The Starter - The Players Championship

Mar 7th 2023

Nick DeMott

Updated throughout each tournament week, 'The Starter' will provide key news, notes, and other nuggets prior to the first tee time on Thursday morning. Think of it as an all-in-one resource to help guide you in the days leading up to the start of the tournament, as you prepare your fantasy golf lineups and entries. As soon as we receive valuable news updates on things such as tee times, featured groups, withdrawals and other course reports we’ll be sure to post them all here.

Brief Recap of the Arnold Palmer Invitational

  • Kurt Kitayama won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first career PGA Tour victory in his 50th career start.

    • Kitayama joins Adam Svensson as the only first-time winners on the PGA Tour this season.

    • Kitayama moved from 46th to 19th in the Official World Golf Rankings.

  • Kurt Kitayama, Harris English (T2), and Davis Riley (T8) earned spots in The Open Championship via their finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. 

    • This is part of the Open Qualifying Series. More info on that here.

    • Trey Mullinax (T8) is likely to retroactively earn one of these spots into The Open with Kitayama in line to get into the field via world rank.

  • Harris English ranked 1st in SG: Putting (+7.52) at API. This was his first top-5 finish on the PGA Tour since the 2021 WGC-FedEx St. Jude.

  • Rory McIlroy (T2) missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole which would have gotten him into a playoff with Kitayama.

    • McIlroy now has six top-10 finishes in his last seven trips to Bay Hill.

  • Scottie Scheffler (T4) came up just short in his bid to win back-to-back at API, which would have been the second time this season he successfully defended his title at an event.

    • Scheffler ranked 2nd in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (+10.40).

  • Tyrrell Hatton (T4) now has four top-5 finishes in his last seven starts at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

  • Patrick Cantlay (T4) finished top-5 in his first-ever start at Bay Hill.

  • Jordan Spieth (T4) has now finished top-5 in each of his two career starts at Bay Hill.

  • Viktor Hovland (T10) likely wins API this past week if not for his around-the-green woes (-3.76 SG: ARG). He ranked 2nd in SG: Off-the-Tee (+6.27) and 13th in SG: Approach (+3.67).

  • Keegan Bradley (T10), Cameron Young (T10), and Jason Day (T10) all added top-10 finishes at API.

    • Most top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season: Jon Rahm (6), Sahith Theegala (5), Jason Day (5), Scottie Scheffler (5).

Puerto Rico Open

  • Nico Echavarria won the Puerto Rico Open for his first career PGA Tour victory.

    • With this win, Echavarria earned a spot in this week's Players Championship.

  • Akshay Bhatia (runner-up) earned Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour thanks to his high finish in Puerto Rico.

The Players Championship(March 9th-12th, 2023)

  • TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course) - Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

  • Event #19 of the 2022-23 FedExCup Regular Season

  • Designated Event #5

  • Full-field cut event


The third stop of the Florida Swing is TPC Sawgrass for the PGA Tour's flagship event: THE PLAYERS Championship. It's an event that the PGA Tour often hypes up as the unofficial 5th major, which at this point feels justifiably earned.

Credit where credit is due, The Players was essentially a designated event before the idea of elevating certain events fully materialized. A major championship-like field and a massive prize purse, with a title and trophy that feel truly meaningful to win.

For me personally, The Masters and The Players Championship are in a class of their own when it comes to TV coverage and ease in following an event. It's a week that gives a glimpse into a utopian world where just about any golf shot from any player can be seen.

The Players Championship dates back to 1974 when Jack Nicklaus won the first iteration of this tournament. Since 1982, it's been played at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra.

TPC Sawgrass is home to one of the most recognizable golf holes in the par-3 17th, aka the island green. Despite measuring less than 150 yards, the 17th hole presents an intimidating tee shot that gets even more daunting with the presence of wind. Since 2003, the 17th at Sawgrass has played as the toughest par-3 measuring less than 150 yards on the PGA Tour with a scoring average of 3.13.

