at a track that suits his game, but this does not fit the bill.
99. Brian Gay
Age: 49 World Ranking: 199 Players starts: 16
Best Players finish: T-12, 2011
How can you not love the fall season, when it produces winners like a 49-year-old who entered the week ranked outside the top 300 in the world? His magical week in Bermuda gave him new life on tour and berths into a bunch of big tournaments, including this one.
98. Danny Willett
Age: 33 World Ranking: 72 Players starts: 5
Best Players finish: MC
Last five starts before Bay Hill all came in the Middle East, where he made all five cuts but didn’t record a top-10. Has been rather poor on the PGA Tour in the last 12 months, missing the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2020 and only making about half his cuts. Sample size is small for this season, but he ranked outside the top 100 in strokes gained/approach, around the green, tee-to-green and overall in 2019-20. Has not broken 70 nor made the weekend in any of his five Players starts.
97. Harold Varner III
Age: 30 World Ranking: 139 Players starts: 4
Best Players finish: T-7, 2018
Has no top-10s on the wraparound season yet but that doesn’t tell the whole story, as he ranks 41st in strokes gained/overall and 19th in strokes gained/approach. Has put himself in position in some big events after 36 holes but has not been able to close, and thus is still chasing his first PGA Tour win.
96. Nick Taylor
Age: 32 World Ranking: 123 Players starts: 4
Best Players finish: T-16, 2019
Former World No. 1 amateur hasn’t quite had the same success at the professional level, although he did win a second tour event last year at Pebble Beach. Outside the top 100 in all major strokes-gained categories. Closed with three straight rounds in the 60s at the 2019 Players to notch a top-20 finish.
95. Hudson Swafford
Age: 33 World Ranking: 188 Players starts: 4
Best Players finish: T-30, 2015
Big Georgia grad won last year’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship but has no top-20 finishes in his nine starts since. Scoring average is above 72 and he actually ranks 209th in strokes gained/overall this season … but hey, he had his week, and thus he’s locked into status for the next two years. Winning covers up quite a bit.
94. Robert Streb
Age: 33 World ranking: 117 Players starts: 4
Best Players finish: T-30, 2015
Won seemingly out of nowhere at the RSM Classic last fall but hasn’t done a whole lot since, and comes in off four straight missed cuts.
93. Rory Sabbatini
Age: 44 World Ranking: 109 Players starts: 18
Best Players finish: T-6, 2015
ESPN 30-for-30 voice: What if I told you Rory Sabbatini has six PGA Tour victories and more than $35 million in career earnings? Carved out a terrific career for himself and still hanging around well into his 40s. Has four finishes of T-12 or better on the year to all but assure he’ll keep his card for yet another season.
92. Chez Reavie
Age: 39 World Ranking: 69 Players starts: 9
Best Players finish: T-30, 2015
One of the shortest hitters on tour but also one of the straightest, and he makes up for his lack of distance with superb approach play (12th in strokes gained thus far this season). Done nothing really of note in his six starts at TPC Sawgrass except that he’s never hit the ball in the water on the par-3 17th, going a perfect 18-for-18.
91. Mark Hubbard
Age: 31 World Ranking: 157 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: CUT, 2017
Owner of maybe the best nickname on tour in “Homeless Hubbs,” and provider of maybe the funniest highlight on tour this year with his “snail” putting gag at The American Express. As far as actual golf goes, he’s got work to do to make the FedEx Cup playoffs this year and went 76-75 in his only previous Players start.
90. Tom Hoge
Age: 31 World Ranking: 113 Players starts: 2
Best Players finish: T-30, 2019
TCU grad has a tendency to go low when he’s on, but his swing relies on timing and he hasn’t been able to get it across the finish line for a win just yet. Has shot par or better in seven of his eight trips around TPC Sawgrass, which is certainly encouraging.
89. Martin Laird
Age: 38 World Ranking: 143 Players starts: 10
Best Players finish: T-2, 2012
Playing on a sponsor’s invite, he won for the first time in seven-plus years last fall at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, Missed five of his next seven cuts but flashed some form at Bay Hill, where he played in the final group on Saturday. Only made the cut in half of his 10 starts at the Players but does have a runner-up nine years ago.
88. Charley Hoffman
Age: 44 World Ranking: 143 Players starts: 13
Best Players finish: T-22, 2010
Still hanging around on tour well into his 40s, he recently surpassed $30 million in career earnings despite not winning in more than five years. Still has plenty of pop, as he’s 24th in driving distance at 306.5 yards, and ranks 22nd in strokes gained/off the tee. Has a scoring average of 72.43 over 40 rounds at the Players, so it’d be surprising to see him contend.
87. Harry Higgs
Age: 29 World ranking: 91 Players starts: First
His unbuttoned shirt and wayfarer shades are a vibe and a half. Began the season with a solo second at the Safeway to all but lock up his tour card for next year, but no top-20s in his 10 starts since.
86. Talor Gooch
Age: 29 World Ranking: 86 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: CUT, 2019
Quietly having a solid season. Took fifth at the CJ Cup and fourth at the Houston Open last fall, and finished T-12 at Riviera against a very stacked field. Nothing jumps off the page statistically. Missed the cut in his lone Players start and shot two-over 74 on Thursday last year.
85. Brendan Steele
Age: 37 World Ranking: 89 Players starts: 9
Best Players finish: T-6, 2017
Shot 61 on Saturday at the Sony Open en route to a T-4 finish, his lone top-10 in 12 starts this season. Has shot 75 or worse nine times in his 25 rounds at TPC Sawgrass.
84. Aaron Wise
Age: 24 World Ranking: 136 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: CUT, 2019
Took solo second at Mayakoba to cap a strong fall season but hasn’t done much in his two starts in 2021, missing the cut at The American Express and finishing 66th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Has not yet shown the ability to contend against a top-level field.
83. Stewart Cink
Age: 47 World Ranking: 145 Players starts: 20
Best Players finish: T-3, 2007
A feel-good winner at last fall’s Safeway Open, his first title since breaking Tom Watson’s heart in 2009 at the Open Championship and essentially locking up full PGA Tour status until he reaches PGA Tour Champions-eligible age. There should be a name for that feat—keeping your card every year until you’re 50—so we’ll unofficially dub it “The Cink.” Got that victory at the Safeway with his son, Reagan, on the bag. Made his son his permanent caddie shortly after another top-five finish in Bermuda but has cooled a bit since, coming in off back-to-back missed cuts. Does have a top-three finish at the Players … but it came was when George W. Bush was president, and it’s his only top-10 at Sawgrass in 20 starts … and he has not broken 70 in 18 straight rounds here.
