This time last year there was a lot of talk about the state of the surfaces on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass after a green protection project went wrong following a poor winter. One year later all the talk must be about the two superstars of world golf - Jordan Spieth - 9.00 - and Rory McIlroy - 8.00 - dominating the market, but there's also the small matter of Tiger Woods - 36.00 - teeing it up here as he looks to make his way back towards the top of the golfing world. The Players Championship is the first of five stops announced on Woods' upcoming schedule.
It's "fifth major" time and the PGA Tour headquarters takes centre stage. The aforementioned trio, and the other biggest names in golf will once again hit TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra for the Players Championship - the PGA Tour's flagship event. Rory of course is the man coming here with the recent WGC Matchplay title now under his belt following a near miss in 2012 and he'll be keen to add this title to his list of achievements.
The course - TPC Sawgrass (stadium)
A par 72 circa 7,200 yards, accuracy over distance is preferential to success around here. We are in the Pete Dye season and as with all his courses, shot making is vital. Placement in the fairway for optimal approach angle into small greens, often raised, is a theme on Dye's courses and here at Sawgrass, the fairways are often dog-legged, and the sub-air system greens are usually fast and firm. Matt Kuchar recently said people don't realise how firm they can be, while if you miss them, sticky Bermuda rough can make getting up and down very tough.
We will see one of the best finishing stretches in golf with the risk-reward par five followed by the iconic par 3 island-green 17th and then the make or break 18th that has water all down the left side. Wind is generally a factor so shot shaping and ball flight control make it an all round test of golf at Sawgrass. The cream usually rise. Amazingly, -13 has been the winning total in each of the last four renewals.
Three from the pack
Sergio Garcia - 36.00 or 8.00 - makes no secret that TPC Sawgrass is his favourite course and his results here would suggest why. The Spaniard is the token course specialist and indeed was, and I'm almost certain still is, the leading money winner at the Players Championship. Winner here in 2008 after a narrow miss in '07, Sergio has a number of top 10 and top 20 finishes. It was in the bag for Sergio so to speak in 2013 when he capitulated over the last two holes on Sunday - dunking no less than three balls in the water through 17 and 18 to let Tiger Woods in for victory. He responded brilliantly in 2014 with a solo 3rd.
Hideki Matsuyama - 41.00 or 9.00 - really caught my eye at the Matchplay last week. He's like a robot on the greens and at TPC Sawgrass this will stand him in good stead. He was of course a winner at Memorial for us last year and Muirfield Village is arguably the toughest track to get up and down from on the main tour, especially if you short side yourself. Coincidentally Matsuyama, while ranking a high 17th in scrambling, he's on top of the pile when it comes to scrambling from the fringe. The Japanese ranks 2nd in total driving, 3rd in ball striking and 4th in the all round. Hideki secured a top 25 here on his debut in '14.
Billy Horschel - 81.00 or 17.00 - was born and resides in the vicinity of TPC Sawgrass and indeed it's a course where he goes to practice. I recall him saying about this time last year that he was doing a lot of work on his short game at Sawgrass and this could turn out to be of huge benefit for the Floridian who looks to be about to hit boiling point on the golf course. Horschel was 3rd at the Valero and has been simmering since but we saw enough at the Matchplay - before he was ousted by Rory McIlroy - to know that Billy's game was beginning to resemble the quality that won him the Fedex Cup last year. After having a new baby recently Horschel may now be refocused once again.
There are two long odds guys on the radar this week. Marc Leishman - 126.0 or 23.00 - has been talking about a new found perspective after some personal issues and this is a factor I really believe in. It's showed. Leishman was pushing for a course record in Zurich in a round which saw him card 10 birdies in just 16 holes in round 2. He then went on to be three-for-three in the matchplay group stages before a narrow 2&1 defeat to Woodland. He has a modest record at Sawgrass including a top 10 in 2013 and has the all round game to feature.
Another with the game to match the course here is Shane Lowry - 201.0 or 36.00.He has one of the best short games in the business which will be inevitably needed on the Stadium Track. Lowry has impressed on the PGA Tour this year with a best of T7 at the Farmers Insurance. If the wind blows, the Irishman is also a fine exponent of the links style game and will have all the shots needed here.