A large contingent of golfers with Georgia ties will compete in the Players Championship, which will be played March 14-17 at TPC Sawgrass outside Jacksonville, returning to its early Spring date after being held in May since 2007.
Of the 144 players in the field, 22 have Georgia ties, led by Matt Kuchar (Georgia Tech/St. Simons resident), who won the Players in 2012 and was second on the FedExCup points list coming into this week’s Bay Hill Invitational with two victories this season.
After winning late in 2018 in Mexico and early in 2019 in Hawaii, Kuchar hasn’t done much since a close call in Phoenix he concluded with a poor final round. Kuchar’s record is better than most at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course, with a T3 In 2016 and four other top 20s since ’09 and only one missed cut over the past decade. He ranks sixth on the tour in fairways hit this season and fifth in greens in regulation.
Here’s a look at the rest of the Georgia-connected golfers in the Players, ranked by their standing on the points list prior to Bay Hill:
Charles Howell (4), Augusta native: Howell’s excellent 2018-19 showing includes a win in the RSM Classic at Sea Island GC, three other top 10s and as total of seven top 20s in 10 starts. He ranks second on the tour in GIR. His record at TPC Sawgrass is less than exemplary, much like his career efforts in majors and WGCs. His tie for 17th last year was his best finish in 16 career starts and he has made just seven cuts, with a T32 in 2003 his previous top finish.
Keith Mitchell (17), UGA/St. Simons: Went from nobody to somebody last week with a win in the Honda. The second-year PGA Tour pro held off Brooks Koepka and 2015 Players champion Rickie Fowler with a superb stretch of clutch play on the back nine at PGA National. Has recorded three other top 25s this season. Made his first start in Players last year as the final alternate to get into the field and opened with a 67, but after making the 36-hole cut, did not make it to the final round.
Michael Thompson (41), St. Simons: Will be either the 144th player in the field or the first alternate to get in, earning his spot with a strong showing this season. Has finished 9-13-10-7-16 in his last five starts, including back-to-back top 10s at Pebble Beach and LA. Only missed cut in 2018-19 came at home in RSM. In five starts at Sawgrass, has missed three cuts and has never cracked the top 50.
Chesson Hadley (42), Georgia Tech: After late 2018 top 10s in Thailand and Las Vegas, has missed four of six cuts in ’19 with a pair of top 20s, one of them last week in the Honda. Tied for 11th in Players in 2018 in his fourth appearance.
Patrick Reed (52), Augusta State: 2018 Masters champion has played steady golf in 2018-19, placing between 7th and 25th in all six of his starts including two WGCs. Ranks sixth in Strokes Gained putting. Owns a pair of top 25s at Sawgrass in five tries, but has yet to finish among the top 20.
Luke List (57), Augusta: Had a pair of T4s in the Fall including the RSM, but has missed three of five cuts in ’19 with a best of T15 in LA. Big hitter ranks fifth in distance, fourth in Strokes Gained off the tee and 15th tee to green, but rank of 195 in fairways hit may not play well in Ponte Vedra. Missed the cut in his first two starts in 2017 and ’18.
Richy Werenski (58), Georgia Tech: Tied for 23rd in his Players debut last year, and started 2018-19 with five straight made cuts, including a T3 in Mayakoba. Best finish in ’19 in five appearances is a T60 and his stats this season are not promising.
J.T. Poston (59), St. Simons: Is 6 for 6 in made cuts so far in 2019 with four top 30s on the season. Is the only Players rookie among the 22 Georgians.
Patton Kizzire (60), St. Simons: Ended 2018 with a T15 in the RSM and began 2019 with finishes of 8 and 23 in Hawaii. Just short of a top 25 in WGC event in Mexico, but has missed three of last four cuts and was an early WD at Bay Hill. Has nothing to show for three starts in the Players.
Bubba Watson (70), UGA: Has made 7 of 11 cuts at Sawgrass, but has never finished better than 37th, as long and not-so-straight is not the best way to succeed on Pete Dye’s testy layout. Ranks first in driving distance this season and second in Strokes Gained off the tee, but his putting stats are dismal. Best showing in limited starts this season is a T4 in Phoenix.