82. Peter Malnati
Age: 33 World Ranking: 151 Players starts: 2
Best Players finish: CUT, 2017
Might be the friendliest player on tour, and we love to see a nice guy succeed. Which he has—finished runner-up to Sergio Garcia at the Sanderson Farms last fall and has two top-14 finishes so far in 2021, which explains how he’s 17th in strokes gained/overall and sixth in strokes gained/putting. But Pete Dye courses make no exceptions for nice guys, and he’s yet to break 74 in four rounds at TPC Sawgrass.
81. Cameron Champ
Age: 25 World Ranking: 77 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: WD, 2019
On one hand, he’s 25 and has two PGA Tour victories. On the other, you get the sense he’s not getting the most out of his exceptional talent. Whereas Bryson DeChambeau’s 130 mile-per-hour swings looks violent, Champ is blessed with effortless power and a breathtakingly natural swing, and yet he’s still sitting outside the top 70 in the World Ranking. The culprit? He ranks near the bottom of virtually every short-game and putting statistic. Missed three straight cuts before a T-48 (out of 72) at the no-cut WGC-Workday Championship and shot 78 in his only official round at TPC Sawgrass, the first round of the 2019 Players before he withdrew.
80. Russell Knox
Age: 35 World Ranking: 213 Players starts: 6
Best Players finish: T-17, 2015
The Scotsman went to Jacksonville University and lives in the Jacksonville Beach area, so this absolutely qualifies as a home game. Has six top-25 finishes in 13 starts this year but all of them have come against sub-par fields.
79. Mackenzie Hughes
Age: 30 World Ranking: 51 Players starts: 2
Best Players finish: T-16, 2017
Canadian player got hot at the right time last year to sneak into the Tour Championship. Has struggled with his ball-striking this year but his putting, always a strength, and a T-3 last fall in the Dominican Republic has kept him afloat in the FedEx Cup and World Ranking. Made the cut in both of his starts at TPC Sawgrass.
78. Wyndham Clark
Age: 27 World Ranking: 125 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: DQ, 2019
A wild history at this tournament—in his first appearance in 2019, he shot 80 on Thursday, only to get disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Hoped to flush that away in 2020, only for COVID to happen. He’s had a nice season to date, with a solo second in Bermuda last fall and a T-8 at the Genesis. An absolute bomber, he ranks third on tour in driving distance but is hitting just 47 percent of his fairways … and still ranks 59th in strokes gained/off the tee, which says a lot about the modern game.
77. Joel Dahmen
Age: 33 World Ranking: 72 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: T-12, 2019
One of the funniest and most popular players on tour, you need only to follow his caddie Geno Bonnalie on Twitter to understand why. Showed quite well in his only full Players start, shooting four under-par rounds in taking T-12 in 2019. Unfortunately, his five starts in 2021 have yielded four missed cuts and a T-60. Simply has not been sharp, and at his driving distance (or lack thereof), you cannot afford to not be sharp.
76. Cameron Davis
Age: 26 World Ranking: 131 Players starts: First
Tall Aussie may be an unfamiliar name to casual golf fans. Hung around the lead at The American Express and has good ball striking numbers, ranking 15th in SG/off the tee and 45th in SG/approach the green.
75. Adam Hadwin
Age: 33 World Ranking: 90 Players starts: 5
Best Players finish: T-30, 2017
He won’t wow you with his physical gifts but the Canadian has hung around on tour for seven seasons, racking up more than $12 million and making back-to-back International Presidents Cup teams. No top-10s in his last 17 events and has broken 70 just once in 16 career rounds at TPC Sawgrass.
74. Chris Kirk
Age: 35 World Ranking: 111 Players starts: 9
Best Players finish: T-13, 2015
Came through big-time when he needed to most earlier this year in Hawaii: playing in his last tournament on a major medical exemption after he took a leave to address alcohol issues, eh needed a top-three finish at the Sony Open … and a closing 65 to finish T-2. Has made the cut in seven of nine Players appearances with three top-25s.
73. Alex Noren
Age: 38 World Ranking: 95 Players starts: 3
Best Players finish: 10, 2017
Dropped a level from his perch in 2016-18, when he was a prolific winner in Europe and had a cup of coffee inside the top 10 of the World Ranking. Few work harder in world golf, and he’s been grinding for a while now—decided to stick with a fade exclusively after an unsuccessful dalliance with shaping it both ways. Started his Players career with a 10th and a T-17 but missed the cut in 2019.
72. Rickie Fowler
Age: 32 World Ranking: 65 Players starts: 10
Best Players finish: WIN, 2015
Has surpassed Jordan Spieth as the Spring Breaker riding the struggle bus hardest. His last top-10 came in the pre-COVID world, and as a result he’s dropped to No. 65 in the World Ranking—meaning he’s got serious work to do if he’s to avoid missing the Masters. Dropped Butch and Claude Harmon III as his swing coaches in 2019 and switched to John Tillery, but the changes haven’t taken quite yet, and he’s been open about the mental toll of the prolonged slump. Perhaps most concerning is the dip in putting—long considered one of the purest putters out there, he’s ranked 167th in strokes gained on the greens this year. Has been experimenting with different putters and even tried left-hand-low (gasp) to try to jolt it back to where it was at his mid-2010s best. Perhaps a return to the site of his biggest win will make all the difference. One can hope.
71. Doc Redman
Age: 23 World Ranking: 126 Players starts: First
Former U.S. Amateur champion is a favorite in the gambling/DFS crowd but has yet to win on tour. The eyes are drawn to his short-game numbers, which are abysmal: 204th in SG/around the green and 190th in GS/putting. Had two top-four finishes in his first four events of the wraparound season, but those came against weaker fields and he went T-70/MC/MC/MC on the West Coast swing.
70. James Hahn
Age: 39 World Ranking: 154 Players starts: 6
Best Players finish: T-30, 2015
Began the wraparound season with three straight top-10s and added another, albeit more disappointing one, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open—where he surged into the lead then went in reverse, fast. This has been something of a career resurgence—he’s making his first appearance at the Players since 2018. Has missed the cut in three of his six starts at TPC Sawgrass.
69. Kevin Streelman
Age: 42 World Ranking: 56 Players starts: 11
Best Players finish: T-2, 2013
Began the season with a T-3 at the Safeway Open. Doesn’t have a top-10 since but is hanging around in the FedEx Cup thanks to a bunch of T-25-range finishes. He can still contend on venues that suit him—usually shorter, accuracy-first tests. TPC Sawgrass wouldn’t seem to be too much course for him on paper, and he finished runner-up in 2013, but his six starts since have yielded four missed cuts, a T-72 and a T-74.
68. Brian Harman
Age: 34 World Ranking: 94 Players starts: 8
Best Players finish: T-8, 2019
Playing awfully consistent golf at the moment, with just one missed cut in his last 18 starts (explaining how he’s 48th in SG/overall, a surprisingly impressive number) but only one top 10 in the span. Has two T-8s in eight starts at the Players, including in 2019. Not a long hitter but knows his game and steers away from trouble, which pays dividends at Sawgrass.
