As we've done previously this season with the WGC-Acctenure Match Play and the Masters, the SB Nation golf staff discusses some of the bigger storylines and offers some predictions for The Players Championship -- golf's "5th major" (which, as you'll read, is a matter for debate).
Who finishes higher -- Phil or Rory?
Adam: Phil Mickelson finishes higher this week. I'm a firm believer in hot streaks, and Phil is playing the best right now (despite imploding down the stretch at Quail Hollow) between him and Rory.
Brendan: Both were in solid form last week at the Wells Fargo, but I'll stick with Phil to edge out Rory at Sawgrass, given the Northern Irishman's track record at this course. In limited appearances, Rory has never made the cut on the Stadium Course and this tight layout may not be the best cure for his 2013 inconsistency. The game does seem to be getting better, but I'll stick with the veteran 42-year-old to finish inside the top 25. I think Rory will finally make the weekend here, but he'll be finished with his round early on Sunday.
Emily: Does it really matter, since neither will make the cut? Phil's all over the place off the tee and No. 2 hasn't made it to the weekend yet in three attempts at The Players.
Given the bomb he dropped on the host on Wednesday, what do you expect from Vijay Singh this week?
Emily: Just that -- a bomb. You don't, um, poop where you live, and that's what Vijay, who shares the same Ponte Vedra Beach area code as the PGA Tour, did when he sued the association for "destroying" his reputation by sanctioning (and then exonerating) him for using deer antler spray. To add fuel to the fire he set, Singh filed the suit on the eve of the tour's signature tourney, and, according to Jason Sobel, strongly suggested that a camera crew stop recording his movements during a Wednesday practice round. Can't wait to see how he reacts to being center stage during the two rounds he'll play until he misses the cut.
Adam: If he doesn't withdraw from the tournament, Singh will either miss the cut or finish in the middle of the pack. He's in "reputation-protection" mode right now and too distracted to do anything at Sawgrass.
Brendan: Vijay comes out of his shoes with a swing at the host PGA Tour just one day before their marquee event? Yikes. By all accounts, the lawsuit has dominated the discussion on the grounds with the media and players. It has to be a distraction (of his own creation) this week, and I think Vijay, who isn't exactly a top-flight player anymore, won't make the weekend.
Will Adam Scott contend or is he in carefree cruise control in his first event since his Masters win?
Adam: Scott will definitely contend this week. While he is living on cloud nine right now, Scott has probably never been more confident.
Emily: Both. The first Aussie to win at Augusta has nothing to prove, which will free him and his chest putter to play as if nothing of import depended on the outcome.
Brendan: It was here where Scott truly entered the world stage with the win in 2004, and it had been his biggest career achievement until last month. After the Masters win, Scott said he put the clubs away for a week and took some time away from the game to enjoy his first major victory. Given that hiatus, I expect Scott to make the cut but never contend this week as he still strolls in the glory of his amazing playoff win at Augusta.
Who's your dark horse pick to win or contend?
Adam: Angel Cabrera at 125/1 is a solid dark horse pick for this week. Augusta wasn't that long ago, and he almost won the damn thing.
Brendan: This tournament doesn't always propel the world's best to the top of the leaderboard, and it hasn't been the spark to greater majors success that Tim Finchem and company desire. It is perhaps the best field all season long, so it's hard to call anyone a true dark horse. But I'll tab Charles Howell III, who's currently 125/1, to contend on Sunday. He doesn't have a great history here but he's been in form all season and that steadiness will put him in the mix.
Thoughts on the Stadium Course -- fan or not a fan? Is this event worthy of the hype as the "5th major"?
Adam: The course itself is one of the best in the world, but that may be purely from an aesthetic standpoint. I don't think Sawgrass is difficult enough to be a "major-worthy" course. Then again, players are beginning to score lower and lower at Augusta.
Brendan: No. No matter how much media hype the PGA Tour gins up, or how good the field is, or how much cash is in the purse, I will never be sold on this tournament as a 5th major and its importance is significantly overstated. I think it's a tricked up course with little-to-no history, and it's constantly changing. The 17th green is cool, but it's also hyped as some sort of world class iconic par-3. It's great for television, but it's also a gimmick. The PGA Tour has no control over the four majors, so they assign their own weight to this tournament to try and get in the game (with the aid of their media partners).
Emily: Never thought I'd even think this, let alone admit to it, but I stand with Johnny Miller. "I love the [17th] hole," the NBC analyst said during a conference call earlier this week. "It's a great hole, great test of your nerves and picking the right shot and maybe taking the danger out of the hole."
What other spot on any Tour course gives players nightmares while they're wide awake? "I woke up every morning thinking about that hole," Miller's compatriot Brandel Chamblee said. "But if I had an execution in the afternoon, I wake up thinking about that, too. I don't necessarily think that would be a good thing."
As for the whole "5th major" hullabaloo? The competitors, who show up year after year for a tourney that chews them up and spits them out, must believe The Players worthy of its lofty, almost-major status. But four actual majors is plenty.
Tiger hasn't exactly dominated TPC Sawgrass like some of the other annual layouts on the rota. With one career win here, the Stadium Course doesn't seem to be one of his favorites but he keeps showing up because of the prestige of the tournament. But given his excellent form so far this season, where will Tiger finish this week?
Adam: I don't think Tiger will win this week, but I anticipate he will finish in the top 10. He's clicking in all areas of his game right now, and had it not been for a flagstick debacle at the Masters, he would be a 4-time winner this season.
Emily: It's so tempting to project Tiger (3 for 6 in Tour starts so far this year) as the winner of his 78th Tour title. That lone Players win way back in 2001 and No. 1's characterization of the Stadium Course as "tricky," with "tough lines" that will "expose" errant shots (he's ranked 154th and 64th on tour in driving accuracy and greens in regulation, respectively), however, give one pause. Gotta believe Woods will contend, but 300 (the number of tour starts the 14-time major champ will have made come Thursday) won't be the charm for Tiger.
Brendan: This is the rare course that Tiger shows up to each year that hasn't treated him well throughout his lengthy career. Recently, it's gotten worse as he's not come close to contending since 2009. I think Tiger feels obligated to show up here, but he's definitely not a fan of the course. This is not Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill, or Firestone and he's happy to have checked the box with a career win here already. My bold! prediction is that Tiger misses the cut this week, even with the way he's played this year.
And finally, your winner this week?
Brendan: I like Jim Furyk this week. He hasn't missed a cut this year and he has the tee-to-green game to avoid the big blow-up hole that lurks at this Pete Dye original. He has a great history here, making the weekend and finishing inside the top 25 several times throughout his career. Furyk has already had a career payday with the FedExCup title in 2010, but this will be another nice little purse for the veteran who's rebounded over the past two seasons to become one of the world's best again.
Adam: Graeme McDowell will build on his success at the RBC Heritage and win it this week.
Emily: As with any golf tournament -- only more so this week because of the conventional wisdom to "expect the unexpected" at Pete Dye's diabolically designed layout -- blindfold me, spin me around three times, and point me toward the donkey. On whomever the pin lands, he's my pick.