The Players Championship has long been known to boast the best field in golf. That’s not quite true in 2023, thanks to the ongoing schism in professional golf, one that leaves this year’s Players without last year’s Players champ, Cameron Smith. Nevertheless, the PGA Tour’s flagship event remains one of the marquee tournaments on the golf calendar, and despite the absence of several high-profile names the field remains loaded, highlighted by the likes of Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy. Ahead of the festivites in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., we have ranked the top 100 who will be teeing it up at TPC Sawgrass. (All stats and rankings are as of March 1.)
Justin Lower, Webb Simpson, Peter Malnati, Doug Ghim, Mark Hubbard, Kevin Streelman, Ben An, Ryan Palmer, Garrick Higgo, Francesco Molinari
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images
Simpson finished outside the FedEx Cup top 125 last season, the worst showing of his career—and this year has been worse, ranking 201st in the FEC heading into Bay Hill. Despite his recent form, he makes it on our list thanks to his 2018 Players victory (above). … Last year’s Players was such an oddity due the dramatic weather splits that one can’t read too deep into the results. That said, Ghim was in contention throughout the tournament, ultimately finishing T-6, making him an intriguing dark horse bet this week. … It’s beginning to get late early for a Molinari Ryder Cup bid in his home country. Sawgrass gives him a chance to get right: the Open winner has four top-10s at the Players.
Harris English, Will Gordon, Patrick Rodgers, Adam Schenk, Beau Hossler, Dylan Frittelli, Sam Ryder, Lee Hodges, Aaron Rai, Stephan Jaeger
Gordon is one of the longest hitters on tour, and only Jon Rahm has a better Round 1 scoring average (67.83) this season. Gordon’s performance around the green remains below average, which makes him a shaky pick for this week, but a breakout will happen at some point this season. … Weird year for Hodges. He’s missed seven of 13 cuts, including five straight cuts, yet when he makes the weekend, he makes the most of it, finishing inside the top 25 on four of those five trips. … Rai is sixth in driving accuracy, which should bode well at Sawgrass, and he’s just outside the top 50 in tee-to-green. If his putter can cooperate (159th in SG/putting), he’ll be an interesting watch.
Lucas Glover, Brandon Wu, Taylor Moore, Troy Merritt, Justin Suh, Alex Smalley, Hayden Buckley, Taylor Pendrith, Robby Shelton, Matthew NeSmith
Suh, the reigning Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year (above), had an inauspicious start following his promotion but has shown signs of life as of late, highlighted by a T-5 at the Honda Classic. … Buckley has a wild stat line—119th in approach, 176th around-the-green and 120th in putting—for a guy who is 26th in the FEC standings, a position propped up by a runner-up at the Sony Open and T-5 at the Zozo Championship. If you’re wondering how, look no further than the long ball: Buckley ranks third in SG/off-the-tee, is 24th in driving accuracy and seventh in total driving. … Shelton missed the cut in his lone Players start in 2021 but he has won at TPC Sawgrass, taking the title at the AJGA’s 2012 Junior Players Championship. … NeSmith was playing last fall to start the 2022-23 season with three straight top-10s, including a runner-up at the Sanderson. Since, he has done no better than T-53. He’s too well-rounded of a player for the slump to continue.
Danny Willett, Emiliano Grillo, Ben Griffin, Trey Mullinax, Gary Woodland, Luke List, Cam Davis, Brendon Todd, Thomas Detry, Christiaan Bezuidenhout
Griffin (above) has been remarkably consistent in his freshman campaign on tour, making the cut in 10 of his first 12 starts and ranking 35th in strokes gained. As long as he tightens up his putting from inside 10 feet (157th), he has a chance to be something special. … Detry had a great fall (four top-15s, with a runner-up in Bermuda) and has been steady in the early going of 2023. He doesn’t make many mistakes (19th in bogey avoidance), which will come in handy at hazard-rich Sawgrass. … Hard to believe Woodland hasn’t won in the four years since his U.S. Open triumph. A T-9 at Riviera signaled hope the 38-year-old could turn it around.
