Players Championship preview: Rickie Fowler returns to defend his crown

Written By Alec Brzezinski
Fowler-Rickie-USNews-Getty-FTR
(Getty Images)

Last year's Players Championship erased all doubt that Rickie Fowler is one of the game's best players as he outlasted Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in a playoff to secure his second career win.

Fowler has gone on to win three more tournaments since that day, when he proved the island green at TPC Sawgrass isn't as scary as it looks.

MORE: Tour winners of 2015-16 season | Players Championship tee times

The 17th hole is famed for not only being one of the most interesting holes on tour, but also for being one of the most duplicated holes around the globe. Despite playing just over 125 yards, the island green is a psychological test that has broken numerous hearts over the years.

TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course) itself is a 7,215-yard masterpiece created by Pete Dye near Jacksonville, Fla. Despite featuring four reachable par 5s, Sawgrass has held its own against the game's best players without undergoing a drastic redesign like so many other layouts.

This week, 47 out of the game's top 50 players are in the field competing in what has long been considered golf's fifth major.

Here are this week's top players:

Rickie Fowler (world ranking: 5) — There is some chatter spreading that Fowler doesn't know how to finish after failing to close out the Wells Fargo last week and the Phoenix Open earlier this year. But those saying that obviously don't remember Fowler's heroic Sunday charge up the leaderboard on this course last year. With the "Big Three" all looking mortal lately, Fowler will look to pounce at TPC Sawgrass this week. Fantasy advice: He has six top 10s this season. He has also won and finished runner-up here. This is a good week to play Fowler in any format.

Sergio Garcia (15) — Garcia can be a bit of an enigma, but he won this tournament in 2008 and has finished runner-up twice, including last year. The fiery Spaniard also enters the week in good form having finished t-3 at the Spanish Open in his last start. Fantasy advice: Garcia is a true horse for the course that is relatively cheap on DraftKings for a player with the track record he has. He's been known to put up some clunkers, but we expect him to contend this week.

Rory McIlroy (3) — McIlroy has finished in the top 10 (t-8, t-6, t-8) in each of his last three starts here. Couple that with the positive signs we saw Sunday at Quail Hollow, and McIlroy could win his first Players Championship this week. McIlroy, who leads the tour in par-5 scoring, should be able to take advantage of the short ones on this course. Fantasy advice: Very expensive, but could be well-worth the price. He has not won on the PGA Tour since last season's Wells Fargo, though.

Henrik Stenson (6) — The talented Swede doesn't get the same level of attention as some of the other top players, but he has quietly won some big tournaments, including the Players in 2009. Stenson almost exclusively uses a 3-wood off the tee these days. However, he still launches it close to 300 yards. He missed the cut last week, but has a much better track record on TPC Sawgrass than he does at Quail Hollow. Fantasy advice: He could be a sneaky good play because he won't be as highly owned as some of the other big names. T-5 in 2013 to go with his win. He also finished t-17 last year.

Jason Day (1) — Despite missing the cut here last year, Day has the game to tear this course apart if he's focused. With his length off the tee, he should be able to hit short irons into most of the par 4s and reach all of the par 5s. Day does have two top 20s here, and he has four top 10s in his last five starts, so don't expect him to miss the cut again. Fantasy advice: As expected with the No.1 player, Day is expensive. But he ranks second in strokes gained: putting and T6 in par-5 scoring. He is a good play in large-pool tournaments. 

Justin Rose (10) — It was hard to watch Rose trying to putt on Sunday. He couldn't make anything. Despite the woes with the shortstick, Rose finished solo third and was once again one of the top ball strikers. He finished t-4 here in 2014, but doesn't have a great track record on this course. Fantasy advice: Could be a good week to fade him as he wrestles his putting demons.

Adam Scott (6) — It seems like a lifetime ago Adam Scott got up-and-down for bogey on the 18th hole to win this tournament in 2004 over Padraig Harrington. Since then, the sweet swinging Aussie hasn't fared well on this course. That shouldn't be an issue this week as long as he makes better decisions than he did while settling for a t-17 last week. Fantasy advice: He seems to teeter on the edge of too expensive and quality risk every week. We like his chances this week having won twice already in Florida this year.

Jordan Spieth (2) — All eyes will be on Spieth as he makes his first start since his embarrassing collapse at Augusta last month. The time off — with a pretty golf-heavy vacation in the middle — should help Spieth refocus and contend this week. Fantasy advice: He could always win, but better to avoid until he burns the rust off.

Others to watch: Bubba Watson, Danny Willett, Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka

Sleepers: Danny Lee, Byeong-Hun An, Martin Kaymer, Billy Horschel, Rafa Cabrera Bello

Latest News

Tiger-Woods-113021-Getty-FTR
Tiger Woods unsure if he will ever compete on PGA Tour: 'I'm so far from that'
Tiger Woods reflects on recovery from crash
Tiger Woods-111320-GETTY-FTR
Tiger Woods explains why he won't play golf full time 'ever again' in latest recovery update
Tiger Woods explains why he won't play golf full time 'ever again'
Lee-Elder-112921
Golf world reacts to death of Lee Elder, first Black golfer to play the Masters
Golfers, other athletes react to the passing of Lee Elder
Brooks-Koepka-Bryson-DeChambeau-112621
Bryson DeChambeau vs. Brooks Koepka results: Koepka dominates rival in 'The Match' 5
'The Match' 5 results: Koepka dominates DeChambeau
Phil-Mickelson-112621
Phil Mickelson steals the show as a commentator for 'The Match'
Phil Mickelson steals the show at 'The Match'