Rory McIlroy finally will get a chance to defend his title in the 2019 Players Championship, sometimes called golf’s “Fifth Major,” this week on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The Players was halted after the first round last season and the PGA Tour shut down for about three months because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
McIlroy, who won the title by one stroke over Jim Furyk, will try to become the first player to win consecutive editions of the Players since the event was first played in 1974 at Atlanta Country Club, where Jack Nicklaus claimed the first of his record three titles in the event.
“If there’s been no one to defend, it would be a nice time to start and have someone do that,” McIlroy said last year. “But yeah, glad to be back. Obviously, this week last year was huge for me in terms of sort of getting the monkey off my back a little bit.
“I had a few close calls, and I wasn’t able to sort of walk through the door and claim a win, and then I was able to do it here and went on to have a great year and won a few more times.
“Obviously would be wonderful to replicate what happened last year.”
The difference is, a year ago McIlroy was in the 100th week of his career at No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings, and now he is down to No. 11.
McIlroy has not won since claiming his 27th professional victory in the 2019 WGC-HSBC Championship, and last Sunday shot 76 in the final round to tie for 10th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his fifth straight top-10 in the event.
In addition, he tied for sixth recently in the WGC-Workday, tied for fifth in the Masters and tied for eighth in the U.S. Open, and seems to be close with seven top-10 results on the PGA Tour this season.
Still, he dropped three spots to No. 11 in the world when this week’s rankings were released.
“I feel OK,” McIlroy said after his disappointing finish at Bay Hill. “There were some good parts this week again. Some stuff that I’m sort of, I don’t know what the word is or how to describe it, but just a little dejected or—I don’t know, like, maybe like maybe looking to go in a different direction. I don’t know. I need something, I need a spark, I need something and I just don’t seem to have it. Some days it’s good, some days it’s not.
“So I’ll get up to TPC Sawgrass, get some practice in and get ready for next week.
I think we’re all sort of now seeing a light at the end of the tunnel (in the pandemic) where things can at least get back to some sort of normality pretty soon.
“But, yeah, I mean I can’t believe it’s been a year. … I’m just looking forward to things going back to normal.”
Brooks Koepka, the former No. 1 player in the world who has battled back from neck and back injuries, announced on Sunday that he will not be at TPC Sawgrass because of a right knee injury he sustained recently.
And on Tuesday, 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett of England withdrew after testing positive for Covid-19.
However, 48 of the to 50 players in the rankings will be there, headed by all of the top 10, including No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 2 Jon Rahm of Spain, No. 3 Justin Thomas, No. 4 Collin Morikawa and No. 5 Xander Schauffle.
Bryson DeChambeau climbed five spots to No. 6 by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday and will try to become the fourth player to win the API and the Players in the same year. He would join Tiger Woods, Jason Day of Australia and Tom Kite.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – The reigning U.S. Open champion became the first two-time winner of the PGA Tour season by claiming the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday. He also took over the FedEx Cup points lead and climbed to No. 6 in the world. DeChambeau tied for 20th in 2019 Players after tying for 37th the year before.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – DJ captured the 2020 Masters and the 2021 Saudi International, and has four top-10s this season, but will try to bounce back from a tie for 54th in the WGC-Workday in his last start. Johnson did not play well in the Players until posting top-20 finishes in each of the last three, including a tie for fifth two years ago.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – In position to win the Players for the first time in three starts in 2019, Rahm took a one-stroke lead to the final round after a 64, but closed with an ugly 76 and fell to a tie for 12th. He has five top-10 finishes this season, including a tie for second in the Zozo, a tie for fifth in the Genesis and a tie for seventh in the Masters.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Was defending champion in last year’s Players, before it was halted after one round due to Covid-19. Also tied for sixth in 2014 and tied for eighth in 2013 and 2015. This season, he tied for fifth in the Masters, tied for eighth in the U.S. Open, tied for sixth in the WGC-Workday and tied for 10th in the API.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – His third PGA Tour victory in the Zozo, a tie for second in the AmEx, a tie for third at Pebble Beach and a tie for eighth in the Shriners have placed him second in the FedEx Cup point standings. Cantlay tied for 22nd in his first Players four years ago and tied for 23rd the next year, but missed the cut in 2019.
- Tyrrell Hatton, England – After claiming his eighth professional victory last month in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the European Tour, Hatton tied for 23rd in the WGC-Workday and tied for 22nd in the API, shooting 67-66 in the middle rounds but opening and closing with 77. Best finish in three Players starts was a tie for 41st in 2017.
- Justin Thomas, United States – Won three times last season to give him 13 PGA Tour victories, but his best this season were a tie for second in the Zozo, third in the Sentry TOC, fourth in the Masters and a tie for eighth in the U.S. Open. Thomas’ best result in five starts in the Players was a tie for third in 2016, and he also tied for 11th in 2018.
- Collin Morikawa, United States – The reigning PGA champion followed that up by claiming his third PGA Tour title two weeks ago in the WGC-Workday Championship. He also played well on the Hawaiian Swing, tying for seventh in the Sentry TOC and the Sony Open. Morikawa, 24, is making his debut in the Players Championship this week.
- Viktor Hovland, Norway – By winning the Mayakoba Championship, tying for second in the WGC-Workday Championship and the Farmers, in addition to tying for fifth in Genesis, he sits at third in the FedEx Cup point standings. Hovland, 23, who has three other top-20s, is playing in the Players Championship for the first time this week.
- Webb Simpson, United States – Claimed one of his seven PGA Tour titles in 2018 Players, shooting 63 in round two and winning by four shots. He has three other top-20s at TPC Sawgrass. This season, Simpson tied for fourth in the Sony Open, tied for sixth in the WGC-Workday, tied for eighth in the U.S. Open and tied for 10th in the Masters.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jordan Spieth, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Jason Day, Australia; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Daniel Berger, United States; Matthew Fitzpatrick, England; Sungjae Im, South Korea; Tony Finau, United States; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa; Patrick Reed, United States.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – The 2019-20 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year finished T-5 in the WGC-Workday and was T-7 in the Phoenix Open. Making his Players debut.
- Corey Conners, Canada – Led after two rounds and was third in API last week, T-8 in Zozo and T-10 in RSM Classic this season. Was T-41 in his only Players start in 2019.
- Will Zalatoris, United States – Korn Ferry Tour points leader also has T-5 in Shriners, T-6 in U.S. Open, T-7 in Farmers, T-8 at Puntacana. Tees it up in Players for first time.
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa – Coming off a solo seventh in API after winning seven times as a pro including three in 2020. Making his debut in the Players.
- Andrew Putnam, United States – Three-time winner as a pro is coming off a T-4 in the API and a T-3 in Puerto Rico the last two weeks. Missed cut in Players debut in 2019.
For first round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html