Sky Sports is showing round-the-clock coverage of the PGA Tour’s flagship event live on our dedicated channel – Sky Sports The Players; Live coverage from the opening round begins on Thursday from 11.30am
By Jamie Weir at TPC Sawgrass – @JamieCWeir
Last Updated: 09/03/22 10:26pm
From Rory McIlroy’s four balls in the water at TPC Sawgrass’ 18th hole to Billy Horschel’s hopes of a weather delay to enable him to watch West Ham, Sky Sports News’ Jamie Weir give a behind-the-scenes view from the practice days at The Players…
McIlroy bullish for Players bid
I walked a few holes with Rory McIlroy earlier in the week and had a good chat with him. He’s very confident with where his game is at the moment and told me this season has reminded him of his start to the 2019 season, where he arrived at Sawgrass having been knocking on the door but not quite got over the line in a few tournaments.
He won that week and went on to have a four-win year. He’s swinging it as well as I can remember, even if what I witnessed on the 18th during his Tuesday practice round may have put a few punters off!
One of the most intimidating tee shots in golf, especially if it’s the 72nd hole with the tournament on the line, Rory was experimenting with how far left he could aim and how much of the dogleg he could cut off, but his first drive landed almost in the middle of the huge lake.
The second almost made it, but suffered a similar fate. Likewise his third. At this point he switched to three wood… but that ball went for a swim too. At the fifth attempt – Tin Cup-style – he hit a gorgeous low ropey draw straight up the middle. Hopefully that’s the outcome we’ll see once the tournament itself gets under way!
Victory for Viktor at Sawgrass?
By Sunday evening, the world No 1 could be a 24-year-old from Norway. I had a great chat with Viktor Hovland, who is such an impressive young man and – it goes without saying – a phenomenally talented golfer. His energy is infectious, and he smiled from start to finish as we talked about his current form and his chances of becoming the best golfer on the planet at such a tender age.
Fresh from a runner-up finish at Bay Hill but having won three of his last eight tournaments, he told me he’s playing the best golf of his life at the moment, that he feels he can win even when he doesn’t have his A-game and that it was pretty difficult to put to the back of his mind what he could potentially achieve this week.
I’ve bumped into a couple of Norwegian TV crews on the golf course this week, which is a first. That’s testament to the megastar he’s already become in his home country, but Viktor said to me he’s still not quite at Erling Haaland levels of fame…and that one day being as big as A-Ha is still the dream!
Monahan in defiant mood
Naturally, given we’re at the home of the PGA Tour and at its flagship event, a lot of the discourse this week has surrounded the threat they face from Greg Norman and the proposed Saudi Golf League.
I was very impressed with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan in his press conference with the assembled media. He began it by declaring the PGA Tour will always be “about legacy, not leverage”, a clear dig at Phil Mickelson who is conspicuous by his absence this week.
He faced a lot of tricky questions from the floor but handled them all adeptly, saying he wakes up “every day assuming someone’s trying to take my lunch” but that the PGA Tour can offer things the Saudis never can, before boldly declaring “we will win”.
The Players Championship Live
March 10, 2022, 11:30am
He strikes me as someone who genuinely cares about the future of the game and of improving the lives of PGA Tour members. The threat hasn’t gone away, but from speaking to a number of players out and about on the course there’s no doubt they’re rallying around Monahan and this has galvanised the Tour to create a stoic ‘them versus us’ mentality.
Tiger’s back in town!
It was great to see Tiger Woods up close ahead his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He looked in great physical shape as he arrived in shorts, t-shirt, backwards cap and sunglasses, just effortlessly oozing cool. Fitting, given he’s the man who made golf cool.
This week they’re playing for a prize fund of $20 million, with the winner taking home $3.6 million of that. That’s because of Tiger, and that isn’t lost on this generation of superstars following in his footsteps and just hoping to have a tenth of the success he had. He transformed the game of golf and transcended sport.
Who knows what the future holds and whether we’ll see him on the course in any competitive capacity. But there’s no more fitting inductee into golf’s Hall of Fame and I’m sure last night’s ceremony – in particular having his kids Sam and Charlie there to witness it – will have meant a great deal to him.
The Players Championship Live
March 10, 2022, 4:00pm
Football still the talking point!
Even ahead of one of their biggest golf tournaments of the year, a lot of players just want to chat about football!
McIlroy is, understandably, very dismayed about the current state Manchester United are in, but enjoyed Roy Keane’s typically strong opinions on his old side last weekend.
Matt Fitzpatrick, though, is delighted with how his beloved Sheffield United are getting on at the moment and is confident of them bouncing straight back to the Premier League. He told me it’s giving him extra satisfaction that his caddie – Leeds fan Billy Foster – and his manager – Everton fan Ted Brady – are more concerned with relegation battles.
I chatted to Tommy Fleetwood and his caddie Ian Finnis, both Evertonians, about their current plight too. They weren’t happy, but Billy Horschel is. He’s a big West Ham fan and is pally with Mark Noble. He’s very confident that his beloved Hammers will pull something out of the bag and win in Seville this evening, and is hoping his opening round at The Players is delayed by the predicted thunderstorms so that he can watch the game!
A disrupted Players ahead?
The weather forecasts here in Florida make fairly grim reading! On Wednesday afternoon the hooter sounded and all fans were evacuated from the course with electrical storms looming. I’d say it’s almost certain we’re headed for a stop-start tournament too, and I have even heard rumblings of a potential Monday finish!
The heavens will open at some stage and that will soften the course up. Players will face an entirely different challenge to their firm and fiery Bay Hill that beat so many of them up last weekend. But with strong winds and some cold temperatures expected too, it’ll still be a really tough test and a mental grind.
TPC Sawgrass demands accuracy from the tee, and the rough turns suddenly thick and juicy just inches from the fairway. Whoever keeps it on the short stuff, and keeps their head when others are losing theirs, will be in the mix come Sunday…or Monday!
Watch The Players throughout the week live on Sky Sports’ dedicated Players Championship channel. Live coverage of the opening round begins on Thursday from 11.30am on Sky Sports The Players.
Source : Sky Sports