PGA Tour Confidential: Players Championship Preview edition

Brandt Snedeker, 2013 Masters
Harry How/Getty Images
Snedeker is ranked sixth in the world, has been in the hunt at two of the last three major championships and at 32 is in the prime of his career.

Now who's the best player never to have won a major? What's the best hole at Sawgrass not on an island? Are you taking Tiger or Stevie in the race to 18? And who will be the 2013 Players champ?

SI Golf+ convened a panel of experts — and a Tour pro who participated on the condition of anonymity — to tackle these and other questions.

Adam Scott won the Masters, so now who's the best player without a major?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Luke Donald. Lee Westwood was probably the best five years ago. Now he's not winning as regularly; he's slipping into a slow twilight. I'd vote for Luke.

John Garrity, special contributor, Sports Illustrated: It's got to be Westwood, based on seniority. He's been trying longer. Luke is definitely a close second. So I don't think Alan is crazy at all — I don't care what people say.

Anonymous Pro: Westwood played well again at Augusta this year until the weekend. How much longer before he's like Monty and it's time to put an old horse out to pasture?

Garrity: Westwood still has game and can contend. It's the same with Sergio García. We've given up on him, yet he still pops up on the leader board. Lightning can still strike.

Shipnuck: The difference is, Sergio has given up while Westwood is still chasing it. Based on the heartbreak factor, guys who have come close, it's definitely Westwood. Donald has had plenty of top 10s and backdoor top fives, but he hasn't really let one slip through his grasp at the end.

Anonymous Pro: Westwood is a U.S. Open type because he's got a short game where you just open the face and beat it out of the rough. That's why the Open tends to favor ball strikers like Lee. His short game doesn't work as well at Augusta.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I rank the major-less players based on who's playing the best at the moment. So I'm going with Brandt Snedeker, who's number 6 in the world and has had chances to win two of the last three majors.

Shipnuck: Are we giving Steve Stricker any votes? Or is he out because he's semiretired?

Van Sickle: If Stricker wins anything, it should be an Emmy or a Clio for the new Avis commercial in which he talks about mentally gearing up to play golf. The punch line has him arrive at the course and deadpan into the camera, "I'm a savage."

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'll say Steve Williams. You may say he's not a player. I'll say otherwise.

Van Sickle: Brilliant. So who's the best player who hasn't won a Players?

Bamberger: Again, Steve Williams. He's reading greens well and pulling good clubs, and I think this may be the year he breaks through there.

Shipnuck: Rory McIlroy. He's also the best player who ever boycotted the tournament.

Anonymous Pro: Jim Furyk. It's hard to play at home, which can be a contributing factor. Furyk is longer than Tim Clark and Fred Funk, who have won there, and he's every bit as straight. He has played 17 Players now, but for some reason he and fellow Ponte Vedra Beach resident Vijay Singh never fare that well.

Shipnuck: Vijay is a good one. He's a Hall of Famer who practically lives on the range there.

Garrity: It's interesting that Tiger and Phil have each won once, while seven of the last eight Players winners are nonmajor champions. It doesn't seem like the Players is identifying major-champion-quality winners.

Shipnuck: Rory and Ian Poulter have described the course as fiddly, a Euro term that means quirky or funky. Despite its fearsome rep, the Stadium course is a short, position track where you manage all this weirdness. It's rather fiddly. It's a fun tournament, a fun course, but not much more than that.

Van Sickle: It wins the award for biggest clubhouse.

Shipnuck: You think Tim Finchem was overcompensating for something?

What's the Stadium Courses's best hole that doesn't have an island green?

Garrity: The 18th because it's borderline iconic. It's not quite the 18th at Pebble Beach — it certainly isn't close — but I'd rank it with Kapalua, Bay Hill and Doral for strong closing holes. Water all down the left side; there's trouble at the green; and you're playing it after you just survived the trauma of the 17th hole.

Van Sickle: How about that shot Graeme McDowell hit in 2011? He missed right, playing it safe, and the ball kicked onto the green, ran all the way across and trickled into the lake.

Shipnuck: He got what he deserved.

Bamberger: Spoken like Pete Dye himself.

Anonymous Pro: My favorite is the 13th, a cool par-3 that is overlooked because everyone focuses on 16 through 18. You can make anything from 1 to 6 there. The green is crowned right in the middle and falls off left, right and toward the back. It typifies how the course demands great iron play more than anything else. Phil made a sweet 1 there; a lot of guys have come close; and we've seen Charley Hoffman's putter go into the lake. It's a cool hole, even if the green is a little unfair.

Shipnuck: I like the 16th. It's the quintessential risk-reward hole. It often determines the winner. It's part of the lake amphitheater with 17, and it comes at a critical juncture in the round.

Van Sickle: I like the 3rd, another par-3. It's near the clubhouse; there's a hillside left where you can watch the action or, if you prefer, turn and study players pounding balls on the range. Anyone who misses the green has a demanding shot. It's a good place to see who's got short game and who doesn't.

Bamberger: I'll say the 18th because that means you're finally done playing this course.

Shipnuck: Are you saying that because you're bitter or burned out?

Bamberger: Yes. And because I made a 7 there once to lose 1 down.

Who's more likely to get to 18 majors, Tiger Woods or Steve Williams?

Van Sickle: Yes, I'm recycling this query from my Van Cynical Mailbag column.

Garrity: Steve will get far more opportunities than Tiger. He can lug some bozo's bag until he's 70 if he wants, and if the bozo is good enough, Stevie might win 20.

Bamberger: Williams told a reporter in New Zealand that Adam Scott will be his last bag, that he's planning to retire after the 2014 season.

Shipnuck: I don't see it happening. Stevie loves the action too much.

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