Joel Dahmen, Nick Taylor, Ryan Fox, J.J. Spaun, Andrew Putnam, Denny McCarthy, Adam Hadwin, Maverick McNealy, Matt Kuchar, Scott Stallings
Even if you haven’t watched the Netflix golf show yet, you might have heard that Dahmen (above) is the breakout star. That said his popularity as an everyman overlooks the fact that the dude is really, really good at golf. Sawgrass is a course that plays to his strengths (accuracy, patience), giving him an opportunity to remind folks he’s more than a media darling. … Taylor grabbed the sport’s attention at the WM Phoenix Open (T-3), but his success spans well outside TPC Scottsdale. The Canadian already has three top-10s and six top-25s this season and ranks 15th in strokes gained. … This will be Kuchar’s 18th start at the Players. It’s been more than a decade since his win at Sawgrass, although he’s finished in the top 25 in almost half of his starts.
K.H. Lee, Adam Svensson, Davis Thompson, Lucas Herbert, J.T. Poston
Lee is known for his back-to-back wins at the Byron Nelson, but he’s quietly proving his game travels outside Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. He was one of the bright spots for the International team at the ‘22 Presidents Cup and posted solid finishes at the CJ Cup and Sentry Tournament of Champions. With one of the better short games on tour (12th in SG/around-the-green), don’t be surprised if Lee is in contention come the weekend. … The Players is notoriously unkind to first-timers, but Thompson (above) has shown little issue acclimating to tour life, finishing second at the American Express and owning two other T-12 or better finishes in his rookie campaign. … Svensson had a bit of a rough start to 2023 following his breakthrough win at the RSM Classic, yet righted the ship at Riviera (T-9). The key for the Canadian will be avoiding a slow start, something that has plagued him this season (136th in Round 1 scoring).
Taylor Montgomery, Mackenzie Hughes, Min Woo Lee, Kurt Kitayama, Adam Scott
Montgomery has hit a bit of a wall following his en fuego start. No matter; slumps are expected, especially for rookies, and his short game is so smooth that we don’t see him being down for too long. … We went back-and-forth on Lee, who has feasted on global competition but hasn’t played particularly well in the U.S. He’s also just 24, and Sawgrass is one of the few tour set-ups impervious to bomb-and-gouge, which should allow an old-school player like Lee into the mix. … Scott (above) hasn’t done much in limited appearances in 2023. This is the place for him to get right: Along with a win in 2004, Scott has finished T-19 or better in 10 of his 20 appearances.
Alex Noren, Si Woo Kim, Kevin Kisner, Corey Conners, Justin Rose
Since skipping the Open Championship and flying highway around the world to compete in the Barracuda—a sentence we had to double-check to make sure it was true—Noren has three worldwide runner-up finishes, along with a T-4 at the Houston Open and T-5 at the Abu Dhabi Championship. He hasn’t done much at Sawgrass since a top-10 at his Players debut in 2017, but his ball-striking makes him worth a flyer. … Kisner (above) has finished second, fourth, T-22, T-56 and missed the cut in three appearances. Godspeed to anyone who wants to know how to bet him. … For as well-rounded a game, and strong of a career, as Rose has had, he’s never been right at this tournament, missing the cut seven times against two top-15 finishes in 17 starts.
Russell Henley, Davis Riley, Sepp Straka, Aaron Wise, Chris Kirk
Riley (above) is in somewhat of a sophomore slump, ranking outside the FEC 100 entering Bay Hill. The issue lies with his driving; after ranking 41st in SG/off-the-tee last year, he began March 156th in the category. However, his approach performance continues to be sound, which is why we are buying a Riley surge sooner rather than later. … We have no stats to drop on you regarding Wise, just intuition—the former NCAA champ seems due for a run this spring, a heater so hot we wouldn’t be shocked if he works himself into Ryder Cup consideration.
Keith Mitchell, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Tom Hoge, Brian Harman
Given how much was written and said about the struggles of Fowler (above) and Day over the past three or so seasons, their respective rejuvenations have gone somewhat under the radar. According to Data Golf, only Rahm and Scottie Scheffler have better true strokes-gained figures over the past three months than Day, while Fowler entered Bay Hil seventh in approach and 15th in SG/tee-to-green. As former Players champs, this week could be the exclamation marks on both their comebacks.
