THE PLAYERS Championship: Five Europeans who can challenge for glory at Sawgrass

The Euros have a good record in the prestigious Florida event but which of this year’s contingent have the best chance of hoisting the silverware?

The Florida Swing is traditionally a profitable part of the PGA Tour schedule for European golfers.

Many now make Florida their US base while the winds and tougher scoring conditions often seem to suit them.

And it's playing out once more in 2022.

Austrian Sepp Straka and Ireland's Shane Lowry made it a European 1-2 in the Honda Classic a fortnight ago.

And Viktor Hovland looked to be on course for victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week before finishing runner-up to Scottie Scheffler.

It wasn't always that way.

Between the inaugural edition in 1974 and Phil Mickelson's win in 2007, Sandy Lyle was the only European to capture THE PLAYERS Championship.

But since 2008 we've seen four Euros take glory at TPC Sawgrass.

Here, Planet Sport looks at the five Europeans best equipped to lift the trophy in 2022. Starting in reverse order...

5/ Sergio Garcia

Sergio ended the European drought at Sawgrass by winning a play-off against Paul Goydos in 2008.

The Spaniard had finished runner-up the year before and also posted fourth place in 2002.

He's continued to have success at the course, adding four more top 10s since his 2008 victory, that run including another second place in 2015.

Sergio has finished 12th in Dubai, 24th in Saudi, 39th at Riviera and 38th in last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational so far in 2022.

Is that form quite strong enough? He's driving the ball well (10th for SG: Off The Tee in his last two events) but recorded -5.021 SG: Approach figures at Bay Hill.

But one other obvious positive is that he gained 5.152 strokes with the putter at Arnie's event and has more Bermuda greens to go at this week.

4/ Viktor Hovland

The Norwegian is the highest European in the world rankings at No.3 and he's climbed there with a run of brilliant performances.

He ended 2021 with two wins (Mayakoba and Hero World Challenge) and in four starts this year he has a win (Dubai Desert Classic), a second (last week's Arnold Palmer) and a fourth (Riviera).

The negative is course form: the record books show one appearance and one missed cut.

However, in the 2020 event which was abandoned after 18 holes due to the pandemic, Hovland had signed for a 4-under 68. And his opening 72 last year included a two-shot penalty for mismarking his ball.

Hovland ranked 5th for SG: Tee To Green (10.098) at Bay Hill last week and he's clearly one of the form horses in the field.

3/ Shane Lowry

The Irishman hasn't won since his memorable 2019 Open Championship victory at Royal Portrush but he came mighty close to ending that run at the Honda Classic two weeks ago.

Closing with three 67s at PGA National was an excellent effort and he led on the back nine before an inspired Sepp Straka and some bad luck with the weather left Lowry as runner-up.

At the Honda, Lowry ranked 2nd for both Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green and SG: Approach and 3rd for SG: Off The Tee so he's striking it superbly, always a key for Sawgrass.

He hasn't always produced his best stuff at Pete Dye's course but tied 16th on his second appearance in 2016 showed promise (he started 65-68) while last year he improved to a best of tied eighth after three rounds in the 60s.

On current form, expect him to improve again.

2/ Rory McIlroy

Rory already has this trophy on his CV after shooting 67-65-70-70 to win here in 2019.

That completed quite a turnaround after he'd missed his first three cuts at Sawgrass.

McIlroy had a run of 8-6-8-12 here from 2013 to 2016 so was clearly well on the way to cracking the code.

All those good finishes were in May but, notably, he says he much prefers the way the course plays in March and that was certainly the case when he scored a one-shot win in 2019.

The Northern Irishman has reeled off eight straight top 15s worldwide since August and that includes a win at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas.

On current form, a second win in four years would come as no surprise.

1/ Matt Fitzpatrick

The Englishman has yet to win on American soil but all the pieces seem to be falling into place.

The man from Sheffield posted a win (Andalucia Masters) and a second (DP World Tour Championship) in his final four events of 2021.

And in three PGA Tour starts in 2022, his results read: 6th (Pebble Beach), 10th (Phoenix), 9th (Arnold Palmer).

He was 1st for Driving Accuracy at Bay Hill which bodes well given that rough is up this week and all parts of his game look strong as shown by his ranking of 2nd on the overall Strokes Gained: Total stats.

Add in the expertise of bagman Billy Foster and an eyecatching ninth place in last year's PLAYERS Championship and Fitzpatrick could be the one to give Europe its fifth win in the last 14 years at Sawgrass.

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