The PLAYERS Championship – Review

During the course of the season, I will be providing analysis of the Major Championships. their champions, the venue and the storylines – starting with the PLAYERS Championship on the PGA Tour.

The Champion

It is to Webb Simpson’s eternal credit that this years event provided one of the least exciting climaxes in recent history, as even a visit to the water and resulting double-bogey on the final hole could not prevent a Sunday afternoon stroll to a 4-shot victory.

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Simpson spread-eagled the field over the opening 54 holes including a course record equalling 63 in round 2 that set the platform for the comfortable finish and a first victory since 2013. Simpson was understandably delighted with his work,

“I feel like it’s my first win,” Simpson said. “I feel so similar to how I felt in Greensboro back in 2011. There’s been some tough moments along the way, but to come here against this field and do what I needed to get it done, I’m so happy.”

Also bathing in the glow of victory are Simpsons main sponsors, Titleist, who provided 13 of the 14 clubs  in his bag (and his golf ball)

Golf Ball: Pro V1

Driver: 917D2 (9.5º)

Fairway: 913Fd (18º)

Hybrids: 913Hd (20º), 915Hd (23.5°)

Irons: 718 MB (5-PW9)

Wedges: Vokey Design SM7 sand (54.14 F grind) and prototype lob (60.06 K grind)

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It is the one club that Titleist did not provide, however, that was arguably the key to victory – Simpson gained over 9 shots on the field with his Odyssey Tank Cruiser V-Line Long (40.5 inches) putter in a remarkable performance on the greens.

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His putting history is an interesting one – Simpson employed an anchored stroke before it was banned and experimented with a number of styles before settling on the arm-lock method he used in victory here. As he admitted afterwards, he has never putted better, but would never have transitioned away from the belly putter without the rule change.

Aside from sharing an equipment manufacturer, there are noticeable similarities between the games of Simpson and Jordan Spieth. Neither exude the God-given natural power of McIlroy or Dustin Johnson, or the silky rhythm and touch of Mickelson or Els. Their swings are orthodox but slightly clunky and their putting effective but unorthodox. If however, Simpson can maintain his hot putting form, then his golfing CV has a chance to catch up with his fellow American Ryder Cup partner.

The Course

Like the Masters with Augusta National, the PLAYERS Championship has a fixed abode – the Stadium Course at Sawgrass. This week receptive, medium paced greens turned the event into a birdie-fest, with Simpson setting 36 and 54 hole scoring records.

Sawgrass would not be ranked as one of the best PGA Tour courses, but like The Belfry in England, it possesses a number of ‘showbiz’ holes that create excitement, drama and headlines aplenty. Like the Belfry, it would also make an exceptional Ryder Cup venue.

By far the biggest headline grabber, and one of the most famous (infamous?) holes in world golf is the island green par 3 17th hole.

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Although for once this hole did not provide the defining moment of the tournament, with huge crowds around three sides of the lake it will always provide the image of the event – a super strong draw for TV audiences and sponsors alike.

The Stories

Tiger continues to prowl

As his second round was coming to a close and he was struggling to make the cut (he made it on the number) critics and social media trolls were ready to write-off the progress that Tiger had seemingly made since his return as false hope. Following a week-end return of 65-69 that could have been even better and included 330 yard drives, old-school stingers, fist pumping putts and thrilling stretches of birdies, suddenly things look different. A 11th place finish that moves him into the top 50 of the FedEx rankings provides much hope and has organisers and sponsors drooling at the prospect of a Woods victory.

The PLAYERS brand gets ever stronger

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The PLAYERS often attracts the strongest field of the season. With elite names and the 17th hole aesthetics, the media loves it. This year Sky Sports changed the name of one of its channels to match the tournament. Even the BBC sent its Chief Golf writer Iain Carter to cover the event and provided dedicated live text coverage on the final day on its website. Despite the slightly anti-climatic finish, the PLAYERS has established itself as a mainstay of the PGA Tour.

Fowler employs the binoculars but no birdies in sight

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It could be said that the distance the Pros now drive the ball may require the use of binoculars to see the landing point. In Rickie Fowler’s case, however, the binoculars were borrowed from a spectator in an attempt to identify his ball that was lodged in a tree, in what turned out to be the strangest image of the week. Unfortunately for Rickie, the attempt was unsuccessful and contributed to a missed cut.

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