67. Emiliano Grillo
Age: 28 World Ranking: 150 Players starts: 20
Best Players finish: 11, 2017
PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2016 simply hasn’t blossomed into the world-class player most thought he would. Still makes his fair share of cuts and is a joy to watch on the driving range, but startling to see his World Ranking drop so low. Closed with 66 on Sunday of the 2019 Players.
66. J.T. Poston
Age: 27 World Ranking: 67 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: T-22, 2019
While one of the tour’s better putters, Poston has just one top-10 on the wraparound season, a solo third at the Sanderson Farms last fall. Opened with 68-69 in his first Players appearance two years ago en route to a solid T-22.
65. Matthew NeSmith
Age: 27 World Ranking: 144 Players starts: First
South Carolina grad made the FedEx Cup playoffs in his rookie season in 2020 and is having an even better sophomore campaign, with six top-25s in 12 starts. Had a nice West Coast swing with three straight top-20s at Phoenix, Pebble and Los Angeles and ranks an impressive ninth in SG/approach. Has yet to play in a major or the Players, so certainly an exciting week.
64. Bubba Watson
Age: 42 World Ranking: 54 Players starts: 12
Best Players finish: T-37, 2016
His two top-10s in the wraparound season came in the fall and he’s riding a MC at Riviera and a T-54 (out of 72) at the WGC-Workday. Hasn’t fared all that well on Bermuda in his career (surprising given his Florida roots) plus he’s the quintessential horse-for-course golfer, and this isn’t his course, with no finishes better than T-37 in 12 attempts at the Players.
63. Bernd Wiesberger
Age: 35 World Ranking: 42 Players starts: 14
Best Players finish: T-12, 2017
Austrian has had a nice resurgence in Europe over the past 18 months or so, which explains the high World Ranking, but hasn’t been as big a threat in the U.S. Did finish T-4 at the RSM Classic last fall but was outside the top 40 at the WGC-Workday, Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship, Memorial … you get the picture.
62. Henrik Stenson
Age: 44 World Ranking: 88 Players starts: 14
Best Players finish: WIN, 2009
Played one of the better rounds in Players history with a final-round 66 in 2009 for the title. What’s more, he didn’t put a single tee in the ground all day—never hit driver and prefers to pick it off the turf with every other club. But that was then, and this is now, and he has struggled for more than a year. Coming into Bay Hill he’d missed the weekend in nine of his last 14 starts and his last top-10 in a PGA Tour event came at the 2019 U.S. Open.
61. Maverick McNealy
Age: 25 World Ranking: 128 Players starts: First
Finally seems to be hitting his stride as a professional. Was the World No. 1 amateur during a stellar career at Stanford but has taken a bit of time—at least by today’s Morikawa-Wolff-Hovland standards—to establish himself on tour. Picked up his best finish yet with a solo second at Pebble Beach, which was punctuated on the 72nd hole by one of the fiercest club twirls we’ve seen this side of Tiger Woods.
60. Shane Lowry
Age: 33 World Ranking: 40 Players starts: 5
Best Players finish: T-16, 2016
Has not been able to replicate the form that saw him win the Open Championship by six—he has just two top-10s worldwide since that magical week at Royal Portrush, and none in his last 15 starts. As a result, he’s sliding down the World Ranking and doesn’t have much positive history at the Players to fall back on, with three missed cuts in five starts. He’s an artist-type player, a feel-first guy who love options, and Pete Dye golf courses with water hazards everywhere don’t seem like he cup o’ tea.
59. Gary Woodland
Age: 36 World Ranking: 45 Players starts: 8
Best Players finish: T-11, 2014
Lost a ton of weight over the COVID-hiatus and has lost some significant ground in the World Ranking since his return. Has missed the cut in half his starts on the season and has just one top-25, which came at The American Express. Ranks 219th in SG/off the tee despite being 32nd in distance, which tells you how little control he has over his tee ball at the moment.
58. Brendon Todd
Age: 35 World Ranking: 48 Players starts: 2
Best Players finish: T-51, 2015
Guys like him, who average 276 yards off the tee, shouldn’t be as competitive as he is on a week-in/week-out basis. Unsurprisingly, he leads the tour in fairway percentage and hardly ever beats himself. Caught an unreal heater when he won back-to-back events toward the end of 2019, which capped off a dramatic comeback from the golfing abyss. Just one top-10 so far this season.
57. Cameron Tringale
Age: 33 World Ranking: 92 Players starts: 6
Best Players finish: T-16, 2016
Not a household name among average golf fans but he’s been steady eddy this year, with five top-30 finishes in his last six starts heading into Bay Hill. Ranks an impressive 25th in SG/overall and he’s playing much better than his World Ranking would suggest.
56. Si Woo Kim
Age: 25 World Ranking: 52 Players starts: 4
Best Players finish: WIN, 2017
Was truly a shock winner as a 21-year-old in 2017, still the youngest champion in tournament history. Did not win again after that until this January, when he held off a hard-charging Patrick Cantlay with a final-round 64 to win The American Express. That, too, came on a Pete Dye course, but he withdrew after a first-round 80 at Bay Hill in his last start and missed the cut in the two prior to that. Massive potential and now working with Claude Harmon III, but still trying to find the week-in week-out consistency.
55. Lanto Griffin
Age: 32 World Ranking: 50 Players starts: First
Late bloomer out of Virginia Commonwealth, of all places, won twice in 2019 to emerge from the mini-tour abyss after years of grinding. Has two top-10s on the year, at Shadow Creek and Torrey Pines, and makes his money with his iron play. Shot 71 on Thursday last year in his only taste of TPC Sawgrass.
54. Byeong Hun An
Age: 29 World Ranking: 80 Players starts: 3
Best Players finish: T-26, 2019
He’s a ball-striker, and this is a ball-striker’s course, which helps explain how he’s broken par seven of his last eight officials rounds at TPC Sawgrass and posted top-30s in his last two Players. But, as he’d be the first to tell you—his self-deprecating Twitter account is a must-follow—he might be the worst putter inside the top 100 on the World Ranking. Currently ranks 27th in SG/tee-to-green and 231st in SG/putting, which tells you everything you need to know.
53. Sam Burns
Age: 24 World Ranking: 78 Players starts: First
Laconic Louisianian slept on the lead three straight nights at the Genesis Invitational, then had one hand on the trophy after shooting a bogey-free 31 on the front nine. Doing that, against a field featuring eight of the top 10 players in the world, hints at what he’s capable of. Was the college player of the year at LSU in 2017, so not a huge surprise to see him hanging with the big stars, and he’s put himself in position after 36 holes a number of times. Winning is the next step.
