What We Learned From The 2022 Players
Cameron Smith prevails in a messy week that started with promise. The roundup includes player notes, move-to-March questions, TV notes and the Gold Man embarrassment.
It started off with such promise.
I think it was a month ago when Commissioner Jay Monahan confidently took back the leverage, put the ball in Phil Mickelson’s court, and set the stage for fans to focus on the 2022 Players Championship.
If only the week could have ended then.
Draw a line through this one if you’re looking for a harbinger in a year the men’s game has a Masters approaching and stellar venues ahead. Send extra beer to the maintenance facility for Jeff Potts and crew. Salute Cameron Smith for winning and Anirban Lahiri for hanging in.
That’s the best way to remember a dealt a heaping mix of rain, wind and cold on the worst of all possible days: Thursday and Friday.
Even Monday’s not-forecasted final round downpour merely confirmed the jinx status for this Players. The radar when skies opened up for ten minutes on the leaders:
The high-rough setup reinforced the tendency of a March Players to not tell us much about Masters form. Advocates for more tall stuff to slow down distance won’t want to look at Smith’s stats. Still, we’ll start with the worthy winner, then get to other stuff like the move from May, player notes, the Gold Man debacle and TV notes.
🔥 Cameron Smith - A 71st hole birdie was his tenth of the round. Smith said “he would be lying” if he didn’t admit he pushed the tee shot, then saved bogey at the 18th for his biggest victory. His putts per round: 27-23-27-23. Smith finished the week first in strokes gained putting picking up 11.52 strokes on the field. High rough advocates to reward accuracy? Smith finished 68th of 70 players in strokes gained off the tee, losing -5.189 strokes to the field. Smith was a 22-1 favorite for the Masters prior to the start of the Players. He’s bound to move up given the T2 and T10 in his last two trips up Magnolia Lane.
🇮🇳 Anirban Lahiri - His four starts coming into the Players: MC-MC-MC-T74 capped off by a final round 82 at Bay Hill. The 34-year-old came to town ranked 322nd in the world and leaves with a second place finish, $2.18 million and a projected rise to 89th in the world.
🤕 Keegan Bradley - A bogey, double-bogey finish ruined his chances and cost about $800,000. Not helping matters: a two-stroke penalty earlier in the week for not playing a putt from its new location after winds moved his ball. Rule 13.1d (2) says “the ball must be played from its new spot” because the mark was not picked up.
🏴 Paul Casey - Paul Azinger informed us that a Players win and its 5-year exemption would have taken Casey to his Champions Tour eligibility. And Azinger also pointed out how Casey’s 18th hole second shot was still huge due to all the FedExCup points on the line. With that kind of pressure it’s a wonder a man who’s made $60 million on course could even take the club back!
😎 Dustin Johnson - Will a final round, course-record tying 63 end his early season lethargy?
🤩 Justin Thomas - Much was made of the defending champion besting his unlucky side of the draw by 6.79 strokes over two rounds. It’s one to file away when someone says the Americans have gone soft. Bubba Watson, paired with Thomas on a course he’s had no decent performances around, also gained 6.457 in the late-early wave. Topping them both was, Doug Ghim. He beat the late-earlies by 7.79 strokes and got to the last group Monday before finishing T6.
↔️ Sam Burns - Emerging as a top player, he had a miserable West Coast but seems to be trending in the right direction despite a final round 76 dropped him to T26.
🇿🇦 Louis Oosthuizen - A 14th and T30 in his lone U.S. starts this year had him in prime position to contend over a setup made for his patient game. But a final round 76 had to hurt. While he has not contended in the Masters since losing the 2012 heartbreaker to Bubba, he’s heading there seemingly in form.
🧐 Rory McIlroy - The Vice Commish started the week saying the move to March has “brought the tournament back to sort of what it was” and made clear he wasn’t a fan of the May date. He teed off the 10th in the final round with Denny McCarthy and lost over four strokes to the field on the greens, finishing 65th for the week in that category. It’s clear what needs to improve before Augusta.
🇺🇸 Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth - Big missed cuts for this quartet of major players should not be seen as anything more than a week to forget.
😕 Zach Johnson is in top Masters whiff form.
🥶 Jury is still out on the May-to-March Move. Hellish weather weeks happen. Especially after an idyllic West Coast Swing. Of greater concern is the long term wisdom of the March date and the PGA Championship in May. The NBA playoffs and NASCAR pose the primary ratings competition in May. In early March, the Players goes up against NCAA basketball (conference tourneys and Selection Sunday), MLB spring training and NFL free agency news. Oh, and the occasional awful weather week.