No. 25: Seamus Power
World Ranking: 28 Players Starts: 2 Best Finish: T-33, 2022
Once a rank-and-file name, the Irishman started this month fourth in the FEC standings and is essentially a lock for the European Ryder Cup team. If the second part of that sentence made you do a double-take, know that only five European players (Rahm, McIlroy, Hovland, Hatton, Noren) have a better strokes-gained figure over the past six months than Power, who has reeled off seven straight top-25 finishes, highlighted by a win at the Bermuda Butterfield Championship last fall. TPC Sawgrass is a mix of distance and target golf, not necessarily the best combo for Power’s game (91st in driving, 165th in approach). Conversely, he’s been one of the best putters on tour (gaining almost a full stroke over the field on the greens), and he’s been a red-figure machine (eighth in birdie average) while keeping the big numbers at bay (17th in bogey avoidance), a make-up that makes him a formidable foe in Ponte Vedra Beach.
No. 24: Tommy Fleetwood
World Ranking: 25 Players Starts: 5 Best Finish: T-5, 2019
The Englishman has two top-10s at TPC Sawgrass and opened with a 66 last year before fading. He’s also one of the 14 members of the ignominious fraternity of PGA Tour members who have made more than $10 million on tour without a victory. There’s a chance Tommy Lad earns win No. 1 this week, although we like him better come PGA Championship time at Oak Hill.
No. 23: Billy Horschel
World Ranking: 20 Players Starts: 9 Best Finish: T-13, 2015
Since his win last June at Memorial, Horschel has logged just a lone top-20 finish, a byproduct of poor play with the big stick (195th SG/off-the-tee). He also doesn’t have much of a track record at the Players, with a T-13 in 2015 his only top-25 finish in nine tries. We remain bullish on his prospects, however, as his historical prowess in driving accuracy gives him an opportunity to be a threat this week. Plus he practices out of TPC Sawgrass so there might not be another player in the field more familiar with the course.
No. 22: Tyrrell Hatton
World Ranking: 26 Players Starts: 5 Best Finish: T-13, 2022
A T-13 last year was his best showing in five appearances. With one of the best tee-to-green games in the sport, the Englishman should, eventually, be a factor here. Speaking of Hatton, in the past year he has ripped the set-ups at Augusta National (faux shooting azaleas and calling the course an unfair test after shooting 80), Riviera (“S*** hole” about the 10th), Southern Hills (ridiculing the greens) and St. George’s (“That golf shot was about as good as this hole. Ab-so-lute-ly awful!”). We would happily turn over our next pay check for a weekly podcast where Hatton goes through the world’s greatest tracks and decimates each one into oblivion.
No. 21: Sungjae Im
World Ranking: 18 Players Starts: 3 Best Finish: T-17, 2021
Another strong, steady season from Im (17th in strokes gained, 21st in scoring). He’s just 24 and is coming off a damn-good showing in last year’s Presidents Cup; it’s only a matter of time before his week-to-week work translates in the game’s biggest events. Im hasn’t done anything special in his limited Players’ starts, but don’t expect that trend to continue.
No. 20: Sam Burns
World Ranking: 14 Players Starts: 2 Best Finish: T-26, 2022
Burns’ standing is not a knock on his play but a reflection of how deep the tour is at the moment. Similar to Im, Burns is young (26) and has reached as high as No. 9 in the world, but in 12 starts at the majors and Players his best finish is T-20. Sawgrass provides a chance to add that big-game kill to his résumé. He contended through three days at last year’s Players, entering the final round just one shot out of the lead, although a final-round 76 equated to a T-26 finish. He’s been relatively quiet in the early going of 2023. Envision the noise to turn up a notch as the seasons turns to Augusta.
No. 19: Hideki Matsuyama
World Ranking: 22 Players Starts: 7 Best Finish: T-7, 2016
Matsuyama’s results have not been all that great, but his stats are inline with his historical output, so nothing to be worried about. Pretty good track record at the Players (five top-25s, two-10s in seven starts) which doesn’t count his first-round 63 from the canceled 2020 event. Weekend could be wet in PVB, which would play into the ball-striker’s hands.
No. 18: Keegan Bradley
World Ranking: 21 Players Starts: 11 Best Finish: 5th, 2022
A dramatic weight loss has spurred a career revival for the former Wanamaker winner who entered Bay Hill third in the FEC standings. That should continue this week, as Bradley has had success at the Players, particularly over the past five years, highlighted by a fifth-place finish in 2022. His numbers don’t illustrate the 36-year-old doing anything especially amazing, although there’s little weakness, either.
