PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- During the past half-dozen years, winners of the Players Championship have included all-time greats (Phil Mickelson) and one-hit wonders (Craig Perks), seasoned veterans (Fred Funk) and up-and-comers (Adam Scott), big hitters (Davis Love III) and adept ball-strikers (Stephen Ames).
As a result, picking a champion at the event that features the year's best field often becomes a moot pursuit. Eventual winners have owned pre-tournament odds ranging from acutely predictable to predictably acute.
And yet, as if to spit into a gusting wind, we try and try again to prognosticate the completely, uh, unprognosticatable.
Our best guess: Expect a handful of young players to make a splash on this week's leaderboard, as has been the norm this season. Or not. At the Players, you never can tell, but here are my top-20 choices to contend for the title at TPC Sawgrass.
With wins already at the Qatar Masters and Byron Nelson Championship, Scott is on the verge of a very big year. Though his major championship record is spotty at best -- only four top-10s in 28 career starts -- he's played well at the fifth maj-, uh, the Players, with three top-10s in the past four years, including a victory in 2004. With a victory this year, he'd become the sixth multiple champion at this event, joining the prestigious list of Jack Nicklaus, Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton and Davis Love III.
Word on tour is that Cink is playing the best golf of his life and there's proof in the numbers, as he already has four top-threes to his name this year. Add in the fact that he's coming off a T-3 finish here a year ago, and Cink is a good bet to contend once again.
To borrow a line from Chicago Cubs fans, "It's gonna happen." Furyk lives in this town, knows this course as well as anyone and has the game to succeed here. His brand of fairways-and-greens golf will serve him well, as will the experience of having made the cut in all but two of his previous 12 starts at the Players.
A record number of tee shots found the wet stuff on the penultimate hole last year, but Mickelson earned the hardware because he figured out the secret to success. "I've found if I just play the hole for par, don't think about birdie, don't think about trying to get to the right section of the green, just hit the green, it's pretty easy to make four pars and move on," he said recently. "Seventeen is not a hole that too many guys win it on, but I've seen a number of guys lose it."
5. Sean O'Hair
Call it karmic relief. Trailing Mickelson by 2 heading to the 17th hole in last year's final round, O'Hair took dead aim at the flagstick on the island green only to find the surrounding water hazard. Twice. "You've got to make something happen," said O'Hair, who was undone by a change in wind direction. "I didn't bust it for four days to get second place." If that doesn't sound like a guy ready to win here, then try this: "This course fits me and I like it. I think I'm going to win here. I don't think it's an if. I think I will win here."
6. Boo Weekley
Sure, his down-home, aw-shucks demeanor has earned Weekley legions of fans, most of whom scream, "Boooooo!" after every good shot. But this guy is no novelty act. Weekley is legit, quickly becoming one of the game's preeminent ball-strikers. He owns back-to-back victories at Harbour Town, where Love won five times. Well, DL3 also won here twice. Hmmm... …
Once upon a time -- OK, it was 2003 and '04 -- Harrington came here to pick up a runner-up paycheck, so he knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed on this course. "No matter how tough the course is playing, you feel like if you get on a run out there, you can shoot a 65 or something like that," the reigning British Open champ said. "There will be great scores shot on the course, but it's hard to keep it going then all the time, as well, for 72 holes. Patience is the key."
8. Luke Donald
Though he started this season with a bang (a second- and third-place finish in his first three U.S. appearances), Donald has left much to be desired recently, with three missed cuts and no finishes better than T-19 in his last five starts. A solid ball-striker and exceptional putter, here's guessing he will reclaim some of the mojo from a T-2 result three years ago.
After an 11-month down period during which he suffered a precipitous fall in the world rankings, Goosen regained his form with a second-place result at Doral two months ago and has played well since. He's still among the game's best putters on ultra-fast greens.
10. Hunter Mahan
"I like the golf course," Mahan said earlier this week. "I feel like my game is in pretty good shape. I feel like I can play well there. I just want to give myself a chance on Sunday." The key will be keeping the driver in play; Mahan has been tinkering this season, but said he found one he likes in recent weeks.
11. Vijay Singh
Perhaps nobody, from tour players to TPC Sawgrass members, has dug out more divots on this practice range than Singh, who is somehow still searching for his initial victory in his adopted hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach. At 45, he might be running out of chances.
12. Anthony Kim
File this selection under "Stick with the hot hand." Kim looked downright indefatigable during a 5-stroke win at the Wachovia last week. Though his putting was key, don't underestimate the importance of a new driver, which Kim had built for him just before that victory march.
13. Mathew Goggin
Consistency, thy name is Goggin. The Aussie has finished between 17th and 20th in each of his last four appearances. One insider who closely follows Goggin's game claims that he'll finish in the top-10 in greens in regulation this week; that's not such a stretch considering his 67.04 percentage ranks 29th this season.
14. Bart Bryant
If, as expected, the course plays fast and firm this week, it will also play right into the hands of Bryant, who often thrives under such conditions. A runner-up and third-place finish in his last four starts is enough to supersede a poor record at this event (MC, T-56, MC the last three years).
15. Brandt Snedeker
The scouting report on Snedeker's game: Doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but knows how to get the ball in the hole. That was never more apparent than at last month's Masters, when he smiled and willed his way to a T-3 finish.
16. John Senden
One of the game's better iron players is also one of its most underrated talents. Senden drives the ball straight and hits a ton of greens in regulation, finishing second in the latter category a year ago. He hasn't made much of a splash in big tourneys before, but a repeat of his T-4 performance at last year's PGA isn't out of the question.
17. Andres Romero
Hmmm … one of the world's most exciting players on one of the world's most exciting courses. This is either a match made in heaven or hell, as Romero has the potential to shoot 64 or 84 on any given day in his maiden voyage to Sawgrass. If nothing else, he'll be fun to watch.
18. Henrik Stenson
Bet you didn't know this: Of all those who have competed in multiple editions of the Players, the man with the lowest scoring average is … Bruce Crampton. Second on that list, however, is Stenson, with an average round of 71.13 in two career starts – a T-23 last year and a T-3 in 2006.
19. Alex Cejka
Though he isn't quite lighting things up this year, Cejka has played his best golf of the season in the state of Florida, with top-10 results at the Honda and Bay Hill. And he's fared well at the Players in past appearances, with a scoring average of a half-stroke below par in two career starts.
20. Mike Weir
With a victory at the Fry's Electronics Open and a singles win over Tiger Woods in the Presidents Cup late last year, Weir looked poised to have a big 2008. It hasn't happened yet; in fact, dating back to February, he's missed the cut in every other start. The good news: If the pattern continues, he'll still be around this weekend.
Jason Sobel covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com