With 17 sandwiched between the very scoreable par-5 16th and the difficult par-4 18th (the second toughest hole on the PGA Tour in 2022), TPC Sawgrass ultimately offers one of the most intriguing closing stretches in golf. A perfect end to the unofficial 5th major.

The Course

At just 7,275 total yards and playing as a Par 72, TPC Sawgrass presents a very strategic and positional test of golf, as is generally the case with Pete Dye courses.

TPC Sawgrass continues the Florida theme of how wind and water can pose a serious challenge to the world's best golfers and also cause complete chaos at times.

Last year was perhaps the most extreme example of how wind can impact this tournament. Those who had to finish their second round on Saturday morning were greeted with brutal wind gusts. The tee shot into the 17th hole island green became near impossible, with 29 out of 33 balls going in the water.

With 17 water hazards that come into play on 17-of-18 holes, danger lurks around every corner at TPC Sawgrass.

When you combine these things with a Pete Dye-designed course that demands being in the right position off the tee, tricky around-the-green shots, and hitting approach shots into the right parts of undulated greens, TPC Sawgrass ultimately becomes one of the most high-variance courses on TOUR.

This becomes apparent when you look at past results of The Players Championship. Even the golfers with some of the best course history at TPC Sawgrass also tend to have random missed cuts or low finishes.

Or you can look year-by-year at who missed the cut here. Here are some big names who missed the cut in 2022: Adam Scott, Jason Day, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Matt Fitzpatrick, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, Cameron Young, Sahith Theegala.

Course Snapshot

  • Architect: Pete Dye (1980)

  • Renovation Architect: Dye and Steve Wenzloff (2016)

  • Yards: 7,275 (Par 72)

(All grass areas are on bermuda base)

  • Fairway: Champion fine rye overseed

  • Rough: 3.5" Champion fine rye overseed

  • Greens: Poa Trivialis overseed

  • Avg. green size: 5,500 sq. ft.

  • Sand Bunkers: 88

  • Number of Water Hazards: 17

  • Number of Holes Water is in Play: 17

  • Changes to the course:

    • #1 - moguls long of the right fairway bunker were strengthened and three small pot bunkers were added.

    • #9 - extended to get option to play 20 yards longer.

    • #15 - replaced rough grass area right side fairway bunker with trees and natural landscape materials.

Course Scoring Stats

In 2022, TPC Sawgrass ranked as the 8th most difficult course on the PGA Tour (out of 38) in terms of scoring average. Much of this was due to extreme weather conditions that caused the second-round scoring average to be much higher than the other three rounds of the tournament.

2022 field scoring average by round:

  • R1, 71.90 (-0.10)

  • R2, 74.46 (+2.46)

  • R3, 71.46 (-0.54)

  • R4, 71.57 (-0.43)

Winning Scores last ten years:

  • 2022: Cameron Smith -13

  • 2021: Justin Thomas -14

  • 2020: Cancelled after Round 1

  • 2019: Rory McIlroy -16

  • 2018: Webb Simpson -18

  • 2017: Si Woo Kim -10

  • 2016: Jason Day -15

  • 2015: Rickie Fowler -12

  • 2014: Martin Kaymer -13

  • 2013: Tiger Woods -13

Additional scoring stats last three years:

  • 2022 Scoring Average: 72.62 (+0.62)

    • Birdie-or-Better: 19.67%

    • Bogey-or-Worse: 19.42%

  • 2021 Scoring Average: 72.42 (-0.58)

    • Birdie-or-Better: 20.09%

    • Bogey-or-Worse: 19.31%

Tournament cancelled in 2020 because of COVID.

  • 2019 Scoring Average: 71.51 (-0.49)

    • Birdie-or-Better: 22.46%

    • Bogey-or-Worse: 17.61%

How Cameron Smith gained strokes on the field in 2022:

  • SG Total: +14.36

  • SG T2G: +2.84 (35th)

  • SG OTT: -5.20 (68th)

  • SG APP: +6.64 (5th)

  • SG ARG: +1.40 (19th)

  • SG PUTT: +11.52 (1st)

Cameron Smith became the third winner of The Players in the ShotLink era (2003-Present) to lead the field in Strokes Gained: Putting. Webb Simpson (2018) and Tim Clark (2010) are the other two past champs to do that.