No. 17: Shane Lowry
World Ranking: 19 Players Starts: 7 Best Finish: 8th, 2021
We say this with love: Lowry has become the go-to “sexy” pick for it seems two straight seasons when it comes to big events. Which we get: He’s won the claret jug, he plays his best when the course is at its worst and his short game is second to none. But because he’s been such an underrated performer for so long he’s now become, dare we say, slightly overrated? At least when it comes to winning, owning a lone victory in the United States. So while we really, really like his game, maybe let’s hold off on the “People are overlooking Shane Lowry” storyline that’s inevitably going to manifest at some point this week. (Please feel free to fire this as an Old Take Exposed should Lowry lap the field by seven.)
No. 16: Sahith Theegala
World Ranking: 31 Players Starts: 1 Best Finish: MC, 2022
No sophomore slump from Theegala. He’s finished T-6 or better in five of 11 starts heading into Bay Hill. Sawgrass doesn’t necessarily fit his game, as his Achilles’ heel is driving accuracy (191st on tour). There’s also little that’s been able to stand in his way; to bet against Theegala is a fool’s errand. While we’re here, allows us to re-heat our take that leaving Theegala off the Presidents Cup team could prove to be a major mistake. As the Americans were overwhelming favorites, it would have been smart to get him into the rotation and grab valuable reps before Rome this fall. I know the Presidents Cup doesn’t like to be viewed as prep or experimental ground for the Ryder Cup, but the whole point (allegedly) of the task force was to create symmetry between the two events.
No. 15: Jordan Spieth
World Ranking: 17 Players Starts: 8 Best Finish: T-4, 2014
Yes, he’s outside the FEC top 100. He also played just six times before Bay Hill, one of his last starts was a T-6 in Phoenix and he opened at the API with a four-under 68. His short game remains messy (142nd in SG/putting), but his irons are making up for it. He would be ranked higher, yet after his T-4 debut in 2014 he’s missed the cut at Sawgrass in five of his last seven appearances.
No. 14: Cameron Young
World Ranking: 16 Players Starts: 1 Best Finish: MC, 2022
Slow start to the season for Young (although he did finish second at the Saudi International in early February). This shouldn’t be a surprise; given the climate, it’s tough to practice in winter on the mean streets of the Bronx.
No. 13: Matt Fitzpatrick
World Ranking: 13 Players Starts: 6 Best Finish: T-9, 2021
A little worried about placing Fitzpatrick this high as he’s coming back from a neck injury. He also opened the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a two-under round, placating those concerns, and as good of a fit as Brookline was to his game, Sawgrass is tailored to his style.
No. 12: Tony Finau
World Ranking: 12 Players Starts: 6 Best Finish: T-22, 2019
This time last year Finau was the proof of concept that an elite player isn’t defined by wins alone. Now … well, now he’s a major or Players title away from becoming a bona fide star. Following three victories in 2022, Finau has finished no worse than T-20 in five events in 2023 and his putting, long the bane of his existence, has become a weapon (24th in SG/putting). We don’t think it’s happening this week; Finau has missed the cut in four of his six starts at Sawgrass. But Finau has proved he has the ladder in tow to reach the heights of his talent ceiling. Though he’s not there yet, he’s making his way up.
No. 11: Tom Kim
World Ranking: 15 Players Starts: Debut
Kim’s magnetic personality is such a tour de force that we may be overlooking how good this cat really is. According to DataGolf, the 20-year-old is 10th in SG/tee-to-green over the past six months, and he’s not too shabby in the short game, either (15th in around-the-green). Mentioned above, this tournament is infamously unkind to players in their first go-around, but if you’re betting on anyone to buck this trend, Kim’s accuracy (eighth) and bravado are worth riding.
No. 10: Will Zalatoris
World Ranking: 7 Players Starts: 2 Best Finish: T-21, 2021
At Pebble Beach there were major whispers that Zalatoris was dealing with back problems again. He promptly went out and finished fourth at the Genesis Invitational, proving that no one knows anything. The 26-year-old played well at last year’s Players, ultimately undone by a final-round 74. He’s come so close at so many premier events that he knows what it takes to get it done … although, we are slightly worried that there also could be some scar tissue from coming up empty at each shot. Zalatoris remains in the fledgling stages of his career so we shouldn’t get worried about those misses adding up yet, but a win at the Players can put those questions to bed for good.
