Over the course of March, the top golfers in the world, on all tours, will be desperate to hone their skills to perfection to ensure that they are in prime form ahead of the first Major of the new season.
That comes at Augusta National in mid-April when The Masters will take centre stage in the golf world, but for now, there is an almost equally important event coming up at the weekend, a tournament that the players know as the “Fifth Major”.
That is The Players Championship, one of the US PGA Tour’s flagship events and one that has seen its prize pool increase from $20m last season to a huge $25m for this year’s event.
No LIV Golf players have been invited to the event which means that last year’s Champion, Cam Smith, won’t be defending his title while other players such as Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia will all also miss out.
However, the elite players from the US PGA and DP World Tour amongst other tours around the world, will be in attendance and of course, you can have a bet on any of them to win the tournament, including an each way bet option which pays out a quarter of the odds if the chosen player finishes in the top five including ties.
Bet365 Sport is the place to head for just such bets and remember the site also has a Live Golf Tracker option which you can tune in when the rounds are in action to catch up on the latest happenings on course in real time.
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So after our preview last week of the forthcoming US PGA Championship which comes up in May this year, let’s now take a look at what makes The Players Championship the next best tournament to win after one of the four Majors.
The Players Championship – Factfile
The tournament was first contested back in 1974 when Jack Nicklaus was the first winner of the tournament.
The Golden Bear is the most successful player in the tournament’s history being the only player to win it three times, following his 1974 victory with wins in 1976 and 1978.
Five players have won the tournament twice; Fred Couples (1984, 1986), Steve Elkington (1991, 1997), Hal Sutton (1983, 2000), Davis Love III (1992, 2003) and Tiger Woods (2001, 2013)
The tournament was held at the Atlanta Country Club in 1974, followed by the Colonial Country Club in 1975 and Inverary Country Club East Course in 1976.
Sawgrass Country Club held the event for five years from 1977 to 1981 while a purpose-built course was being constructed in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach.
The first year the current venue, TPC Sawgrass, held the event was in 1982, with Jerry Pate landing the win.
Players were very unhappy with how difficult the course initially was for the first tournament at TPC Sawgrass. Jack Nicklaus complained that he had “never been any good at stopping my 5-iron on the hood of a car”, while Ben Crenshaw called it “Star Wars golf, designed by Darth Vader.”
However, after a redesign of several aspects of the course, players opinion improved a great deal with Ben Crenshaw recanting his early criticism and stating a year or two later that TPC Sawgrass was now a “damn fine golf course.”
Americans dominated the first years of the tournament and it took until 1987 before a non-American player won the event; Scotland’s Sandy Lyle who beat Jeff Sluman in a playoff to claim the victory.
The most famous hole on the course is the famous island green 17th hole. However, in the original design, the hole was only meant to be part-bordered by a lake. During construction of the remainder of the course, the area in front of the 17th hole was one of the few sandy parts of the course and this was excavated to be used in more boggy parts of the layout. This left a crater where the 17th fairway should have been and Alice Dye suggested to her husband Pete that this could be used as a feature to create a full island green. Pete wasn’t too convinced this would work but agreed and in doing so created one of the most recognisable and iconic golf holes in history.
A number of players have shot the tournament record round of 63 in the event: Fred Couples, Greg Norman, Roberto Castro, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day, Colt Knost, Webb Simpson, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson.
The tournament is famous for having one of the largest prize pools on the US PGA Tour. In 1987, the prize pool reached $1m for the first time and by 1995, that had increased to $3m. Five years later, that had doubled to $6m. By 2007, that had increased to $9m and in 2014, the prize pool reached $10m. Since then it has increased to $11m, $12.5m, $15m and then $20m last year, and now another $5m increase to $25 for this year.
The tournament had mostly been played in May each year but was moved to March in 2019 when the new look golf season was announced. This means along with the four Majors, there is now a massive tournament from March through to July each year.
No defending champion has ever finished better than 5th in the subsequent year’s event. This means no player has ever won the event twice in two years, emphasising just how difficult this tournament is to win.
The course measures 7,189 yards (6,574m) in length.
Greg Norman holds the tournament record score of -24 (264 shots) which he achieved in his 1994 victory.
This year’s winner will take home a top prize of $4.5m, which is £1.8m more than Justin Thomas in 2021 and $900,000 more than Cameron Smith won last year at the tournament. The prize money for the winner has doubled in value since 2019.
Who Should I Back To Win The Players Championship?
Golf bets are hard to land simply because there are so many potential winners from a field of around 144 to 156 each week. As such, I think each way betting, which at bet365 offers ¼ of the odds for players finishing in fifth place or better.
With that in mind, I would back any selection of the following golfers to go well in the tournament.
Rory McIlroy (11/1)
Justin Thomas (14/1)
Will Zalatoris (25/1)
Justin Rose (66/1)
Kurt Kitayama (150/1)
The action starts Thursday, so remember to tune in to see who wins one of the biggest prizes ever offered on the US PGA Tour.