How Justin Thomas gained strokes on the field in 2021:

  • SG Total: +14.52

  • SG T2G: +12.88 (1st)

  • SG OTT: +3.44 (10th)

  • SG APP: +6.40 (5th)

  • SG ARG: +3.04 (11th)

  • SG PUTT: +1.64 (42nd)

How Rory McIlroy gained strokes on the field in 2019:

  • SG Total: +13.92

  • SG T2G: +13.28 (1st)

  • SG OTT: +5.32 (2nd)

  • SG APP: +6.48 (6th)

  • SG ARG: +1.48 (29th)

  • SG PUTT: +0.68 (47th)

The Field

  • Field Changes (-): Ryan Armour got bumped to the first alternate spot.

  • Field Changes (+): Nico Echavarria added after winning the Puerto Rico Open.

  • Monday Qualifiers (+): None.

  • Sponsor Exemptions (+): None.

  • Alternates: Ryan Armour, Harry Hall, Harry Higgs, Ryan Moore, Erik van Rooyen, Cameron Percy, Zecheng Dou, Chris Stroud, Michael Kim, Paul Haley II, Henrik Norlander, Charley Hoffman, Matti Schmid, Zac Blair, Brent Grant.

  • 23 of the OWGR Top-25 are in the field.

  • 43 of the OWGR Top-50 are in the field.

  • 49 of the top 50 players in the current FedExCup Standings are in the field.

    • Ben Taylor (No. 27) is missing because he's getting married this week.

INJURY REPORT (as of 10AM ET, 3/7)


Matt Fitzpatrick (neck) - OWGR 12th

Fitzpatrick has been battling a neck injury in recent weeks though has yet to miss any time because of it. After round two of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Fitzpatrick gave a brief update:

“Yeah, it’s all right. Yeah, it’s okay. It’s better than it was at Riviera. It’s just like a slow thing. I’ve got to be really careful with it. I try not to kind of overdo it, overload it. Just working with my guy every day to make sure that it’s all alright.”

The injury doesn’t sound like a serious concern at this point, but it’s one to still monitor in case Fitzpatrick were to tweak something.

Jordan Spieth (back) - OWGR 15th

Spieth was seen grabbing at his lower back halfway through the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday. There's been no real news or information on whether Spieth is dealing with an actual injury or just tweaked something that day. Whatever the case, Spieth's play was not impacted as he led for parts of round four at Bay Hill before finish T4.

Hideki Matsuyama (neck) - OWGR 23rd

There have been no official reports on Matsuyama's apparent neck injury outside of some tweets from the Tracking Hideki account on Twitter. The issue was evidently bothering Matsuyama in the days leading up to the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, causing him to not play in the Wednesday pro-am. Matsuyama ultimately ended up playing well in round one at Bay Hill before playing poorly on Friday and missing the cut.

Matsuyama's status will be one to keep an eye on in the days leading up to start of The Players on Thursday.

Maverick McNealy (left shoulder) - OWGR 70th

McNealy is listed in the field for this week’s Players Championship as he looks to return from a shoulder injury. The 27-year-old withdrew in the middle of his last two starts at the WM Phoenix Open and Pebble Beach Pro-Am because of this issue. 

McNealy then decided he was not healthy enough to play in The Genesis Invitational and Arnold Palmer Invitational, the two most recent designated events. He was seen practicing at TPC Sawgrass over the weekend as he prepares for his return at The Players Championship. Regardless, it will be important to monitor McNealy's health status in the days leading up to The Players.

Byeong Hun An (wrist) - OWGR 189th

An withdrew prior to his round two tee time at the Arnold Palmer Invitational due to a wrist injury. The 31-year-old dealt with a wrist issue in the middle of last season on the Korn Ferry Tour.

No official word, but there have been some rumors that it's the same tendon issue but with his other wrist this time. Either way, it will be important to monitor An’s status in the days leading up to the start of The Players.