No. 9: Viktor Hovland
World Ranking: 11 Players Starts: 2 Best Finish: T-9, 2022
Our former colleague Dan Rapaport once dubbed Hovland “The Resort King” for his penchant for winning events at destination courses. Considering a tee time at TPC Sawgrass now runs for $600, Hovland should feel right at home.
No. 8: Xander Schauffele
World Ranking: 6 Players Starts: 4 Best Finish: T-2, 2018
Finished T-2 in his Players debut in 2018 and entered Bay Hill sixth in strokes gained. Only thing that gives us slight pause is that Schauffele has missed the cut in his last three appearances at Sawgrass, and his lone issue this year—accuracy—doesn’t play well at this course’s tight confines.
No. 7: Collin Morikawa
World Ranking: 10 Players Starts: 2 Best Finish: T-41, 2021
Morikawa has become somewhat of a forgotten man, at least when discussing the best in the game. Only McIlroy has a better SG/tee-to-green mark over the past six months, and Morikawa’s finished T-6 or better in three of four 2023 starts. He has only broken 70 once in six rounds at TPC Sawgrass, but he’s so accurate off the tee (third on tour this season) that we don’t see that trend continuing this week.
No. 6: Patrick Cantlay
World Ranking: 4 Players Starts: 5 Best Finish: T-22, 2017
You know Cantlay is really good. You know he needs to start showing it at the majors and Players. To save us all time, let’s instead focus on the recent announcement to do away with cuts at the designated events. Personally, we hate the idea. As we wrote in the roundtable, professional golf is appreciated for being the purest rendition of meritocracy, where spots aren’t given, and you only make what you earn. One of the tour’s biggest selling points was that LIV was the antithesis of this ethos. Now the no-cut element opens the tour up for the very ridicule that was directed at its opponent. HOWEVER, Cantlay, one of the more astute minds in the sport, at least provides a bit more context of why the tour is going this route. “The biggest advantage is locking the stars that play those events into four days. If you’re a little kid that can only go on Sunday and Tiger Woods is in the event, you can go watch him. Rory? You can go watch him. That’s powerful,” Cantlay said at Bay Hill. Again, we don’t like the move, but we can at least wrap our minds around Cantlay’s pitch.
No. 5: Max Homa
World Ranking: 8 Players Starts: 2 Best Finish: T-13, 2022
You put Rahm, McIlroy and Scheffler in any order as the top players in the game. But over the past half year, Homa has been the fourth-best guy in the game. Sometimes fans and media overrate the value of a Ryder or Presidents Cup in terms of what it means for a player and their career trajectory. For Homa, last fall at Quail Hollow showed he can not only just hang with the big boys or that he’s one of them … but that he can be better than them. Coupled with a good weekend at last year’s Players (71-66), envision Homa being a factor into the weekend.
No. 4: Scottie Scheffler
World Ranking: 2 Players Starts: 2 Best Finish: T-55, 2022
It’s time to say what has gone unsaid: We need to have an intervention with Scheffler and his clothes. The man’s wardrobe consists of solely size XX-tents. He’s a Masters champion! Can we at least get him something that doesn’t fit like a poncho? Oh and FYI, Scheffler’s early track record at TPC Sawgrass isn’t steller. Maybe a wardrobe improvement could help with that too.
No. 3: Justin Thomas
World Ranking: 9 Players Starts: 7 Best Finish: Win, 2021
He’s a past winner and turned in a second-round 69 last year playing in a hurricane. His putting continues to be a problem (115th in SG/putting), but it’s a problem we’re confident Thomas will solve. Seems like we’re overdue for a Thomas run; would not be surprised if it starts this week.
No. 2: Jon Rahm
World Ranking: 1 Players Starts: 5 Best Finish: T-9, 2021
For the record, we called this tear. Nevertheless, it seems unconscionable to put Rahm and his heater less than No. 1, and should he read this he’ll likely be as incredulous as he is when missing a putt outside 30 feet. But the guy above him gets the nod because …
No. 1: Rory McIlroy
World Ranking: 3 Players Starts: 12 Best Finish: Win, 2019
He’s a past champ, yes, but as the de facto spokesperson for the tour over the past year, it would mean a hell of a lot for Rory to win the flagship event of the circuit he has so vociferously defended. Says here we see him rising up to the challenge.