As usual, we will take a quick peek at last week’s results from the Arnold Palmer Invitational:
Kevin Kisner did not play well. After an opening 77 in perfect weather, he shot 80 in the blustery Friday conditions. I’m not sure what’s going on with Kiz, but he is having a disappointing early season.
Brian Harman opened with 75, but carded an 82 in the second round. He, like Kisner, missed the cut by 11 shots.
Sepp Straka started with 70, but got the bad weather Friday and the eventual 77 means he missed the cut by a single stroke.
Thankfully, 7 Bulldogs made the cut. Greyson Sigg made the cut by 2 but a Saturday 77 derailed his chances. He finished T61 and made $44,400.
Russell Henley (71-75-70-74) and Davis Thompson (75-71-74-70) shot idential scores in all four rounds, just not in the same order. They tied for 53rd and $46,950.
Chris Kirk started hot and was just a couple off the lead after Thursday, but had a hard time keeping it up (67-75-74-73). He tied with Brendon Todd at 39th and made $70,028.
Keith Mitchell lurked every day on the 2nd page of the leaderboard, but did get a T24 finish and earned $163,000.
And Harris English started solid (69), hung on during the bad weather (72), then just kept creeping up the leaderboard over the weekend (70-69). While he wasn’t exactly threatening the lead, the volatility at the top brought the lead back to him. Finishing about 3 holes in front of the final group, he was a single shot out of a possible playoff. But Kurt Kityama came through and English finishes in a tie for 2nd with Rory McIlroy. He received 257.5 valuable FedEx Cup points and a cool $1,780,000. For reference, Chris Kirk won the tournament last week and made just over $1.5M. As a bonus, the top 3 finishers not already exempt into the British Open are qualified, so English will be bound for Royal Liverpool this July.
Now the Tour takes I-4 over to I-95 North, and stops in Ponte Vedra for the biggest non-major tournament on the schedule.
Tournament: The Players Championship, March 9-12, 2023
Course: TPC Sawgrass (Stadium), 7,275 yards, par 72. Just south of Jacksonville, and about a mile inland from the Atlantic.
Purse: $25 million in total, with $4.5 million to the winner. The Players has always had the biggest purse on Tour (and competes with, or beats the majors in purses) and all the LIV craziness just drove it even higher. 65th, and last, place will earn $53,750. This kind of money is siiiiiick.
Defending Champ: Speaking of LIV, Cameron Smith kept up his good play (he won in Maui in early January) with a win at the Players. He birdied seemingly every hole in the final round to overcome a 2 stroke deficit, and kinda won going away. It was a good year for Smith, as he won the British Open in July before grabbing the LIV cash in August. Which means he lost his chance to defend his title, lost his champion parking spot (literally the one reserved up front), and lost his privileges to use the facility at any time as a past champion. To pile on, the 2nd place golfer, Anirban Lahiri, and 3rd place Paul Casey, are also not playing due to their jump to the LIV Tour. Weird times, man.
Fun Fact: The course is always tough especially in March when it players firmer and the weather is more dicey. But it was worse in the early years (opened in 1982). That first year, Jack Nicklaus was asked if he liked the unique style of the Pat Dye layout and famously replied “No, I’ve never been very good at stopping a 5 iron on the hood of a car.”
TV Times: Thursday-Friday, 12 p.m.-6 p.m. (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. (NBC). The Peacock is in the middle of a 6 week run during basketball tournament season for CBS. Not that we would know much about post-season basketball tournaments.
‘Dawgs in the Field: 10. Kevin Kisner, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Sepp Straka, Brian Harman, Keith Mitchell, Brendon Todd, Greyson Sigg, Davis Thompson, Harris English.
43 of the top 50 in the world are here this week, and 49 of the top 50 in FedEx Cup points. Funny story, the one who isn’t is Ben Taylor, and he is getting married this weekend. You might say “why would you miss out on the biggest purse in golf to get married?? Couldn’t you schedule that another time?” To be fair, he planned the wedding when he didn’t have the same status on Tour, and wasn’t already qualified for The Players.
Usually billed as “the best field in golf” due to the qualification process, The Players will once again have all the big names. So who is favored? A big hitter? A ball-striker? A short-game wizard? How about... yes. In the last 20 years, bombers like Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, and Jason Day have won. Also in that span, Fred Funk, Webb Simpson, and Tim Clark have hoisted the trophy. You would not describe those players as “long”; they’re all actually well below the Tour average in driving distance.
You know who didn’t win on this course? Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, and Jim Furyk. Arguably the 3 best golfers of the 90’s and 00’s outside of Tiger and Phil. Singh and Furyk actually live in the neighborhood to boot and practice at TPC Sawgrass year-round. It really boils down to who is hitting the right spots, both off the tee and onto the greens.
In 2015, Kevin Kisner battled Rickie Fowler into a playoff, and if it wasn’t for a lip out on 18 in regulation, and Rickie hitting 3 of the best wedges of his life on 17 (finish Saturday, Sunday regulation, and in playoff), Kisner would be a Players Champion. And he isn’t a big hitter either.
The course was a tad soft at the beginning of the week, but the dry and breezy conditions so far (and in the forecast) will harden up the landing surfaces. The greens will repel balls, and the fairways will allow runout into the thick rough. Hey! A tough test for the biggest purse in golf! Great idea boys!
So you’ve got the best golfers in the world (outside of Cam Smith and maybe Dustin Johnson) playing one of the best courses in the world, with a tough setup yet gorgeous Florida weather. What’s not to like? Enjoy, and as always...