McIlroy has been dialed in since making his return to the PGA Tour back in March, racking up three top 10 finishes in four starts. That run includes a tie for fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a tie for seventh at the Masters, so the low scores have been there — he’s simply not getting quite enough breaks to win. That could change at the Players Championship, where he’s found the top 15 in each of the last four years. One of the best tee-to-green players on the circuit, he should be able to give himself plenty of opportunities.
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2. Dustin Johnson
This spring has been full of peaks and valleys for the game’s top player — in February and March, Johnson won three consecutive events to set himself as the Masters frontrunner, then withdrew from the big event after an unfortunate run-in with a flight of stairs. Now, after a month of rest and a successful return at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, the 15-time PGA Tour winner looks ready to add to his total at the Players Championship.
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3. Rickie Fowler
With a well-rounded skill set and a growing ability to perform under the pressure, Fowler has a chance to make it two Players Championship wins in three years. Fowler has been a regular contender this season — between the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Masters, he reeled off six consecutive top 20 finishes, including a win at the Honda Classic and a tie for third at the Shell Houston Open. While he and partner Jason Day missed the cut at the recent Zurich Classic, the fact that there were no world ranking points on the line may have clouded his focus. The fact is that Fowler has been cleaning up in the standard stroke play events, and with a pair of top twos in his career at TPC Sawgrass, he knows the course well.
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4. Sergio Garcia
With five top 15 finishes in just seven worldwide starts this year, Garcia was playing well even before his Masters victory. Add it all up, and he ranks second on the PGA Tour in scoring average as well as 10th on the money list — impressive figures. But even with those accolades, Garcia’s main calling card this week isn’t his form — it’s his history at TPC Sawgrass. His track record is highlighted by a win at the 2008 Players Championship, but he’s kept his foot on the gas pedal since then, picking up three top 10s in the last four years alone. The PGA Tour’s top player in strokes gained: off-the-tee, Garcia looks more than capable of going low this week.
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5. Jason Day
There’s no doubt about it — the first four months of 2017 were a disappointment for this Aussie. In just eight individual starts, Day has missed out on the top 50 on four occasions, and he’s picked up just one top 10 finish to make up for it. But even so, Day is the defending champion at TPC Sawgrass this week, so he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on. While Day has picked up just one top 10 finish since the calendar turned to 2017 — a tie for fifth at Pebble Beach — his other results haven’t been all bad. Most recently, he notched a tie for 23rd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a tie for 22nd at the Masters, both against strong fields.
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6. Hideki Matsuyama
While his game has slipped a bit over the past couple of months, it appears that this 25-year-old has a good opportunity to do some more damage at the Players Championship. Though Matsuyama hit a bit of a rough patch in March, he managed to turn it around in time for the Masters. After shooting average scores in his first three rounds at Augusta, he turned on the jets for a Sunday 67 to charge into a tie for 11th. This week’s field is a bit deeper than the one assembled at Augusta National last month, but with a top 25 in each of his three career starts at TPC Sawgrass, the Japan native looks poised to post another solid finish.
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7. Justin Rose
Rose enters this week on a wave of three consecutive top 15s, including that Masters runner-up and a solid tie for 13th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Those finishes have been the result of the Englishman’s strong total game — at seventh on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: off-the-green and 18th in strokes gained: around-the-green, he gives himself plenty of opportunities to score. In terms of course history, Rose has picked up a number of solid finishes at TPC Sawgrass over the years, peaking with a tie for fourth in 2014. Well-rested after his near miss at Augusta, he should be ready to tackle the track’s latest modifications.
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8. Adam Scott
This Aussie has happy memories of TPC Sawgrass — 13 years ago, a then-23-year-old Scott won the 2004 Players Championship and immediately put himself on the shortlist of the top young players in the game. Given his consistent recent results, it looks like he could be trending toward another win at the PGA Tour’s flagship event. Scott has scored a nice payday in more than half of his starts this year, notching four top 20 finishes in just seven events. That run includes a tie for ninth at the Masters, where he was one of only two past champions to find the top 10. With that momentum working in his favor, he should be able to post some low scores this week.
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9. Brooks Koepka
Koepka enters this week on the heels of three consecutive individual top 11 finishes: a tie for ninth at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, a tie for 11th at the Masters and a solo second at the Valero Texas Open. He also tied for fifth at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, teaming up with his non-exempt brother Chase to shoot some impressive scores. His track record at TPC Sawgrass — one-for-two with a top 35 — is nothing to write home about, but his form is encouraging enough on its own. Koepka has yet to do anything of note in this most famous of Florida events, but that could change this week. He’s always been a streaky player, and with the right stats to back it up, it looks like his current run could continue for a while.
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10. Justin Thomas
Thomas hasn’t contended for a victory since January, but with a tie for 22nd at the Masters in his most recent start, it’s not like he’s completely in the woods. He remains one of the PGA Tour’s top 15 players in both strokes gained: off-the-tee and strokes gained: approach-the-green, as well as driving distance, greens in regulation and scoring average. His track record at TPC Sawgrass may not be extensive, but he’s been impressive in limited work — he closed with an outstanding 65 in last year’s event, rocketing into a tie for third. In the 12 months since that near miss, he’s only become more comfortable under pressure.
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