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Complete Guide to the 2014 Players Championship

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2014

Complete Guide to the 2014 Players Championship

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    It's only May, but it's already time for golf's so-called fifth major, the Players Championship.

    Of course, there is no such thing as a fifth major, but the Players Championship certainly makes a great case. With a world-class field, record-setting prize money and the infamous "Island Green," this tournament is always majorly entertaining.

    This year, Bubba Watson comes into the event riding high after his second Masters win. With defending champion Tiger Woods once again out due to injury, Watson, along with three other players, has a chance to finish the weekend as the No. 1 golfer in the world. 

    From battles for the top spot to sleeper picks, here's everything you need to know about the 2014 Players Championship.

All About TPC at Sawgrass

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, is one of the most famous golf courses in the world and has been the home of the Players Championship since 1982.

    The iconic course, which first opened in 1980, is the home to the PGA Tour headquarters. The Stadium Course was built specifically for the Players Championship, with stadium-like grass mounds built around the holes for optimum viewing.

    The 7,215-yard course, designed by Pete and Alice Dye, is rife with pot bunkers, marshes, palm trees and lightning-fast greens. The most famous hole at Sawgrass is the 17th hole, which is known as the "Island Green." It is a 137-yard par-three hole, with a green almost entirely surrounded by water.

    But this year, all of the greens at TPC Sawgrass are a bit worrisome. The fourth, 11th and 12th greens were closed for Monday's practice round. According to Marissa Payne of The Washington Post, the harsh winter wreaked havoc on the course. However, the greens are expected to be playable by Thursday with the help of a great weather forecast.

Where to Watch on Television

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    There will be many ways to watch the Players Championship this year. You can find streams online at PGATour.com all four days, and SiriusXM Radio will also be broadcasting live daily from noon to 7 p.m. ET.

    Here's where to watch the drama unfold on the television. (All times listed ET.)

     

    Thursday

    1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Golf Channel

     

    Friday

    1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Golf Channel

     

    Saturday

    12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Golf Channel

    2 p.m. to 7 p.m., NBC

     

    Sunday

    12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Golf Channel

    2 p.m. to 7 p.m., NBC

What Makes the Players Championship the 5th Major?

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Players and media members all refer to the Players Championship as the fifth major—and for good reason. The Players Championship has a prize-money pool of $10 million, larger than any other event, and gives the winner 80 points toward his world golf ranking, which is the most outside of the four majors.

    In addition to money and points, the Players has one of the best fields in golf. This year, 46 of the top 50 golfers in the world will be there. The only players absent will be Tiger Woods and Jason Day (both dealing with injury), as well as Miguel Angel Jimenez and Victor Dubuisson.

    The Players isn't an official stop on the European Tour, but the big prize money and great spot on the calendar, right in the dead month between the Masters and the U.S. Open, helps the tournament attract the best players from all around the world.

Biggest Storylines

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Can Rory McIlroy Find Consistency and Conquer TPC Sawgrass?

    Rory McIlroy was the favorite headed into the Masters, but after a disappointing second round, he found himself struggling to finish in the top 10. McIlroy's problem this year has been inconsistency, with seemingly one great round and one atrocious round every tournament. The two-time major champion needs to steady his game if he wants to win the Players Championship for the first time in his career.

     

    Can Jordan Spieth Continue to Impress on the Big Stage?

    Bubba Watson walked away with the green jacket last month, but 20-year-old Jordan Spieth was the breakout star of the Masters. The 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year will be playing at TPC Sawgrass for the first time in his career. The course usually favors experience, but Spieth seems to be an exception to most rules. 

     

    Who Will the "Island Green" Destroy?

    Every year, one of the leaders falls victim to the green of death. Last year, of course, it was Sergio Garcia. Who will find the water this year and see his chances at a title dashed?

     

    Who Can Grab the No. 1 Ranking?

    Once again this season, the No. 1 ranking is there for the taking. With defending champion Tiger Woods sitting out, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson could all finish the weekend at the top of the golfing world.

The Top Pairings

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    With the best golfers in the world at this tournament, there are plenty of fascinating pairings at the Players Championship this year. Here are some to watch out for.

     

    Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Graeme McDowell (8:18 a.m. ET Thursday, 10th hole)

    With all three of these players in the top 15 of the world golf rankings, this trio will be one to watch. Twenty-year-old Spieth tied for second at the Masters this year, while Johnson and McDowell have both won a major. 

     

    Harris English, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy (8:29 a.m. ET Thursday, 10th hole)

    Both Europeans and major winners, Rose and McIlroy will be a very interesting duo to watch during the first two days. Rose won the U.S. Open last year, while McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship. American Harris English will be the underdog in this group.

     

    Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia (8:39 a.m. ET Thursday, 10th hole)

    Keep an eye on this group, because it is sure to provide entertainment. Garcia is returning to the scene of last year's disaster, while Mickelson and Johnson are both trying to recover from missing the cut at the Masters. Mickelson and Garcia have both won this event before. 

The Top Contenders

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Much like at the Masters, Rory McIlroy is the oddsmakers' favorite this week, according to the odds provided by VegasInsider.com. Adam Scott closely trails him.

    Scott and McIlroy are two of the biggest stars in the game right now, and both have proven they can win the big events. However, neither has been in dominant form this season.

    The 2012 winner Matt Kuchar is also a strong contender this year. The Florida native has a chance to become the No. 1 player in the world after this tournament, along with fellow top contenders Scott, Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson. Kuchar is in great form, coming off of a tie for fifth at the Masters and a win at the RBC Heritage last month.

    Other strong contenders include Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who won here in 2008 and always seems to be in contention at Sawgrass. And, of course, 2007 champion Phil Mickelson is a top threat whenever he plays.

The Dark Horses

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    In golf these days, it seems like everyone is a dark horse, especially on a course as dramatic and difficult as TPC at Sawgrass.

    J.B. Holmes, who was ranked outside the top 500 in March, is suddenly one to watch after winning Wells Fargo last week. Holmes is one of the best stories on the PGA Tour this year. His Wells Fargo victory was his first in six years and capped his harrowing comeback from brain surgery.

    Holmes has finished in the top 20 in five of his last six tournaments and has been in the top 20 at the Players Championship four times in his career. Jim Furyk, who was the runner-up to Holmes last week, could also be dangerous at Sawgrass. 

    Zach Johnson has been quietly having a good season and will be dangerous if he gets off to a good start. Also keep an eye on Jordan Spieth, Lee Westwood and Jimmy Walker, all who have games that could thrive on the dangerous course.

The Favorite

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Right now, VegasInsiders.com says that Rory McIlroy is the favorite for the title this weekend, but Adam Scott isn't far behind. In my eyes, Scott is the safer pick. McIlroy has simply been too inconsistent this year, and there are too many opportunities for faltering at Sawgrass.

    Scott, however, won this tournament 10 years ago and is playing much better golf these days than he was back then. The Aussie superstar seemed a bit burdened by the weight of defending his Masters title, but with that in the rearview mirror, he can relax again.

    Now Scott can focus on adding a No. 1 ranking to his resume. He's been nipping at the heels of the top ranking for some time, but a win at the Players Championship would take him there in style. With a belly putter in his bag and power and precision in his pocket, Scott is ready to reclaim the title that put him on the map a decade ago and officially climb to the top of the golfing world.

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