52. Ian Poulter
Age: 45 World Ranking: 61 Players starts: 16
Best Players finish: 2, 2009
Still grinding at 45, he played the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open two weeks ago while the big stars collected the free money at the WGC-Workday. In related news: It’s a Ryder Cup year, and he knows this may be his last real chance to make the team. Has a very solid track record at Sawgrass with two runner-ups in his 16 starts. Relies heavily on his short game as he ranks 117th in SG/off the tee and a near-dead-last 213rd in SG/approach.
51. Marc Leishman
Age: 37 World Ranking: 35 Players starts: 10
Best Players finish: T-8, 2013
Went through a gnarly stretch in the summer where he couldn’t make a cut but looks to have put that behind him—he’s gotten to the weekend in five of his last six starts and posted a T-4 at the Sony Open in January. Still, though, the statistics don’t paint a pretty picture and he has dropped a level from the consistent top-25 player he’s been in recent years. Missed two of his last three cuts at TPC Sawgrass and his best results in the Players came in 2013-15.
50. Billy Horschel
Age: 34 World Ranking: 32 Players starts: 7
Best Players finish: T-13, 2015
Had a front row seat to Collin Morikawa’s impressive display at the WGC-Workday, as he played in the final group and hung tough for a T-2. That was his third top-seven performance of the wraparound season, so he’s clearly in a good spot with his game, plus he has four finishes of T-28 or better in seven starts at the Players. He’d be a surprise winner, but not a complete shock.
49. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
Age: 26 World Ranking: 37 Players starts: First
Won in back-to-backs weeks on the European Tour last winter to vault up the World Ranking. Continues to do most of his damage on the Old World Circuit, as he just missed getting his PGA Tour card through non-member points. He may well have gotten that card if last year’s Players wasn’t cancelled; he shot a bogey-free 65 in his first trip around TPC Sawgrass before the world came tumbling down. At 26, feels like only a matter of time until the South African becomes a global player with a presence on both tours.
48. Abraham Ancer
Age: 30 World Ranking: 28 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: T-12, 2019
The charismatic Mexican is a bit of a throwback player—doesn’t hit it a mile, not a huge fan of training aids, relies on feel. A joy to watch around the greens, he’s become known for producing some jaw-dropping spinners and certainly has a flair for the dramatic. Showed quite nicely in his first Players in 2019, entering Sunday inside the top five before stalling a bit in the final round. Nothing jumps off the page statistically, just a solid, well-rounded player who’s still looking for his first PGA Tour win. Off to a so-so start to 2021, with three finishes of T-18 or better but two missed cuts and a T-53 sprinkled in.
47. Jason Kokrak
Age: 35 World Ranking: 31 Players starts: 7
Best Players finish: T-46, 2018
The big man from Ohio won for the first time in more than 200 career starts at the CJ Cup last fall. Cooled off considerably since then but did notch a top-10 at the WGC-Workday, another Bermuda course in Florida with plenty of water hazards. Does not have a top-10 in 21 career starts in the majors/Players, so he has not fared as well in the big events as he has in regular tour events. The temptation is to classify him as a bomber, given his size, yet he ranks just 36th in driving distance but ninth in SG/putting.
46. Harris English
Age: 31 World Ranking: 19 Players starts: 8
Best Players finish: T-33, 2013
Capped a terrific stretch of play with a victory at the Sentry TOC in January, his first win in more than seven years. Back on the world stage after three years in the golfing wilderness as he dealt with injuries and a loss of confidence, which helps explain the emotion after winning at Kapalua. Hasn’t been the same player in his four starts since, though, with back-to-back missed cuts at Torrey Pines and Phoenix then finishing 66th (out of 72) at the WGC-Workday. And then there’s his history at Sawgrass, which is hard to look at: MC Hammers in each of the last six Players. But, and it’s a big but, he shot 65 on Thursday last year.
45. Russell Henley
Age: 31 World Ranking: 55 Players starts: 7
Best Players finish: T-17, 2014
Jumped roughly 200 spots in the World Ranking this past year thanks to six top-10s, including a T-3/T-4 stretch at the CJ Cup and Zozo last fall. One of the better iron players in the world, he ranked third in SG/approach last season and is sixth this year. You do get the sense a win is coming soon, and he plays difficult courses well. Missed the cut in each of his last two Players starts.
44. Branden Grace
Age: 32 World Ranking: 83 Players starts: 6
Best Players finish: T-42, 2015
While all the stars battled it out at The Concession, the South African won the Puerto Rico Open to lock up status for the next two-plus years. Had a rough 2020 with 10 missed cuts in 16 starts and voluntarily withdrew from the Barracuda Championship despite sitting T-2 after 36 holes. (He did indeed have COVID). Then lost his dad, Peter, to COVID. Remains the only man in golf history to shoot 62 in a major championship. Has made the cut in all six starts at the Players, but never finished better than T-42.
43. Justin Rose
Age: 40 World Ranking: 36 Players starts: 16
Best Players finish: T-4, 2014
It’s been a rather turbulent couple of years since he summitted the World Ranking. Left TaylorMade for Honma, then wiggled out of that deal after a precipitous drop in performance, then left longtime swing coach Sean Foley last summer but is now back with Foley. Best finish in six starts this year is a T-17, and just pulled out of Bay Hill due to back spasms. He ranks outside the top 100 in every major strokes-gained category. It sounds harsh, but he’s not doing anything particularly well. Now north of 40, you wonder if his days as a world-class player might be numbered.
42. Francesco Molinari
Age: 38 World Ranking: 91 Players starts: 9
Best Players finish: T-6, 2017
Given his play in the year following his crushing loss to Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters, there was legitimate concern the Italian would never be the same. Struggled mightily toward the end of 2019 then hardly played in 2020 as he dealt with the pandemic and moving his family from London to Los Angeles. Now settled and rejuvenated, he’s firmly trending upward, posting three top-10s in four starts before an early trunk slam at Bay Hill. Starting to show signs of the ball-striking prowess that led to his 2018 peak and this is a Ryder Cup year, so the comeback couldn’t be happening at a better time—for fans of Team Europe, that is. Had top-10s in three straight appearances at the Players from 2014-2017.
41. Keegan Bradley
Age: 34 World Ranking: 152 Players starts: 9
Best Players finish: T-7, 2018
There’s a lot of guys who fit the good-ball-striker/poor-putter mold, but Bradley might be the most drastic: he’s ninth in SG/tee to green and 226th in SG/putting. Can’t help but wonder what his career might have looked like if the anchoring ban never came down. Made the cut in four straight Players and has top-20s in each of his last two starts at TPC Sawgrass.
40. Kevin Kisner
Age: 37 World Ranking: 34 Players starts: 5
Best Players finish: P-2, 2015
In first Players start, lost in a playoff to Rickie Fowler in 2015. Always honest, he spoke this year about how he turns up to some courses on the PGA Tour knowing he has no chance to win. This, it would seem, is not one of those places—it’s not overly long, and his steady ball-striking (fourth in fairways percentage this season) should steer well clear of Sawgrass’ ubiquitous hazards. With Kiz, it seems to always come down to the putter.
