The great PLAYERS riddle: the bizarre boom/bust records of the leading contenders at TPC Sawgrass

Pete Dye’s Stadium Course is a shining example of modern golf architecture, but the world’s elite have always had a somewhat strained relationship with it.

The creation of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass only ever had one aim in mind: to produce a perfect, and permanent, home for THE PLAYERS Championship.

Within that demand were two imperatives: a stunning tournament test and a backdrop that wowed TV audiences whilst also giving galleries unparalleled and unprecedented views across the course.

Traditionalists remain horrified at the result.

Others, however, are less sniffy.

There's absolutely no doubt that architect Pete Dye went full-on, utilising the digger truck with gloriously gay abandon.

To glean the essence of the course, it's easiest to look at the par-3 17th hole, which is effectively the entire course in microcosm.

Old-timers loathe the island green (even pedantically pointing out that it isn't actually an island); the majority accept that it is a stunning amphitheatre for the crowds, generates superb television, is a brutal test for the field, and provides wild excitement on the back nine Sunday.

Job done.

What has always been clear is that this is an examination that the finest players in the world have never quite got to grips with.

The tournament has one of, if not the, strongest fields of the season so it is inevitable that some of the cream will always rise near the top.

But the past record of many elite performers is not just patchy in contrast with others venues, but wildly volatile.

Let's take a closer look at the leading contenders.

Strap in, it's a rollercoaster ride.

Dustin Johnson (11/1 Paddy Power)

The good news for the World No. 1 is that he's getting to grips with Sawgrass, but boy did he need to.

It took him three visits to make the cut and eight trips to land a first top 30 which is outrageous given his excellence everywhere else in the world.

But his last three appearances have shown promise: T12th in 2017, T17th in 2018 (when he shared the first round lead) and tied fifth in 2019.

Rory McIlroy (14/1 Paddy Power)

After three trips to Sawgrass, McIlroy must have hated the place. He'd failed to make a weekend and his management group at the time were involved in a bizarre fight with the tournament that saw him, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood boycott the 2011 renewal.

He shortly afterwards left the group and, with it, broke his Stadium Course curse, finishing in the top 12 every year from 2013 to 2016.

McIlroy celebrates victory in the 2019 PLAYERS Championship
McIlroy celebrates victory in the 2019 PLAYERS Championship

But the variations were far from over: T35th and a missed cut followed before he bounced back to claim victory in 2019.

Jon Rahm (16/1 Paddy Power)

The Spaniard's introduction to Dye's creation gave him everything in just three laps: he opened with a 68 to sit just one back of the lead and then carved a catastrophic 82 on Saturday to miss the 54-hole cut.

A year later it was almost as bad: another 68 to open and then a Saturday 77 on his way to T63rd.

Then, in 2019, yet another curious week. This time he excelled in the third round, a 64 giving him the 54-hole lead, and instead imploded on Sunday (a 76 to finish T12th).

Bryson DeChambeau (14/1 Paddy Power)

Two starts into his campaign and the odd thing is that golf's most outrageous players has one of the tournament's most boring records.

He's always opened with a 70, always ended the week with a 71, has never looked like missing a cut, but nor has he looked like contending (T37th-T20th).

Patrick Cantlay (20/1 Paddy Power)

This is more like it. Cantlay, like Rahm, has played the tournament three times and experienced all sort of emotions.

html) */?>

On debut in 2017, and again in 2018, he spent the first 54 holes in the top 10, but both times he hurtled backwards, and out of the top 20, on Sunday.

In 2019, he just missed the cut.

Justin Thomas (16/1 Paddy Power)

Thomas' record is not especially dramatic, but it is oddly palindromic (if such a notion is possible in golfing log books).

His first and fifth (most recent) results saw him make the cut, but not break the top 20; his second and fourth results were both top 12 finishes earned by going low from off the pace on Sunday; and plumb in the middle was a missed cut.

Xander Schauffele (20/1 Paddy Power)

The Californian has only played this tournament twice, but that's more than enough for him to grasp the feast or famine nature of it.

His debut in 2018 was spectacular: he broke par every day, went sub-70 three times, and finished second.

On return in 2019 he packed his bags on Friday night.

Webb Simpson (18/1 Paddy Power)

If you think this endless pattern of peaks and troughs is silly, you're not the only one and it's far from over.

Simpson has played here ten times. Six times he failed to make the top 60. The other four times he made the top 20 every single time.

And in 2018 he was just sensational, leading by five at halfway, by seven after 54 holes, and completing the win four shots clear of the field.

Tony Finau (28/1 Paddy Power)

Lanky powerhouse Finau is something of a trend buster, but only somewhat.

He's had plenty of falls in his time, missing the weekend in his first two visits and only managing T57th at the third time of asking.

But there is the hint of a rise: when T22nd in 2019 he was never outside the top 25 all week.

html) */?>

Jordan Spieth (25/1 Paddy Power)

This is more like it: big boom followed by enormous bust.

Back in 2014 Spieth seemed to take to Sawgrass like a duck to water, opening with rounds of 67-66, sharing the 54-hole lead and finishing fourth.

Since then, he's missed four cuts and only managed T41st when he did make the weekend. Less duck to water than (probably) ball in water.

Latest Golf Videos