Can Tiger do it again?
By Neville Leck Last updated: 7th May 2013
Tiger Woods is the bookmaker's strong favourite to win the US PGA Tour's flagship event, The Players, at Pete Dye's iconic Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass this week.
Right now, with odds of 8/1, he easily tops what is always the sport's strongest betting field outside of the majors.
The bookies next-best favourites, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy, are currently listed at 16/1 with Luke Donald at 18/1 and Phil Mickelson at 25/1.
The Tiger is not out there in front in splendid isolation without good reason, though.
He has already won three times this season - at the Farmers Insurance, the WGC-Cadillac and the Arnold Palmer - and he is, after all, the world number one again.
It may also be significant that he has also won this 40-year-old event in which statistics show that experience and knowledge seem to be all important on what is generally regarded as one of Dye's most subtly-tricky layouts.
The famed par-three 17th with its intimidating island green is Dye's signature hole here, to be sure, but it is certainly not the Stadium Course's only hole that can be the undoing of anyone who allows his focus to stray or has insufficient experience of what is needed to tame it.
For example, seven of The Players' last eight winners, including this year's defending champion, Matt Kuchar, have needed at least seven previous tilts at the title before they have made their triumphant breakthroughs.
To find Tiger's lone victory at TPC Sawgrass we have to go back to 2001 at a stage in his career when he could not have played the course more than three or four times, but perhaps, ironically, this, together with the fact that he hasn't fired a shot in anger since the Masters some three weeks ago and may just be a little rusty, could count against him.
The high quality of The Players fields over the year's has clearly had something to do with the fact that no winner has ever been able to successfully defend his title and, since the championship was moved from Atlantic Country Club to TPC Sawgrass in 1982, only four men have managed to win it twice, Davis Love III in 2003 being the last of them.
Tiger Woods is something different of course.
His 75 PGA Tour victories and 14 majors are ample proof of that, but that said, nothing is ever cut and dried at Sawgrass. Together with Scott, playing for the first time since his resounding victory in the Masters, and McIlroy, who has been flirting with victory during the past month without ever really getting there, there are a host of other ambitious antagonists who currently possess more than enough credentials to suggest that they too could be this week's Sawgrass winners.
Local resident Jim Furyk has to be one of them.
Right now the solid veteran ranks 5th on Tour in fairways found off the tee, is in first place in proximity to the hole with his approach shots and can boast of having made all of his last 13 cuts.
At Sawgrass itself the former US Open champion has posted eight top 25s in his last 16 starts and may just be due for his first win at the Players.
Another solid golfer who could be due for a first victory at Sawgrass is Luke Donald.
The US-based Englishman can lay claim to having one of the best records of any player yet to win The Players and will tee off on Thursday with a recent record that shows he has managed three top six finishes in his last seven cuts made and shared third place at the RBC Heritage in his last appearance two weeks ago.
England's other major hope for this elite championship title is Lee Westwood, who, like Donald and McIlroy, is also a former world number one.
Westwood, who in recent seasons has too often wrecked his chances with one poor round, mostly late in the week, has looked increasingly threatening in his last three starts when he finished 10th in Houston, 8th at the Maters and 4th in last weeks Wells Fargo Championship.
Mickelson knows the Stadium Course, even the faster new version, like the back of his hand and like Woods, has also won on it.
For the second and third rounds at Quail Hollow last week he looked a clear winner, but he stumbled with two late bogies and failed by a shot to make a play-off finally won by a little-known Tour rookie Derek Ernst.
Where does he go from there? Until he gets back in action this week, we won't be sure whether it has energized or deflated him and in the meantime it is every bit as possible that other in-form and experience campaigners like Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Graeme McDwell, Jason Day, Charl Schwartzel, Nick Watney or Rickie Fowler will up their ante and steal the show..
We've already said experience of playing at TPC Sawgrass is crucial and while I can't see another rookie upstart like Ernst emerge at Sawgrass on Sunday, I wouldn't be too surprised to see at least one new talent step up to the plate and pull of a rare first-timer victory.
He is Billy Horschel, who ahead of his maiden Tour victory in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans two weeks ago, had been paying some of the best golf on the world stage.
The weather? For most of the week, low winds and dry conditions should create some excellent golf weather, but with Golfweather.com forecasting the possibility of tropical storms and a 30 per cent chance of rain in the late afternoon on Sunday, things might get tough, wet and frustrating for the front runners coming down the final stretch.
The Players Winner Betting Odds:
Here were Skybet's top 20 favourites on Tuesday morning. You can get the odds of many other Bookmakers on Oddschecker.com.
Tiger Woods 8/1
Adam Scott 16/1
Rory McIlroy 16/1
Luke Donald 18/1
Phil Mickelson 25/1
Lee Westwood 25/1
Justin Rose 28/1
Sergio Garcia 28/1
Matt Kuchar 28/1
Graeme McDowell 33
Charl Schwartzel 35/1
Jason Day 40/1
Nick Watney 40/1
Billy Horschel 40/1
Brandt Snedeker 45/1
Bo Van Pelt 50/1Dustin Johnson 50/1
Rickie Fowler 50/1Jim Furyk 50/1
Keegan Bradley 50/1
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