39. Matt Kuchar
Age: 42 World Ranking: 49 Players starts: 15
Best Players finish: WIN, 2012
His tumble down the World Ranking doesn’t get the same press as Jordan Spieth’s or Rickie Fowler’s, but Kuch is at risk of dropping outside the top 50 for the first time since 2010. Two missed cuts, a T-42 and a T-44 is all he has to show for four starts in 2021, and you wonder if he’s at a bit of a crossroads in his career. Ranks outside the top 120 in SG/off the tee, approach, putting and overall, so it’s not like there’s one part of his game to blame. Does play Sawgrass well—this is the site of the signature win of his career, and he’s broken par seven of the last eight rounds he’s played there.
38. Sergio Garcia
Age: 41 World Ranking: 41 Players starts: 20
Best Players finish: WIN, 2008
Won for the first time on the PGA Tour since his 2017 Masters triumph at the Sanderson Farms last fall, where he stuck an approach on the 72nd-hole in dramatic fashion. Indeed, he remains an elite ball-striker, ranking third in SG/off the tee and 16th in SG/tee to green, but the putter remains his Achilles heel (205th in SG). Opened the year with a T-11 at the Sentry TOC and posted some nice finishes in the Middle East, plus his Players record is terrific: a win, two runner-ups and a third, and just two missed cuts in 20 career starts.
37. Carlos Ortiz
Age: 29 World Ranking: 44 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: CUT, 2016
Mexico native seems to have turned a corner this season. Held off Dustin Johnson to win the Vivint Houston Open in November and played his way into the final group at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, only to shoot 78 on Sunday. Bounced back the next week with a T-4 in Phoenix, and he’s in great shape to reach this year’s Tour Championship. Makes plenty of birdies despite ranking 159th in SG/approach.
36. Kevin Na
Age: 37 World Ranking: 25 Players starts: 13
Best Players finish: T-3, 2009
Has four PGA Tour wins in the last 32 months, a fruitful stretch that’s seen him leave behind “journeyman” status and become a fringe Ryder Cup conversation guy. Loves the big moment and tends to burst through the door when he has a chance. Knows his game and his limitations yet still makes a bunch of birdies. Putting statistics aren’t great so far this year (147th in SG) but the sample size is still pretty small, and he can certainly get hot with the flatstick. Has three top-10s in the Players including a T-3 way back in 2009.
35. Sebastian Munoz
Age: 28 World Ranking: 59 Players starts: First
Fine young player from Colombia who made it to the Tour Championship last season thanks to a win the previous fall and a strong FedEx Cup playoff push. Middling a bit this campaign with just one top-10 in 13 starts, but he doesn’t miss many cuts and does have six top-25s. Not likely to take the trophy home but he’s a good bet to finish in the top 25, particularly because his relative anonymity tends to render him undervalued in betting markets.
34. Ryan Palmer
Age: 44 World Ranking: 26 Players starts: 14
Best Players finish: T-5, 2013
Playing maybe the best golf of his career at 44, with three top-four finishes already this season. Technology has certainly had a role in keeping he and his 40-plus peers around: Palmer is averaging 304.0 yards off the tee, 10 yards longer than his age-34 season. Fourth on tour in birdie average. Has missed the cut in nine of his 14 starts in the Players.
33. Robert MacIntyre
Age: 24 World Ranking: 43 Players starts: First
Lefty from Scotland has been maybe the best young player on the European Tour, with three top-three finishes since the COVID restart and his first victory in November. Has said in the past his goal is to play both tours, a much more attainable proposition now given he’s cracked the top 50 in the World Ranking. And yet, he has not finished better than T-56 in four starts on U.S. soil, though all of those came against hyper-elite field. This, too, is a hyper-elite field. Doesn’t see Bermuda often in Europe but got a tune-up by making the cut at Bay Hill.
32. Jason Day
Age: 33 World Ranking: 46 Players starts: 9
Best Players finish: WIN, 2016
At 33, Day should be squarely in the prime of his career, contending for the biggest titles in the sport. But “should” is worth nothing in golf, and the Aussie has been in the wilderness for three-ish years. His seemingly chronic back problems surface too often, which prompted him to seek out swing instructor Chris Como to try to re-make his move into one that won’t kill his body. Missed his first two cuts on the year but managed a top-10 at Pebble Beach and a T-18 at the WGC-Workday, so there is reason for cautioned optimism. Terrific history at the Players with a victory a half-decade ago and top-10s in his last two starts.
31. Corey Conners
Age: 29 World Ranking: 60 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: T-41, 2019
Has been middling in the World No. 50-80 range for two years. Makes heaps of cuts and posts plenty of top-25s but doesn’t seem to be near the lead much on Sundays, which makes his play at Bay Hill more intriguing. Blessed with beautiful rhythm and a lovely swing, the Canadian is a ball-striker’s ball-striker and ranks 19th in SG/tee to green. Shot four-under 68 in the first round of last year’s Players. He’ll like the way he’s playing at the moment.
30. Victor Perez
Age: 28 World Ranking: 33 Players starts: First
Frenchman is the highest ranked player in the world without a PGA Tour card and he has a good chance to make the European Ryder Cup team. No stranger to golf in the U.S. as he played his college ball at New Mexico. Something of a late bloomer, he played the majors for the first time last year and made the weekend in two of the three. Every inch of 6’6”, he has the type of big game you need to succeed in America.
29. Max Homa
Age: 30 World Ranking: 38 Players starts: First
No longer just the Twitter guy, his victory at Riviera was a monumental testament to his ability as a golfer. Has finished T-21 or better in six of his last seven starts thanks to some exceptional ball-striking, and also seems in a great place mentally as he’s re-focused on gratitude and a self-proclaimed “happy guy” outlook. Playing the best golf of his career, but concern here is fatigue—this will be his fifth straight start, and there’s little doubt he took some time to celebrate the Genesis victory. Then again, this will be his first start at the Players—he was there last year, but that doesn’t count—so certainly some excitement there.
28. Hideki Matsuyama
Age: 29 World Ranking: 23 Players starts: 6
Best Players finish: T-7, 2016
New year, same Hideki: elite ball-striker, one of the worst putters on the PGA Tour. He’s still a top-25 player in the world despite the struggles with the flat stick, but it’s clear what’s holding him back from reaching the elite level. Owns five tour wins but none since 2017, a hard-to-believe barren stretch for a player who was World No. 2 at age 24. Plays the big tournaments well because big tournaments reward ball-strikers—he’s made the cut in 32 of 38 career starts in the majors/Players, and he has two top-10s in six appearances at TPC Sawgrass. Could well have had another last year, when he shot a course-record-tying 63 on Thursday just as Jay Monahan stepped to the podium for a rather important press conference.
