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Can Rory McIlroy Defend His Player’s Championship Title?


Last year, Northern Irish ace Rory McIlroy claimed the 46th Players Championship title at TPC Sawgrass, the official home of the tournament since 1982. Rated by many top players as the unofficial ‘fifth major’ of the season, the tournament also heralds the start of the Major season, with the first Major Championship, The Masters, taking place in April at Augusta. This is then followed by a further three events over the next three months.

McIlroy will be very keen to hold on to the title he won in style last season, but he faces a stellar field that is on a par, or even stronger than the type of field that you would get at a Major championship. If he can defend the title, he will be the first player in the tournament’s history to do so as nobody has ever won the tournament in successive years.

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The Players Championship – History

The first player’s Championship took place in Atlanta in 1974 and was won by Jack Nicklaus, the first of three wins for the Golden Bear in the first five years of the tournament. For the first three years of its existence the tournament moved to different courses, to Colonial in 1975 and then to Inverary in 1976 but by 1977 it had moved to Sawgrass Country Club and then in 1982, moved to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass where it has remained ever since.

Jack Nicklaus is the only player to win the event three times, although a number of players have won the tournament twice. No player has ever won the tournament in consecutive years.

The Players Championship – Most Wins

  • Jack Nicklaus (3 wins) – 1974, 1976, 1978
  • Fred Couples (2 wins) – 1984, 1996
  • Steve Elkington (2 wins) – 1991, 1997
  • Hal Sutton (2 wins) – 1983, 2000
  • Davis Love III (2 wins) – 1992, 2003
  • Tiger Woods (2 wins) – 2001, 2013

There are 33 players in total that have won the famous tournament once in their career and that includes a number of top players from golf history and also in the present including Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Justin Leonard, David Duval, Adam Scott, Tom Kite, Sandy Lyle, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and last year’s winner Rory McIlroy.

TPC Sawgrass – The Course

Having been a regular course included on a number of golf games, TPC Sawgrass is one of the most familiar courses for both players and fans. Its most famous hole is the 17th, a small par three that is famed for its island green. Designed by Pete and Alice Dye, the course is renowned as being one of the most difficult in the world and it also relatively long at 7,189 yards in length.

What is less well known is that the 17th Green became an island by accident, not design. Originally, the hole was supposed to be a standard par 3, but due to the sandy soil being excavated away, Alice Dye suggested a change to the design to create an Island Green.

The course record is 63, and it is held by a number of players, Fred Couples, Greg Norman, Robert Castro, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day, Colt Knost, Webb Simpson and Brooks Koepka all shooting the score between 1992 and 2018.

Who will be in contention at The Players Championship This Week?

Most golfers are gearing up for the next few months and many will come into this tournament relatively ‘lightly raced’. Tiger Woods will be absent through injury though and at the moment, the form of Rory McIlroy has made him the 7/1 favourite with bet365 Sport at the moment.

The Irishman is in a very good run of form and has reclaimed the number 1 spot in the world, just ahead of Ryder Cup team mate Jon Rahm. Rahm is also rated as having a fine chance at Sawgrass this week, with bet365 rating the Spaniard’s chances at around the 12/1 mark.

Other notable European golfers in with a chance include Tommy Fleetwood (25/1), Tyrell Hatton (45/1) who broke his PGA Tour duck last week with a win at Bay Hill, while young Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick is a 60/1 shot as are Justin Rose and Paul Casey. Ian Poulter, twice a runner up in this tournament, is rated an 80/1 shot.

There will always be a strong showing from the top American golfers on show with Justin Thomas at 14/1 rated the best of their group, although Bryson DeChambeau at 20/1, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay at 25/1 and former winner of this event Webb Simpson at 28/1 are rated their best chances.

Personally, I don’t feel you can discount the likes of Xander Schauffle (28/1), Patrick Reed (33/1) or former winner Rickie Fowler (35/1), while Brooks Koepka is a very tempting bet at 40/1.

Others to watch in the field are Sungjae Im and Hideki Matsuyama at 28/1, Adam Scott at 30/1, Marc Leishman at 45/1 and Collin Morikawa at 50/1.

Who is our tip to win?

Looking through the field and at the history of the event, even though McIlroy is the shortest price favourite here, the odds don’t favour back to back wins. I can even see a winner coming from outside any of the names mentioned here too, but my tip to back for the win bet would be Xander Schaffele at 28/1, while Tony Finau at 60/1 would be my each way bet for the tournament.

*All odds stated were correct with bet365 Sport as of 11.30am on Tuesday 10th March 2020.