Breaking down the Players field

Originally Published: May 9, 2007
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Trying to pick a winner for this week's Players Championship? Uh, good luck.

Champions at this tournament have included long hitters like Davis Love III and peashooters like Fred Funk. We've seen world-beaters like Tiger Woods and one-hit wonders like Craig Perks. Old guys like Hal Sutton and young studs like Adam Scott.

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And then there are guys like Stephen Ames, last year's winner who, well, doesn't really fit into any of those categories.

At 7,215 yards, with rolling landscape and tricky greens, host course TPC-Sawgrass doesn't suit any one type of player, which is the ultimate sign of a good course. Like the saying goes, on any given Sunday, any player can win. But that notion is never more apparent during the golf season than at the Players, where -- really -- it's anybody's ballgame.

The Weekly 18 tries to predict the unpredictable:

Breaking down the Players field
Player Best Finish Analysis
1. Retief Goosen
Goosen
2 Goosen has established himself as the world's top fast-greens putter, a fact that was further proven at last month's Masters, when weekend rounds of 70-69 vaulted him into a share of second place. If the dancing floors are slicker than black ice -- and supposedly they will be -- expect the South African to handle them with his usual aplomb and little aggravation.
2. Luke Donald
Donald
T-2 No European has won a major championship in this decade, but the continent's drought at the Players is even lengthier, dating back to Sandy Lyle's playoff victory over Jeff Sluman in 1987. Why can Donald be the man to bust the streak? Because he's a ball-striker extraordinaire who places a premium on fairways and greens.
3. Tiger Woods
Woods
Win Tough to keep the world's No. 1-ranked player -- a man coming off his ninth PGA Tour victory in his last 13 starts -- from topping this list, but Woods' recent record at Sawgrass implies it's not his favorite venue on the schedule. Since finishing as runner-up in 2000 and winning in '01, he's failed to break into the top 10 in each of the last five editions of the tourney.
4. Padraig Harrington
Harrington
2 So close … yet so far away. Harrington was runner-up at the Players in both 2003 (when he lost by 6 strokes to Love) and '04 (falling by one to Scott), but has proven he's up to the task of contending at Sawgrass. At 36 and in his first full season as a tour regular, it's time for Paddy to win a big one.
5. Arron Oberholser
Oberholser
T-27 A fast, firm course means players are going to have to do plenty of scrambling -- and no one is better at that this season than Oberholser, who leads the PGA Tour in that statistic by making par on more than two-thirds of holes in which he missed the green in regulation.
6. Steve Stricker
Scott
T-6 Another guy who was born a scrambling man, Stricker is second to only Oberholser in that category. What saves him most often is his proficiency with the flatstick; ask any PGA Tour veteran to name the top five putters around and every one of 'em will include Stricker's name.
7. Jim Furyk
Ogilvy
T-3 It's a home game for the Ponte Vedra Beach resident this week -- and an extended one, at that, after Furyk missed the cut in each of his last two events. Don't let that fool you, though. Course knowledge (especially inside info on the changes) will be invaluable to the world's second-ranked player.
8. Vaughn Taylor
Taylor
T-8 He accompanied Zach Johnson on the Masters champ's final-round romp through the Augusta pines, and may now be ready for a breakthrough victory of his own. Another one of the tour's top putters, expect Taylor to start making a habit of contending in big ones on Sunday afternoons.
9. Vijay Singh
Singh
2 Fresh off a bogey-par-bogey-par-triple bogey finish at Wachovia, there's no better place for Singh to find some good swing thoughts than the Sawgrass range -- a home away from home for the Ponte Vedra Beach resident. It's only a matter of time until PVBers Fred Funk and David Duval find company in the winner's circle within their neighborhood.
10. Scott Verplank
Verplank
T-2 The Byron Nelson champ kicked things into high gear two weeks ago and owns just the kind of steady, plodding game that will be needed at this week's Players. Part of a trio that finished 1 shot behind Funk two years ago, Verplank excels on courses where length is no matter.
11. Phil Mickelson
Mickelson
T-3 Count Mickelson among those who approve of the recent changes to TPC-Sawgrass. "It's going to play fabulous," he said Tuesday. "It's going to be tough, but it's really, really good." Speaking of really, really good, ever since Lefty went full-time to Butch Harmon, he looks like a new man, with T-3 finishes in each of his last two starts.
12. John Senden
Senden
T-22 Even the most die-hard fans may be reading this one and saying, "Who?" But count Senden among the most underrated players on tour. Last year's John Deere Classic winner is tops in the greens in regulation statistic, which speaks to his excellent iron play.
13. David Toms
Toms
T-12 Sort of a weird season for Toms so far. He's made the cut in all 10 events he's played and hasn't finished lower than 45th, but none of his four top-10s has been higher than eighth, either, which means he's long overdue to contend in a final round.
14. Stephen Ames
Ames
Win We hear it every year: No player has ever successfully defended his title at the Players. Can Ames become the first? Recent results show his game is just rounding into form and interestingly enough for the Calgary, Alberta, resident, he likes it better when the weather gets hot, as it will be this week.
15. Stewart Cink
Cink
T-22 Like Toms, Cink is another player who's been good, but not great this year. He is, however, coming off his best finish of the season -- a T-5 at Quail Hollow -- which should help the ol' confidence level. If he can keep it in the short stuff off the tee, expect him to hang around the leaderboard.
16. Charles Howell III
Howell
T-32 After starting the season hotter than a 560cc driver, Howell has slowed down as of late, with no finishes better than T-16 in his last five starts. No matter. He's got the game to compete on any stage and should be primed for a solid result this week.
17. Adam Scott
Scott
Win Had he not scrambled for bogey after pull-hooking an approach shot into the water hazard on the final hole three years ago, Scott might still be searching for that one big one that separates him from others in the under-30 age group. He hits a lot of greens, but doesn't scramble very well when he misses.
18. Ken Duke
Duke
-- Competing in the Players on a new rule that grants an exemption to the previous year's Nationwide Tour money leader, Duke is no novelty act. He's finished in the top seven in each of the last three weeks and jumped into the top 100 on the World Ranking.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.