27. Louis Oosthuizen
Age: 38 World Ranking: 22 Players starts: 9
Best Players finish: T-2, 2017
He fades from memory at times but that’s because he really doesn’t play quite as much—has made just three starts this year but is coming off a T-11 in Phoenix and a T-6 at the WGC-Workday. Withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday morning despite showing no signs of injury during a practice round, so that’s something to keep an eye on. Finished runner-up in the 2017 Players, which makes perfect sense, given he’s also finished runner-up in each of the four majors. With just one PGA Tour victory in 193 career starts, it’s hard not to think he’s underachieved given his swing and what he accomplished at St. Andrews more than a decade ago. A Players victory would go a long toward boosting his resume. He’s long overdue.
26. Adam Scott
Age: 40 World Ranking: 24 Players starts: 18
Best Players finish: WIN, 2004
Said in January that “there’s probably 10 or 12 serious competition events during the calendar year and then the rest is just a bit of entertainment.” Honest? For sure. Privileged? Perhaps. Either way, this is clearly one of those 10 or 12. He was the youngest winner in tournament history when he captured the Players in 2004 at 23, the biggest win of his career until adding the 2013 Masters. Was playing extremely well before the COVID hiatus, then didn’t play the first three months after the restart and hasn’t quite kicked it into gear since—he’s made the cut in all 11 starts but has just one top-10, and that was a T-10. Ranks 127th in SG/tee to green, which is difficult to fathom if you’ve seen him swing a golf club.
25. Will Zalatoris
Age: 24 World Ranking: 47 Players starts: First
His ascent has been nothing short of remarkable. Was the best player on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020 but did not receive promotion to the PGA Tour given the one-time COVID rules. No matter—he’s taken advantage of virtually every start he’s gotten in the big leagues and is all the way up to World No. 47. He has special temporary status and has locked up a tour card for next season, but he is not eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs unless he wins. Thus, you have to think he’s the first player in the top 50 of the World Ranking without full European Tour or PGA Tour status. World-class ball-striker already who attacks golf courses with data-driven strategy, he’s a distinctly modern player.
24. Scottie Scheffler
Age: 24 World Ranking: 30 Players starts: First
Reigning rookie of the year has kept the foot on the pedal this year, with two top-10s in his last three starts. His swing makes you worry about his ankles, but he drives it quite well and makes a boatload of birdies. Still chasing that first victory but it’s only a matter of time. Finished T-4 at the PGA Championship and T-19 at the Masters (had to withdraw from the U.S. Open with COVID), so he’s comfortable in the big events. A sleeper indeed, especially if he finds a hot putter.
23. Cameron Smith
Age: 27 World Ranking: 26 Players starts: 3
Best Players finish: T-56, 2019
His mullet is running wild, but his game has been dialed in for a few months now. Became the first player Masters history to shoot four rounds in the 60s at Augusta—finished second that week, a massive confidence boost. Took solo fourth at Riviera then T-11 at the WGC-Workday despite a third-round 77. A natural on and around the greens but the ball-striking has, in the past, let him down at times, which helps explain his poor record at TPC Sawgrass.
22. Jordan Spieth
Age: 27 World Ranking: 62 Players starts: 6
Best Players finish: T-4, 2014
Finally, it seems like the slump is finished. Posted back-to-back top-fives at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, then played his way into contention at the Genesis Invitational. No longer a surprise to see him near the top of the leader board despite still struggling with the driver. While the putting got the headlines, he won majors with his approach play, and that looks to be back to a world-class level. The victory to end the nearly four-year winless drought is coming, but he hasn’t played Pete Dye courses particularly well and has made the cut only once in his last five Players starts.
21. Joaquin Niemann
Age: 22 World Ranking: 29 Players starts: First
Former World No. 1 amateur started the year with back-to-back runner-up finishes. Very good ball-striker who has become quite consistent, with seven top-25s and no finishes worse than T-44 in 10 starts on the wraparound season. That he hasn’t played a full Players Championship is a reminder of how young he still is; turned pro at 19 so while we’ve known the name for a while, he’s 14 months younger than Viktor Hovland. Profiles as a World top-10 player for many years to come. The only concern is his preferred low ball flight—he’s missed the cut in three of his four major starts as a professional, where high-ball hitters tend to thrive. Was forced to withdraw from November’s Masters after testing positive for COVID, so he’ll be raring to go.
20. Tommy Fleetwood
Age: 30 World Ranking: 21 Players starts: 3
Best Players finish: T-5, 2019
As Paul Azinger so clumsily reminded us, the five-time winner in Europe is still chasing that first PGA Tour victory as he enters his 30s. Quiet-ish start to the year—he played three events in the Middle East and was solid if unspectacular, then a T-44 at the WGC Workday before a solid showing at Bay Hill. Was a longtime equipment free agent but recently signed with TaylorMade, which is something to keep an eye on. Very much a mixed bag as far as his history at Sawgrass goes: has top-10s in his last two Players starts, but did shoot 78 on Thursday last year. Does not have a single top-10 on the PGA Tour since he finished solo third at the Honda Classic almost a full year ago, though that looked likely to end at the API.
19. Sungjae Im
Age: 22 World Ranking: 17 Players starts: 1
Best Players finish: CUT, 2019
Too often left out of the best-young-player discussion considering he was the hottest player on the planet heading into the COVID hiatus, winning the Honda Classic then finished solo third at Bay Hill right before the break. Came back rusty and took time to his stride again—but he did eventually hit it, finishing T-2 at the Masters in November to say “don’t forget about me.” Has made 17 of his last 18 cuts, so he’s a safe pick for fantasy-golf games where making the weekend is crucial.
18. Matthew Fitzpatrick
Age: 26 World Ranking: 16 Players starts: 4
Best Players finish: T-41, 2019
Young Englishman calls North Palm Beach home, and his best finish on tour was a solo second at Bay Hill, so he’s definitely comfortable on Bermuda. Finished 2020 with a bang, winning the European Tour’s DP World Championship for a second time and taking home $3 million along the way. That was his sixth victory on that circuit but ended a nearly three-year drought, and remains in pursuit of his first PGA Tour title. Starting to become more well-known in America thanks to some good showings recently: played his way into the final group at Riviera (finished T-5) and hung around for 63 holes at the WGC-Workday (T-11). Has put on plenty of muscle over the past two years and no longer looks the rail-thin baby face who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur. Ranks in the positive in every strokes-gained category, which paints an accurate picture: He’s a very solid player who should fare well at a trouble-ridden track like TPC Sawgrass. One of the five best putters in the world.