Vaughn Taylor (73), Augusta/Augusta State: Posted a pair of top 10s on the West Coast in the Desert Classic and LA, but also missed three of his other five cuts. Tied for eighth in his second start at TPC Sawgrass in 2006 en route to spot on U.S. Ryder Cup team that year, but is 0-for-8 in made cuts since.
Scott Brown (80), Augusta native: Has a pair of top 10s this year in San Diego and Puerto Rico, and followed T10 in the latter with a T20 in the Honda. Tie for 23rd last year in Jacksonville was his best showing in six career starts.
Kevin Kisner (92), UGA: Lost in a three-way playoff to Fowler in 2015 in his first start in the Players, but has struggled in tournament since. Closed out 2018 with T7 in RSM, where he won in 2016, and finished 26-28-27 in last three starts. Putting stats this season are positive, but ranks neat bottom in Strokes Gained around the green.
Trey Mullinax (108), St. Simons: Working on a streak of seven straight made cuts, highlighted by finishes of 25-15-12 in last three starts on West Coast. Missed the cut in Players debut last year, ranking near the bottom in fairways hit is not a good sign for success at Sawgrass.
Harris English (114), Valdosta native/UGA/St. Simons: Made his first seven cuts before missing three straight followed by T12 at Honda, his best finish of the season. Tied for 33rd in second appearance in Jacksonville in 2013, but has missed all five cuts since.
Zach Johnson (125), St. Simons: A T7 in the RSM is his only top 25 on the season, but has played in just six events. Tied for eighth in his first start in Players in 2005 and is 13 of 14 in made cuts for his career, including a tie for second behind Kuchar in 2012. Ability to hit fairways has been the key to his success in the tournament.
Russell Henley (127), Macon native/UGA: Usually one of the tour’s better putters, his stats this season are sub-standard, resulting in five of 10 missed cuts and no finishes better than a T15 in Phoenix. Best showing at Sawgrass is a T17 in his second start in 2014 and is 3 of 6 in made cuts.
Stewart Cink (138), Georgia Tech/Duluth resident: Has only one top 10 in 19 career starts in Players, tying for third in 2007 when Phil Mickelson scored what may been the most surprising victory of his career. Other than ’07, Cink’s best finish is a tie for 19th in 2011. Has two top-20 finishes this season but not much else, mostly due to some poor approach the green stats.
Brian Harman (169), Savannah native/UGA/St. Simons: Has made six of 10 cuts, but best finish is a T32 in the RSM, where he needed a final round 64. Terrible approach the green stats and below-standard putting has negated strong showing in Strokes gained around the green category. A tie for eighth in 2015 Players is his only finish above 50th in seven starts.
Ollie Schniederjans (191), Powder Springs/Georgia Tech: Once promising career has been stalled by wildly erratic driving, which has led to terrible GIR stats. Has missed six of 12 cuts this season without a top-30 finish. Made the cut in first start at Sawgrass last year, but finished near bottom of final standings.
Chris Kirk (192), Woodstock native/UGA/Athens: Bad driving and worse putting is not the way to go on PGA Tour, but that’s the path he has taken this season. Has missed five of six cuts in 2019 and seven of 11 overall this season. Has played pretty well in Jacksonville with three top 15s since ‘14.
Three Georgians ranked among the top 125 in the FedExCup standings this season did not qualify for the Players, including Hudson Swafford (85), rookie Anders Albertson (102) and Roberto Castro (110). Veterans Jonathan Byrd (141) and Davis Love (145), the 2003 Players champion, are also missing from the field.
The Players Championship features one of the most diverse collection of winners of any tournament on the PGA Tour, ranging from some of the game’s shorter hitters (Justin Leonard, Fred Funk, Tim Clark, Kuchar, Webb Simpson) to power players like Love, Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Jason Day, to some of the game’s most respected ball strikers (David Duval, Hal Sutton, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, K.J. Choi, Martin Kaymer and Fowler).
There is also the occasional totally unexpected winner (Si Woo Kim, Stephen Ames and Craig Perks, one of golf’s all time fluke champions).
With two World Golf Championships and the Players slotted in a six-week span prior to the Masters, the game’s best players should have their games battle tested before they arrive in Augusta. Woods, however, has played only three times this season and withdrew from Bay Hill with a neck injury, placing his status for the Players into the questionable category.