Lanto Griffin (chest/back) - OWGR 194th

Griffin has been out since withdrawing during the second round of The Genesis Invitational a few weeks ago with a pulled muscle in his chest and back area.

James Hahn (neck) - OWGR 305th

Hahn mentioned in a Twitter post on Monday that he's not been able to practice much because of a neck injury. The 41-year-old has not played well in 2023, missing the cut in 4/5 starts. Expectations don't appear to be very high for Hahn who added, "The only thing that matters to me this week is that I finish."

Austin Smotherman (undisclosed) - OWGR 366th

Smotherman has withdrawn each of the past two weeks from the Puerto Rico Open and The Honda Classic. It’s unclear what exact issue Smotherman is dealing with but will be worth monitoring.


Tiger Woods (ankle, foot)

Tiger is not in the field for next week's Players Championship. There was some hope after The Genesis Invitational that he might make one more start before The Masters, but the 15-time major champion has opted to give his surgically-repaired ankle and plantar fasciitis more time to rest and recover.

After playing all four rounds at The Genesis Invitational two weeks ago, Tiger said that his main goal was to play in all four majors this year, giving the sense that any extra events would be a pleasant surprise. It appears that Woods will now make sure his ankle and foot are ready to go for Augusta National and The Masters in April.

Daniel Berger (undisclosed)

Berger appeared on the SiriusXM PGA Tour radio show two weeks ago and gave a quick update on an undisclosed injury that has kept him sidelined since last year's U.S. Open. He said that he'd be back on the PGA Tour soon but gave no specific timeline for his return.

The four-time winner said he's taking rehab "day-by-day" for an injury that did NOT require surgery. Berger said he's not putting pressure on himself to get back as soon as possible but rather taking a patient approach to make sure he's 100% healthy. Berger added that he tried to play through this injury last season but "that was definitely not the answer."

John Huh (elbow)

Huh remains sidelined by elbow tendinitis. He’s yet to make a start in 2023.

C.T. Pan (undisclosed)

Pan has been sidelined since the beginning of November. I’ve heard some say that Pan is dealing with a wrist injury but haven’t been able to get full confirmation on that. He’s qualified to be in this week’s Players Championship but will not compete.

Vince Whaley (undisclosed)

Vince Whaley has been battling an undisclosed injury that only allowed him to play three events in the Fall. His last start was at the beginning of last October at the Shriners Children’s Open.

Kevin Yu (knee)

Yu underwent surgery on February 20th for an apparent knee injury, which will sideline him for an unknown amount of time. The rookie was having an excellent first season on the PGA Tour with seven made cuts in 10 starts, one top-5 finish, and two top-10 finishes. In his last start before the injury, Yu finished T7 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Tee Times & Groupings for Rounds 1-2

Horses for Courses

The Players Championship golfers with the highest “True Strokes Gained” (avg. adjusted strokes gained) at TPC Sawgrass (min. two starts):

  • Doug Ghim +2.47 (8 rounds)

  • Hideki Matsuyama +2.18 (25)

  • Viktor Hovland +2.17 (7)

  • Corey Conners +2.16 (13)

  • Justin Thomas +2.10 (28)

  • Will Zalatoris +2.03 (8)

  • Si Woo Kim +1.99 (22)

  • Adam Scott +1.92 (67)

  • Joel Dahmen +1.85 (11)

  • Max Homa +1.74 (7)

  • Tommy Fleetwood +1.72 (19)

Notable finishes by golfers with just ONE career start at TPC Sawgrass:

  • Taylor Pendrith - T13 (2022)

  • Sahith Theegala - MC (2022)

  • Cameron Young - MC (20220

Notables playing TPC Sawgrass for the first time this week:

  • Tom Kim

  • Min Woo Lee

  • Taylor Montgomery

  • Kurt Kitayama

  • Ryan Fox

  • Ben Griffin

  • Thomas Detry

  • Davis Riley

  • Justin Suh

Weather Report (as of 10AM ET, 3/7)