17. Patrick Reed
Age: 30 World Ranking: 9 Players starts: 6
Best Players finish: T-22, 2017
Didn’t do himself any PR favors with yet another rules imbroglio at the Farmers Insurance Open … where he went on to win by five. Like him or hate him, few are playing better golf at the moment even with MC at Bay Hill—he followed up that win at the Farmers with a T-9 at the WGC-Workday, and he has just two finishes worse than T-21 in his eight starts this year. Began working with David Leadbetter recently with the goal of becoming more comfortable hitting a cut. He’s actually lost distance since the coaching switch—who knew that was possible these days?—but it’s hard to argue with the results. His next victory on tour will be his 10th, a hugely impressive haul for someone his age. A very meh history at Sawgrass with no top-20s in six career starts.
16. Paul Casey
Age: 43 World Ranking: 18 Players starts: 12
Best Players finish: T-10, 2004
Playing terrific golf well into his 40s, PC has been open about being kinder to himself and not letting things bother him as much as he’s aged. It’s certainly working—has three top-10s in his four starts in 2021, highlighted by a victory at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour, and was in position again after 36 at Bay Hill. The Brit has had a terrific career, with 21 worldwide wins and four Ryder Cup appearances—plus he has a great chance at a fifth this year. Picked up a top-10 in his first start at the Players but has seen the weekend just three times in his 11 starts since, which includes withdrawals in 2012 and 2015 as well as a 78-74 stinker in 2019. It’s a surprisingly poor record for a guy who has been a top-50 player for the better part of two decades and for a terrific ball-striker, but Pete Dye courses have a way of torturing players who should play them well on paper. Whatever that means.
15. Lee Westwood
Age: 47 World Ranking: 91 Players starts: 14
Best Players finish: T-4, 2010
We keep thinking age will catch up to him, and we’ve been wrong every time. A runner-up finish at the European Tour’s season finale was enough to see him win the Race to Dubai for a third time, the first coming 20 years earlier. Held the 54-hole lead at Bay Hill to show he’s nowhere near done being a force in world golf. Rather selective with his appearances in the U.S. these days, this will be his first start at TPC Sawgrass since 2017—which is a bit curious, because he has five finishes of T-8 or better in the 14 times he has teed it up in the Players.
14. Webb Simpson
Age: 35 World Ranking: 10 Players starts: 10
Best Players finish: WIN, 2018
No one gets more out of their talent than Mr. Simpson. Dominated the 2018 Players—like, really dominated—when he led by seven after 54 holes and won by four. His last victory came at another Pete Dye course, Harbour Town, and he’s said multiple times that he feels the best way to combat distance is with doglegs, longer rough and hazards … clearly a Dye fan. Finished T-16 in his title defense in 2019 with four under par rounds. Just two finishes worse than T-17 in his last 12 and a T-6 at the WGC-Workday in his last start, so the form is very solid. Not the sexiest pick in the world, but he’ll offer good value.
13. Justin Thomas
Age: 27 World Ranking: 3 Players starts: 5
Best Players finish: T-3, 2016
Been a turbulent 2021 thus far. Uttered a homophobic slur at the Sentry TOC and was subsequently dropped by his longtime clothing sponsor, Ralph Lauren. Then lost his grandfather, whom he was quite close with, right before the final round the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He shot even that day to fall out of contention then missed the cut badly at Riviera. Semi bounce-back at the WGC-Workday with a T-15 but you get the sense it’s been hard for him to focus on golf recently. Still, he leads the tour in birdie average and there is almost zero chance this is anything more than a (very understandable) blip in the road. Has won twice each of the past three years and does not have a win yet in 2021, so he’s due. Made the cut in all five of his Players starts.
12. Daniel Berger
Age: 27 World Ranking: 15 Players starts: 5
Best Players finish: T-9, 2016
No longer the forgotten man of the famed Class of 2011. With his win at the AT&T Pebble Beach, where he stared down Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and Paul Casey, Berger further established himself as one of the best players in the world, perception be damned. Few, if any, have played better or more consistent golf the past 12 months. Entered the COVID-19 hiatus ranked outside the top 100 and has elbowed his way up to the top 15, thanks to five top-three finishes in his 17 starts since the restart. Not much to write home about in his five previous Players starts besides a top-10 in his first appearance in 2016, though he did shoot 68 in the first round last year before the cancellation.
11. Tyrrell Hatton
Age: 29 World Ranking: 6 Players starts: 3
Best Players finish: T-41, 2017
He’s been the premier player on the European Tour the past 12 months, winning the BMW PGA Championship and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to climb inside the top five in the world. Also won at Bay Hill last year, so he’s clearly comfortable on Bermuda, and overcame a first-round 77 at Arnie’s place this year with a 67 on Friday and a 66 on Saturday. Had a bitterly disappointing major season in 2020, missing the cut in all three, and he’s also missed it in two of his three starts in the Players. Smart money says that’s a somewhat fluky stretch of results, but he’ll be keen to show well in the huge events to cement his status as a world-class star. A terrific iron player—he’s 11th on the PGA Tour in SG/approach and that doesn’t include his dominance in Europe—he’s also shown a propensity for closing when he gets a chance. The key, then, is creating that chance.
10. Rory McIlroy
Age: 31 World Ranking: 8 Players starts: 10
Best Players finish: WIN, 2019
He’s technically the defending champion, having won the 2019 Players to add another big trophy to his mantle. Had three more victories that year to reach World No. 1 but has none since, and he’s slipped all the way to No. 8. Said at the WGC-Workday that he doesn’t feel quite comfortable with changes he’s trying to make in his swing, ostensibly to address his short-iron/wedge play, which has been a major issue for over a year now. Still, he finished T-6 that week at The Concession and he’s proven a player who can contend without his top-level stuff. Continued the strong form into Bay Hill, so perhaps he won’t have to play without his top-level stuff for much longer. Loves to tell the story of getting kicked out of Jacksonville Beach bars for being underage after missing the cut in the 2009 Players, and he now returns as a 31-year-old father with gray-tinged hair. Second on tour in both driving distance and SG/off the tee, trailing only Bryson DeChambeau in both categories.
9. Tony Finau
Age: 31 World Ranking: 14 Players starts: 4
Best Players finish: T-22, 2019
Glass half full: He’s a constant presence on the first page of leader boards. He has four top-four finishes in his last five starts. He’s made $2.8 million in just 10 starts this year. He has 21 top-five finishes the last four-plus years on tour. Glass half empty: None of those have been victories and, in case you haven’t heard, is sitting on just one tour win (2016 Puerto Rico Open). Can’t blame himself for his latest heartbreak, when he shot 64 at a firm Riviera before falling to Max Homa in a playoff. That was his third straight runner-up finish, and we can’t be as kind about the two prior. His ability to stay smiling and positive is uncanny, and while golf fans around the world are frustrated with the near-misses, the man himself seems content to keep pushing on the door until it eventually falls. Interestingly enough, he has not played Sawgrass particularly well with two missed cuts, a T-57 and a T-22 in his four appearances.
