In a turnaround reminiscent to when he dismissed the Ryder Cup as ‘an exhibition’, Rory McIlroy has declared skipping last year’s Players Championship was one of the biggest regrets of his career.
The 23-year-old Ulsterman, who begins his third spell as World No.1 this week, is relishing a return to TPC Sawgrass having shunned the unofficial ‘fifth major’ 12 months ago when stating his dislike for the course.
“Looking back it wasn’t one of my brightest moments,” said McIlroy. “For me it’s a very big tournament and it’s a tournament that I’d love to win one day.”
Yet it’s no wonder McIlroy has had a change in mindset given his imperious form this season, especially on the back of his narrow playoff loss to Rickie Fowler at Quail Hollow last week following a three-week break from the game.
“Last week gave me a bit of confidence for my first week back after a little break,” added the Northern Irishman, who has finished in the top-three in four of his first five events on the PGA Tour this season and has had only two finishes outside the top-15 since August.
“It was good to get into the playoff but I would love to have that second shot back. I was in between clubs and went with wedge instead of sand wedge.
“Looking back on it – hindsight is a great thing – I didn’t really have anything to lose with Rickie being in there close.”
Tiger Woods is coming off just the eighth missed cut of his career and his victory at TPC Sawgrass in 2001 remains his lone Players Championship title.
The bookmakers certainly don’t think he’ll gain a second this week, with odds reaching 25/1 – something unheard of in recent times.
“It’s either I’ve done really well or I haven’t,” said the 14-time major champion, who kindly chose to speak to the media this week.
“I think that’s the nature of this course, though. When you’re off on this course you’re going to get penalised pretty severely.
Luke Donald will certainly fancy his chances around TPC Sawgrass, however, given he finished tied fourth here last year and is returning from a share for third in his last start in New Orleans
Other players to watch closely this week include Steve Stricker, who has accumulated four top tens in his first six events of the season, and a resurgent Ernie Els, who has finished fifth or better in three of his last five PGA Tour events.
The Players Championship
TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Thursday May 10 to Sunday May 13
Par-72; 7,215 yards
$9,500,000 (winner: $1,710,000)
KJ Choi (-13) defeated David Toms in a playoff
Did you know?
The Players Championship is the richest event in golf. Established in 1974, the tournament has been staged on TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course since 1982.
Thursday: Sky Sports 2 from 6pm
Friday: Sky Sports 2 from 6pm
Saturday: Sky Sports 2 from 5pm
Sunday: Sky Sports 1 from 6pm