The Players Championship: Rahm-McIlroy-Scheffler featured group leads the way at TPC Sawgrass
Golf's "fifth major" is back this week at TPC Sawgrass.
It’s time for the “fifth major,” and the iconic island green at TPC Sawgrass.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of The Players Championship.
The Players Championship
TPC Sawgrass | Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Par 72 | 7,256 yards
Purse: $25 million/$4.5 million
FedExCup points for winner: 600
Betting favorites (via BetMGM): Rory McIlroy (+900), Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler (+1,000)
Last time out: Cam Smith dominates before LIV jump
One of Cameron Smith’s last feats before leaving for LIV Golf was a huge outing at The Players Championship last March.
Smith beat Anirban Lahiri by a single stroke at last year’s tournament after making eight one-putts on his final nine holes. He made 10 birdies in his final round to get to 13-under on the week. Just a few months later, Smith won the British Open at St. Andrews and then left for LIV Golf.
While Smith actually lives in Ponte Vedra Beach now, he’s not in the field this week to defend his title.
"Listen, Cam Smith had a great performance in 2022," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday. "He was a deserved champion. I think as I look to this week and I look at the field that we have here and the strength from top to bottom, I think when we leave here on Sunday night we're going to crown another deserving champion.
"To answer your question directly, yes, it's awkward. But you know, ultimately that's a decision he made, and we've got an unbelievable field here this week and a history and tradition that one of these 144 is going to go seek to get."
Rahm vs. Scheffler vs. McIlroy, again
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
All eyes will be on the Rory McIlroy-Scottie Scheffler-Jon Rahm featured group this week at TPC Sawgrass. The trio has absolutely dominated the sport in recent months, and both McIlroy and Scheffler have real plays to get to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking once again. In fact, there are more than 100 different possible scenarios for Rahm to lose his post.
🚨#OWGR No.1 watch at #THEPLAYERS
As I said, there are over 100 possible scenarios for @McIlroyRory & Scottie Scheffler to recapture No.1 from @JonRahmpga, so this is just a brief selection.
We discuss the details of the actual scenario unfolding, as the tournament goes on... pic.twitter.com/EEfqYtxx8v
— Nosferatu (@VC606) March 7, 2023
The three are the betting favorites this week, something they’ve been at just about every designated event held so far this season.
“The way I'm approaching it is I think it's going to be a lot of fun,” Scheffler said Wednesday. “Rory and Jon are very talented golfers. I'm just looking forward to going out there and watching them play and having a good time out there and competing together. I'm sure that the fans will be out there watching us, and it will be a lot of fun. Hopefully we'll be able to make some birdies and give them some roars. Should be a lot of fun.
Even though Rahm is coming off of the worst finish of his season last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he’s not thinking twice about that outing. After all, he’s won five times in his last 10 international starts.
“I think when things are going so well for so long, the golf gods decide to humble you a little bit,” Rahm said. “It took, you know, it was my turn to suffer that for a couple days.”
Sure, there are plenty of others in the field who could win this weekend. But based on recent history, there’s a pretty good chance Rahm, McIlroy or Scheffler will be in the final group come Sunday.
Rory McIlroy rips James Hahn
McIlroy took a moment to call out James Hahn on Tuesday after Hahn, who criticized the Tour’s new rule changes earlier this month, skipped the players meeting at TPC Sawgrass.
“Like, you say all this s**t and you’re not even in the meeting?” McIlroy said, via ESPN. “If you want to get informed and be a part of the process … the fact that he wasn’t even in the room was a slap to the face to everyone there.”
McIlroy has led the charge against LIV Golf and helped create the Tour’s new designated events model.
Hahn, 41, slammed those changes last week.
"I hate them," Hahn told Golfweek. "I'm gonna say exactly what 99.99% of fans said about players leaving for the LIV Tour. If our players just said, 'We're doing this for the money,' I would have a lot more respect for them. But how they're covering up what they're doing and trying to make it a thing about sponsors and fans and saving opposite-field events. I think that's all BS."
Hahn wasn’t the only one who skipped the players meeting. Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm weren’t there on Tuesday, though Rahm simply said it was too early for him and he’d rather spend his time with his family instead.
Hahn has won twice on Tour, most recently at the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship. He’s missed the cut five times in nine starts already this season.
Monahan defends Tour changes
Monahan took a minute on Tuesday to defend the Tour’s new schedule changes in 2024, which include limited fields and no cuts at certain designated events. The changes come as a direct rebuttal to LIV Golf, which has 54-hole, no-cut events.
It seems like many on Tour are behind the adjustments coming, even if some of them resemble what LIV Golf is doing. Monahan, however, doesn’t see it that way.
"I would ask you: 'Do you think we really look the same?'" Monahan said Tuesday. "You know, the players that are competing in our events in this new format next year will have earned the right to compete in them and they will have earned it through top-50 position in the FedEx Cup this year, as well as their performance in the fall and ultimately in these swings. That's what this organization has always stood for."