8. Bryson DeChambeau
Age: 27 World Ranking: 11 Players starts: 2
Best Players finish: T-20, 2019
After his tour de force at Winged Foot, there was legitimate concern DeChambeau had cracked the code to golf while single-handedly ushering in a new era of power players. It hasn’t happened. At least not yet. He said at the WGC-Workday that the “physics aren’t understood at that speed yet,” so we’ll go with that. Struggled at the Masters in November and continued to do so in his four starts after until contending at Bay Hill. Nothing to scoff at, but the expectations change when you win a U.S. Open by six. Fine history at the Players but that was the old, pre-bulk Bryson. If you could tailor-make a course to hamstring this version of Bryson, it’d look a lot like TPC Sawgrass: water everywhere, but fairways wide enough that the straighter guys will find them. All that said, it’d be no surprise if he won this week—the guy still ranks first in SG/overall and first in SG/off the tee; driving it that well is a massive advantage at any golf course. Boom or bust indeed.
7. Viktor Hovland
Age: 23 World Ranking: 13 Players starts: First
His T-2 at the WGC-Workday was his sixth finish of T-6 or better in seven starts, which includes a victory at the Mayakoba Classic last November, and he put himself in contention after 36 at Bay Hill last week. Simply put, he has already established himself as one of the best players in the world. The ball-striking has always been there—he’s sixth on tour in SG/tee to green, which explains why he’s second on tour with 21 consecutive cuts made—but now his putting has improved. He’s good enough to win any golf tournament already, but if he can sure up his putting from inside 10 feet, there’s no reason to believe he can’t be in the top five in the World Ranking this time next year. Will be a thorn in the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s side for the next decade at least, and he will surely be a trendy pick to win this week. Shot four-under 68 on Thursday of last year’s Players, his first competitive round at TPC Sawgrass.
6. Xander Schauffele
Age: 27 World Ranking: 5 Players starts: 2
Best Players finish: T-2, 2018
He’s a top-five player in the world, but there’s one clear thing separating him from the top four: victories. DJ, Rahm, JT and Morikawa have been winning, and X-man has not. He’s in with a chance as much as anyone but has racked up a frustrating number of near-misses recently, and it’s been more than two years since he picked up a trophy. Unlike Tony Finau, who refuses to stop smiling through the defeats, Schauffele has conveyed a sense of annoyance and bewilderment as to why he can’t seem to close. Owns the longest made-cut streak on tour now at 23 and if you had to choose one guy to make the weekend to save your life, he might be it. Ranks second on tour in SG/overall and fourth in scoring average. Again, the only thing missing are the victories. Tied for second in his first Players appearance but missed the cut in 2019. That will not happen again.
5. Brooks Koepka
Age: 30 World Ranking: 12 Players starts: 5
Best Players finish: T-11, 2018
The “slump,” if you can call it that, is over. The knee injury is finally a thing of the past, and Koepka returned to the winner’s circle at the Waste Management Phoenix Open despite missing three straight cuts prior. Kept up the solid form at the WGC-Workday, where he finished tied for second, and you know he’s got his eyes on Augusta. His putting has been particularly impressive lately—he led the field in strokes gained on the greens at The Concession and ranks 13th on tour this season, a marked improvement from finishing 144th in 2020. Has said before that there are four tournaments he tries to peak for, so we’re wondering where the Players ranks on the Brooks care-o-meter. Assuming it’s anywhere close to the majors, he’s absolutely a threat.
4. Collin Morikawa
Age: 24 World Ranking: 4 Players starts: First
Re-asserted himself into the best-in-the-world conversation with a phenomenal performance at the WGC-Workday, where he sucked the air out of the final round with a ruthlessly consistent ball-striking display. Recently switched to a “saw” putting grip, and after a brutal initial showing with it at Riviera he putted beautifully at The Concession. If the grip change proves to be a lasting difference maker, he’s going to challenge to be No. 1 rather soon. Ranks first in the all-important SG/approach category and the eye test says the same: He’s probably the best iron player in the world at the moment. He loved the way he was hitting it at last year’s Players and shot 68 on Thursday before the tournament was canceled. Something of an old soul at 24, but no moment has proven too big for him in his career, which somehow is still less than two years old. One of the favorites this week, and every week.
3. Dustin Johnson
Age: 36 World Ranking: 1 Players starts: 11
Best Players finish: T-5, 2019
His world-beating—almost Tiger-like—run of form hit a roadblock in his last start, where he made 13 bogeys and five double bogeys to finish T-54 (out of 72) at the WGC-Workday. That was his first finish worse than T-12 since last July, a run that saw him capture the FedEx Cup and a long overdue second major at the Masters, as well as the Saudi International last month. Conversely, he’s lost strokes off the tee in two of his last three starts and has been struggling a bit trying to adjust to the new driver. Still, clearly the top dog in the men’s game and one of the few things he hasn’t done in professional golf is win a Players Championship. His T-5 in 2019 was his first top-10 at TPC Sawgrass in 11 career starts, which is hard to believe. Typically does not putt well on Bermuda, which may be the reason why.
2. Patrick Cantlay
Age: 28 World Ranking: 7 Players starts: 3
Best Players finish: T-22, 2017
He’s blossomed into one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour. Has just one finish worse than T-17 in his last eight starts, which includes a victory at the Zozo Championship last October, a solo-second at The American Express (with a closing 11-under 61) and a T-3 at Pebble Beach despite missing a number of short putts. He leads the FedEx Cup standings, ranks third in SG/overall and sits inside the top 50 in all six major strokes-gained categories, which you very rarely see. As a result, he’s gaining an average of 8.6 shots against the field over his last five starts. Long considered an underrated player—or an underachiever, if there’s a difference—he finally seems to be getting his due. Yet he’s still waiting for that breakout victory to elevate him to that hyper-elite tier, which is where he belongs. Could well happen this week. Missed the cut at the ’19 Players but did shoot 67 In the first round of last year’s truncated version.
1. Jon Rahm
Age: 26 World Ranking: 2 Players starts: 3
Best Players finish: T-12, 2019
Reached No. 1 in the world last summer after winning the Memorial and has continued to rack up the top-10s since, with seven in his last 11 starts worldwide. He’s just beginning to enter his prime and the next thing on the to-do list is winning a major (or the Players). Switched from TaylorMade to Callaway at the beginning of the year but hasn’t shown any signs of discomfort with the new sticks. Putter has been a semi-issue lately as he’s lost shots to the field on the greens in three straight tournaments. Held the 54-hole lead in the 2019 Players and hung around until a head-scratching decision to go for the green from a bunker on 11; he then found the drink on 17 to drop to T-12. As good a chance as any to win this week.