2023 Players Championship: Jon Rahm’s dominance, Justin Thomas’ struggles lead 10 storylines at TPC Sawgrass
The 2023 Players Championship marks the culmination of an incredible five-week stretch of the PGA tour. It all started in Phoenix when Scotty Scheffler defended his Phoenix Open title, continued in Los Angeles with John Rahm’s (approximately) 80th win of the season at the Genesis Invitational, and moved to Florida over the past two weeks. Now the Tour is the jewel in the crown, with a few of the best players playing their best golf and thousands of topics of discussion throughout the week.
Until last week’s T39 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Ram was indeed in the Tiger Woods run. Given his interesting history at TPC Sawgrass, what he’s doing at Players this year should be exciting. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Max Homa, Scotty Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Victor Hovland, Patrick Cantley and Xander Schauffele have all played some amazing golf from time to time and some of them will be in this tournament.
Throw in all the drama off the field – an updated PGA Tour schedule, the constant threat of LIV Golf, a $25 million purse – and not even Tiger’s absence can overshadow what should be one of the best weeks of the year.
Let’s take a look at 10 storylines that should be another exciting week at the Players Championship.
2023 Players Championship storylines
1. Planet Ram: Before the final stretch of 76-76-72 last week, Ram almost burned everything to the ground. His West Coast scorching hit was ridiculously good and it looked like he wouldn’t drop out of contention all year long (the API finish was his first outside the top 10 anywhere in the world since it was before the last NFL season ). Considering his close misses in TPC Sawgrass, including a mini-crash in 2019 that saw McIlroy take the win, the deserving favorite and biggest curiosity this week are all in the same man. As an aside, how wild it would be if someone drove down Magnolia Lane in April, passing Kapalua, Palm Springs, the Riviera. And TPK Sograss?
The first 60 days of John Ram in 2023.
• Top 7 in all five starts
• 3 wins
• 93 under in round 20
• 67.1 points on average
• Beat or match 601 players (98.8%).
• Lost to 8 players
• Earned $9 million
We throw it up too often, but for Ram it’s a real tiger run.
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) February 19, 2023
2. So much randomness: TPC Sawgrass, perhaps more than any other regular course on the top players schedule, causes bizarre leaderboards that are seemingly impossible to predict. I mean, look at these last two top 10s.
Joseph LaMagna lays out the reasons for this seeming randomness, including many water hazards and an increased demand for off-tee accuracy. this piece, but the fact is that it is extremely difficult to predict who will come out of the pack, and sometimes even be among the winners of this golf tournament. Luckily for your one-off, it’s not the biggest wallet of the year or anything like that.
3. No reigning champion: It is strange not only that the defending champion of a famous tournament will not be present for reasons not related to injury, but also that the Players will be absent. half out of the top 10 a year ago. Cameron Smith, Anirban Lahiri and Paul Casey (placed one through three), as well as Harold Varner III and Dustin Johnson (both in the top ten) were eliminated. They are healthy, but no one will play because they have moved to the LIV and are suspended indefinitely from the PGA Tour. What’s crazier? This happens for the second time in the past year at one of the game’s most important events. Phil Mickelson was last year’s defending champion at the PGA Championship in the Southern Hills and he chose not to defend his title even though there were no restrictions on his participation.
4. Signature Win: Many golfers in this area are looking for their first branded win, or even their first overall win. You can throw Hovland, Sam Burns, Cameron Young, Tom Kim, Sungjae Im, Sahit Tigala, and maybe even Will Zalatoris and Tony Finau into this bucket. The last two golfers have both won the FedEx Cup playoffs, but The Players are very different from the playoffs, and this week’s win will usurp everything that came before it. Given the aforementioned relative randomness of TPC Sawgrass, this becomes a bit more of a storyline than elsewhere, like Augusta National.
5. Disney Sleep: I’m stunned that Jordan Spieth played well on site with all the roller coasters last week. However, his story in TPC Sawgrass is less convincing. He finished T4 in his first appearance in 2014 but has not made the top 40 since. If he competes for the second week in a row, especially in a place that is over-penalized for wayward tees, I would absolutely I’m shockedalthough not as shocked as I was on Sunday when i found out he does not record his score after each hole. Others who performed worse than expected at TPC Sawgrass included Rahm, McIlroy, Young, Finau, Burns, Kantlay, Colleen Morikawa and Harris English. So good luck again this week.
6. Rory’s Back: The 2019 champion had a mediocre turnaround on the West Coast after winning in Dubai but is back on track with a nearly win at Bay Hill. Like most, he was a mixed bag here. The win in the 19th was nice, but he rounded it up with missed shots, including one in 2021 when he chased Bryson DeChambeau’s length right into the lake, running all the way to the 18th hole. This week he’ll feel like he’s in the spotlight as both a player and the league’s obvious playing commissioner, and he often thrives when he feels he has something to prove and a reason to do so. I don’t know if that will lead to another win here – he’s been more crooked than usual this season, which doesn’t bode well – but if he’s really starting to feel the moment a bit, then it should be an exhibition.
7. Scotty as Phil: Scheffler was the Mickelson for Woods Ram in 2023, but don’t let what Ram did get in the way of the fact that Scheffler, not Ram, has been the best striker in the world so far in 2023. It’s a staggering reality considering what Ram and, to a lesser extent, McIlroy and Homa are doing, but it’s true. This does not mean that Scheffler will win the tournament, but it is worth remembering at the beginning of the week.
8. Speaking of tiger: His absence will be felt, but not monumentally. It’s pretty crazy, right? I’ll get into that idea later this week, but the Tour has been so strong during the first two months of scheduled events that the idea of a post-Tiger world flourishing more than it did when the Tiger was at its peak is unimaginable. Brendan Porat discussed this idea at the start of the shotgun. There is real momentum in this year’s Players, but more importantly, real movement. If you compare this year to last, when it looked like the Tour was trying to beat LIV with no plan to speak of, there’s legitimate excitement about where this could all go.
9. What happened to JT? The 2021 champion… has been fine so far in 2023, but not in his usual elite condition. This floor is still quite high for Thomas – he has six first 25s in seven starts! – but he’s not interested in the top 25 and hasn’t been in contention for a golf tournament lately. Interestingly, he struggled with the best part of his game (again, compared to his usual performance). He has been in the top 20 with 50-100 yards for the last two years, but in 2023 he was about league average. This is one thing to keep an eye on as there are so many important approach shots in TPC Sawgrass this week.
10. Golden Boy: The biggest question all week, as the league, its future and the biggest championship on its roster hang in the balance, is whether the anthropomorphic golden statue will make a second straight appearance on our TVs. I hope, obviously, that he will return and return with pleasure.
Have a good week players pic.twitter.com/rr3GTVOCuu
— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) March 6, 2023