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‘Dawgs on Tour: Why Can’t We Win in Jacksonville? (aka The Players Championship)

144 professional golfers converge on Jacksonville (okay, Ponte Vedra Beach), and nine of them are Bulldogs. Georgia used to like playing in this area. Now, not so much. But with nine in the field, I like our chances.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Tournament: The Players Championship, May 12-15

Course: TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course), 7,215 yards, par 72

Purse: $10,500,000 • Winning Share: $1,890,000

Defending Champion: Rickie Fowler. In the week preceding last year’s tourney, a poll of pro players rated Rickie Fowler as “most overrated”. He proceeded to storm to the front, and beat Sergio Garcia and Georgia’s own Kevin Kisner in a 3 hole aggregate playoff. Between the serious bank, and his model girlfriend showing up in Daisy Dukes, it was quite the statement from Rickie.

Television: Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 2-7 p.m. (NBC).

Fun Fact: The famous par 3 17th “Island Green”, was actually suggested by designer Pete Dye’s wife. When building the course, they took a lot of dirt from one specific area which would become a lake. When stuck with where to put the 17th hole, Pete’s wife suggested to just make it a short par 3 and make the green on an island in this lake. Problem solved. 10-12 balls on average find the water every round on this particular hole.

Former 'Dawgs in the Field (Nine): Erik Compton, Brian Harman, Harris English, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Hudson Swafford, Brendon Todd, Bubba Watson.

The tournament is 35 years old, and that is relatively young by Tour standards. It was crafted by the Tour itself, they built a course specifically for this tournament, threw a ton of money and self-promotion at it, and it is now referred to as “the Fifth Major” (the other four being Masters, US Open, British Open, PGA Championship). It attracts a very strong field, with 46 of the top 50 playing this week.

World #1 Jason Day tees it up, as does #2 Jordan Spieth, #3 Rory McIlroy, #4 Bubba Watson, and defending champion #5 Rickie Fowler. The list goes on from there. You name it, they’re playing this week. Though I know who you’re really interested in, and here they are (with Official World Golf Ranking and FedEx Cup ranking in parentheses):

Erik Compton (374,147): He made the cut last week at a tough course, and while the weekend wasn’t kind, he needs to start cashing checks to keep his Tour status. Don’t count on much this week.

Harris English, (73,49): Harris had a good week last week, finishing T17 in Charlotte. This is a ball strikers course, as position off the tee is paramount. That isn’t necessarily Harris’ game, but he can do well here. I expect him to make the cut and finish top 50.

Brian Harman (130,89): The third former Bulldog to make the cut last week, Brian is needs a couple of good tourneys to reverse the negative trend. Last week was a start in the right direction, and this week (against this field, and on this course) will give anyone positive thoughts upon which to draw.  50-50 for him to make the cut, because his driving and iron play have been poor the last 2 months.

Brendon Todd (168, 192): Todd missed the cut last week (again). He fell 7 spots in the World Golf Ranking, but stayed still in FedEx Cup ranking. Mostly because he’s grouped with players who aren’t cashing checks. Does anyone know what happened to Brendon this season? I need a research department, because this doesn’t make sense.

Kevin Kisner (22, 5): Kiz missed the cut last week, and I admit he seems distracted. But maybe he’s just coming back down to earth. He should have some good mojo this week, as he was thrust on the national stage at this tournament last year. Kisner forced a playoff against Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia, and went toe-to-toe with them through four holes before falling to Rickie’s absolute best (no shame there). I think he’s top 30 this week.

Russell Henley (85,87). Russell did not like February and March (missed all cuts), but likes April and May so far (2 top 25’s, including a top 5). I’m all about trends, so I think he is warming up as the weather does. With temps in the high 80’s this week, Henley makes the cut and charges Saturday before setting for a top 25 this week.

Chris Kirk (50,57). In the top 50 of the world, but that is after falling from the 20's most of 2014-2015. He broke his wrist late summer last year, and that does take some time to recover and trust when hitting down into a full iron shot. He’s made his last 3 cuts, all inside the top 25, so he seems to be rounding into form. I’m thinking top 15, maybe scaring the first page of the leaderboard.

Hudson Swafford (263,109). Hudson has never been inside the top 200 in the world rankings, but he’s made a nice career on the PGA Tour. This season is no exception – he’s only made 9 of 17 cuts, but he has 4 top 25s and almost $500k in earnings. This is mostly because he’s not qualified for the majors and top tournaments, so he plays against typically weaker fields. But you gotta make hay where you can, so he’s doing that. He’ll make the cut, but doesn’t really move on the weekend.

Bubba Watson (4,11). Bubba is really playing a “Tiger schedule”. This means he only plays in the big tourneys (majors, WGC events, select overseas, and select US Tour events). He’s only played 8 times this season, but made the cut in all 8 with 4 top 25s and a win in February. I won’t say he’s more distracted by off the course stuff – the guy is literally the definition of “distracted”. Instead I will say he’s got a good team that is managing his paranoia and keeping him focused on squeezing out his immense talent.

The greens are fast, the weather is warm, and the money is the biggest they play for all year. And with 9 former Bulldogs in the field, there’s no better time to say…