Cleat Geeks

Off The Tee

This week’s Players Championship draws the title from many as golf’s “fifth major,” and the arguments always come up this time of year as to whether it should officially be considered as such.

Regardless of anyone’s stance on that topic, one thing is for sure. The event is a springboard into a busy summer of golf, with three-fourths of the actual major championship schedule and the first Olympic gold medal in a century up for grabs in the next three months.JackNicklaus

First comes first, and this event, which brings a storied history of champions. The list is a who’s who of golf – Tiger Woods and Fred Couples (twice each), Phil Mickelson and even Jack Nicklaus, a three-time champion who won the first edition of the event in 1974, all have raised the trophy at TPC.

It also features several big-name players who haven’t broken through in a major championship, most recently Rickie Fowler a year ago. Already a star thanks to his look and popularity with younger fans, Fowler scored his biggest victory on the course in dramatic fashion.

The Oklahoma State product was five strokes behind on the back nine before playing the final four holes in 5-under par to reach a playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner and then beating them after stuffing his tee shot within 5 feet on the famous island green 17th hole.

Garcia also got his biggest win at TPC, holding off Paul Goydos in a playoff in 2008 after a near-miss the year before when Mickelson won. It also was a breakthrough win for eventual major champions like Davis Love III (1992), David Duval (1999) and Adam Scott (2004).

So for sure, it’s a huge win on its own, but it’s also a chance to gain momentum into a summer filled with big events. Due to the Olympics, the major championship schedule is compacted a bit from normal. The U.S. Open comes June 16-19 at Oakmont, with the Open Championship in its usual spot a month later, July 14-17 at Royal Troon. But there will only be one tournament between the Open and the PGA Championship, which is July 28-31 at Baltusrol.

The PGA normally is played around the second week of August, but that week is reserved for the Olympic tournament, being staged Aug. 11-14 in Rio de Janeiro.

What’s it all mean for this week? Momentum can be huge in golf, and a player can really kick-start a historic summer with a strong week in Florida. Here are a few names to watch for, as well as a longshot:

 

Picks

Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

1 – Justin Rose – The former U.S. Open champion missed the cut two weeks ago in New Orleans, but bounced back by claiming third place over the weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. And he generally comes in on good form, having now scored five top-10 efforts on the season, including at The Masters last month.

Rose has won at least one PGA Tour event every year this decade, and this is a good spot for him to keep that run going while throwing his name back into the hat as a challenger for being the top player in the world.

rory-mcilroy2 – Rory McIlroy – It’s hard to think that McIlroy, the world’s No. 3-ranked player, has been struggling, but he hasn’t won a tournament in the U.S. in more than a year. He nearly broke that run last week at the Wells Fargo, but a final-round charge left him just short, finishing in a tie for 4th.

McIlroy is showing signs of improved form. He has three top-five finishes since March, a record that for most players would be an elite effort. But when you’re just 27 years old, already have four major championship trophies on the mantle and victories are what you’re measured by, it looks like a struggle. He’d jump right back into the forefront with a win this week.

jordan-spieth3 – Jordan Spieth – We haven’t seen much of Spieth, except for his Spring Break vacation shenanigans with several of his golfing buddies since his tough finish at The Masters last month. So momentum, in terms of his play on the course, would seem not to be on the young Texan’s side.

But look at it this way – despite the disaster at the 12th hole that cost him a second straight win at The Masters, he still finished tied for 2nd there. He still is the reigning FedEx Cup champion, he still is the reigning U.S. Open champion and he has yet to seem fazed by any sort of trouble in his golfing career. It will be surprising if he’s not in the hunt this week.

LongshotAussie John Senden has always flown under the radar in comparisons to his countrymen like Greg Norman, Adam Scott and Jason Day. And his results in the past couple of years have slipped him from top-30 status in the world back to a No. 99 ranking.

But, he had a solid outing last week in Charlotte and he actually finished 8th in this event last year, his best finish in either 2015 or so far in 2016. He won’t be named by many this week but he’s worth keeping an eye on.

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