Heightened expectation at Tiger-less Players
By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PONTE VEDRA BEACH Florida (Reuters) - With reigning champion Tiger Woods skipping this week's Players Championship where any of four golfers could replace him as world number one, there is a palpable sense of expectation at the TPC Sawgrass.
Top-ranked Woods has been sidelined since having surgery for a pinched nerve in his back at the end of March and, in his absence, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar all have a chance to dethrone him.
Add to that the fact that this week's $10 million event boasts the strongest field in golf in what is widely regarded as the unofficial fifth major, and you have all the makings of a tournament for the fans to savor.
Since 1982, the Players Championship has been held on the par-72 Stadium Course, the diabolical Pete Dye layout which has continually frustrated contenders over the years while also rewarding good play by golfers of all types.
"We have such strong fields here," American world number eight Phil Mickelson, the 2007 champion, told reporters while preparing for Thursday's opening round in the PGA Tour's flagship event.
"A lot of top players have won this tournament, have played their best golf and I think this course can bring that out.
"It's not easy to win this tournament, and it seems to bring out the best players."