THE PLAYERS Championship: 2022 form report of the world’s top 12 ahead of the fifth major

The annual visit to TPC Sawgrass marks the moment when the golf year hits the ground running. We take a look at how the world’s best are currently faring.

It's been a very strange year for golf so far.

The PGA Tour witnessed outrageously placid weather in Hawaii and on the West Coast Swing, conditions which the players took full advantage of thrashing all sorts of record low scores, initiating howls of anguish from the purists.

The first two weeks of the Florida Swing, in contrast, were nothing short of brutal as PGA National and Bay Hill presented fearsome test in blustery conditions, prompting angry words from the golfers.

And we might be set for more of the same this week in THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

It's the first big event of 2022 and the weather is set to be both wet and windy: a tough track will be made tougher.

Off the course the circuit has witnessed the implosion of Phil Mickelson and the machinations of Greg Norman.

A giddy mix creating pure drama and there seems every chance that Sawgrass will see more of the same over the next week.

But what of the world's top dozen? Who is in good shape ahead of the Pete Dye test and who's in need of a cramming session?

1. Jon Rahm

Thrashed a brilliant 33-under total at the year-opening Tournament of Champions but it wasn't enough to win, bested by Cam Smith. In his next start he was caught muttering expletives and grousing about putting contests.

There's a sense that his equilibrium is off-kilter. He was tetchy when third on his favourite track Torrey Pines and has followed it with three top 25s (with a best of T10th) when he didn't rank top 50 for SG Putting.

2. Collin Morikawa

He's been seen four times in 2022 with average efforts on the DP World Tour (T62nd and T18th), but excellent stuff on the PGA Tour (tied fifth and second).

A slight concerned are his SG Approach numbers, which have been down on his best.

3. Viktor Hovland

The Norwegian failed to convert a great opportunity to win at Bay Hill last week, but he won his last two starts in 2021 and has added another win, second and two fourth in six 2022 starts.

His long game SG stats remain world class, his putting is solid enough, but his short game numbers need work (he's losing strokes to the field every time he misses a green).

4. Patrick Cantlay

He went into hibernation after BMW Championship, FedExCup and Ryder Cup glory and has emerged playing well, but lacking the ruthlessness he displayed in those last three outings of 2021.

Perhaps that explains why he added T33rd to the four top 10s he opened the year with (he looked frustrated when he missed numerous chances to put the Phoenix Open to bed both in the regulation and extra holes). His SG Approach numbers are down on last summer (outside the top 50 in three of his last four starts).

5. Scottie Scheffler

Proof that if you knock on a door long enough it will eventually open. The key to getting those hinges oiled? A putter that works. He's averaged over four strokes gained on the field on the greens in his recent run of win-tied seventh-win and that is a career-best run of flat stick gains.

If he maintains that form on the greens - and doesn't forsake his long term quality tee-to-green - it will be very fruitful.

6. Rory McIlroy

Endured disappointment in Dubai in late 2021 and it was a case of deja vu back in the UAE for his 2022 opener. He's playing good golf - he's been first or second after 18, 36 or 54 holes in six of his last nine starts. But he's won just one of them.

He ranked top 20 for SG Off the Tee in the eight of those nine starts that had stats. But he was top 20 for Approach in only two of them.

7. Xander Schauffele

The PGA Tour has a slightly oddball relationship with the Olympics competition which means that, a) Schauffele needed special dispensation to use his gold medal as qualification for the Tournament of Champions, and b) officially he hasn't won on the PGA Tour since January 2019. Third at the Phoenix Open, a 13th top three finish since that last victory.

8. Justin Thomas

We make this point often, but it bears repetition: Thomas keeps getting into contention yet he has lost the ruthless quality he once possessed. In his last 32 strokeplay starts he has been top six after 18, 36 and/or 54 holes exactly 16 times yet has only one win after 72 holes (Sawgrass last year). It's happened in each of his last three starts.

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9. Dustin Johnson

Either side of New Year 2021 he won four times in 10 starts (and was never worse than T11th). Since then he's found only six top 10s in 20 appearances and just one in three this year. Last seen making an absolute Horlicks of the short par-4 10th at Riviera on his way to a missed cut, only a second lost weekend there in 15 visits.

10. Cameron Smith

2022 has started in up and down fashion. He won the Tournament of Champions, missed the cut a week later at the Sony Open, was tied fourth in Saudi Arabia and then T33rd at the Genesis Invitational.

11. Hideki Matsuyama

Solid. Six starts, never worse than T39th, winner of the Sony Open, a top 10 in Phoenix.

12. Bryson DeChambeau

It's all gone wrong since he thrashed a 64 to grab the halfway lead in the Hero World Challenge. He closed 73-74 to finish T14th, was T25th out of 38 in the Tournament of Champions, missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, withdrew from the Saudi International, has refuted notions that he's injured as a consequence of his power hitting and fitness regime, publicly licked his lips at the prospect of Saudi Golf League riches, and then turned them down. It's not been the smoothest start to a year.

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

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