The Players Championship is the most important event of the year on the PGA Tour schedule. The Tour, which does not operate or have any ownership in the four different majors, has blown it out at TPC Sawgrass and now we have a few decades of history with this thing. It does not fall in the same class as the majors, but it exists certainly out on its own as the biggest non-major tournament of the year. It’s created its own unique identity and thanks to a run of high-profile winners over the last 10 to 15 years, the event has only gotten stronger.
This year’s Players Championship begins with the strongest field since 2006. The top 50 were all here on hand and ready to tee it up, but because that would have been too easy, Paul Casey withdrew on the eve of the first round with a back injury. So we’ve got 49 of the top 50 and a loaded 144-man field which is often hailed as the best of the year.
But the reason this year’s Players has some added juice has nothing to do with one of the pros in that top 50 group. Tiger Woods is back at TPC Sawgrass for the first time in three years, ending the same drought he had at Augusta until last month. Woods doesn’t have the track record here that he does at so many places that were on his annual schedule. This is all relative as Tiger’s career really has no comparison. He’s played well enough and has a slew of top 10 and top 25s here, but there are only two wins (which anyone else would gladly take for a career). For Tiger, that’s not a lot compared to the other events he played year-in and year-out for so long.
That’s just the nature of this course and this field. There are very few players who consistently show here and there’s never been a back-to-back winner. It’s an unpredictable venue where no one single style is favored and no single player has traditionally and consistently dominated. The bombers don’t hold the advantage that they do at so many other courses.
Tiger makes his return to The Players in one of most hyped tee times this event has ever seen. Woods is always the marquee tee time on the tee sheet, no matter who he is playing with. But the Tour put him with Phil Mickelson this week. The two, despite being contemporaries, have rarely played together. Their star power was distributed to different sides of the draw for most of their careers. This week, however, they’re together and Rickie Fowler is rounding out the trio for the first 36 holes.
They tee off at 1:52 p.m. and will obviously be the focus of the Golf Channel’s opening round coverage. That will be simulcast streamed and PGA Tour Live will also have their own featured groups stream up and running. On the morning side, the superstar group of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas will be the focus of PGA Tour Live’s featured groups streams. Those three, the last three FedExCup champs, illustrate the kind of depth that exists on the Tour right now and makes putting Phil and Tiger together easier than the old days.
Here are all your media options and schedule for the opening round at TPC Sawgrass:
Thursday’s first-round coverage
9 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Golf Channel “Live From” The Players
1 to 7 p.m. — Golf Channel
7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. — PGA Tour Live starts with coverage from range and opening holes
• ESPN+ also now has simulcast of the PGA Tour Live coverage
• 7:30 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. — Free PGA Tour live stream on Twitter
Featured Groups (PGA Tour Live subscription required)
- 8:05 a.m. — Dustin Johnson / Bubba Watson / Brooks Koepka
- 8:27 a.m. — Jordan Spieth / Rory McIlroy / Justin Thomas
- 1:30 p.m. (on DirecTV) — Patrick Reed / Jon Rahm / Hideki Matsuyama
- 1:52 p.m. (on DirecTV) — Phil Mickelson / Rickie Fowler / Tiger Woods
9 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- PGA Tour Live featured holes coverage -- Nos. 12 & 17 (No subscription required)
1 to 7 p.m. -- Golf Channel simulcast stream
Noon-7 p.m. -- PGA Tour Radio on Sirius-XM (Ch. 92/208 and streamed here)