Three Takeaways from Thursday at the Players Championship

Breaking down the key takeaways from a softer TPC Sawgrass


It was a wild Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, with plenty of big names, a bit of controversy, and a fast-paced broadcast. Here are three key takeaways from a full day of action.

Nick Taylor – At the 2023 WM Phoenix Open, the stage was set for an exciting final round duel between Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm. Ultimately, though, Rahm failed to put up much of a fight in that round. Instead it was Nick Taylor who kept the tournament interesting. He fired a final round 65 (-6), coming up two shots shy of Scheffler.

Nick Taylor has won in dramatic fashion twice since then on the PGA Tour, notching victories at the 2023 RBC Canadian Open and the 2024 WM Phoenix Open. Taylor opened with a 66 (-6) yesterday and sits one shot behind co-leaders Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, and Wyndham Clark. Nick’s game profiles well for TPC Sawgrass, and despite not having the name recognition of many golfers around him on this leaderboard, he’s shown the ability to compete with the best players in the world. I hope we get to see Taylor in the mix on Sunday, and that he can tap into some of the brilliance he’s shown over the last 14 months.

Rory McIlroy and Wyndham Clark Off the Tee – In advance of Augusta, the biggest thing I’m watching for this week is how well Rory McIlroy and Wyndham Clark’s keep the ball in play off the tee. McIlroy and Clark are two of the best golfers in the world, and they each have a tendency to spray some tee shots, which incurs a steep penalty at Sawgrass. McIlroy rinsed two tee shots with driver in his opening round, yet he still fired a 65 (-7) to snag the co-lead. Wyndham Clark similarly showed both errancy off the tee and the ability to score from disadvantaged positions en route to his own 65 (-7).

Wyndham Clark's unorthodox route to birdie on 2, demonstrating how he's able to recover from inconsistent accuracy. (Image: PGA Tour)

Both McIlroy and Clark are extremely difficult to beat when they aren’t giving away shots with wide misses off the tee. The firmer this golf course gets, the more sloppiness off the tee threatens their chances of winning. As we look ahead to the Masters, McIlroy and Clark’s off-the-tee games are worth tracking, especially on a demanding golf course like TPC Sawgrass.

The Collar on 17 – The PGA Tour completely botched the setup this week on one of the most iconic holes in golf. The island green at the 17th asks a difficult question of the best golfers in the world: “Can you control your distance and spin into an intimidating green surrounded by water?” The Tour decided to neuter that question this week by growing a thick collar of rough between the green and the water hazard, providing a bumper for shots that spin back too far towards the water. Players who failed to pass the test are getting bailed out this week, as evidenced by this video I posted that has not yet been DMCA’ed at the time of writing.

This plot provides further insight into how many shots were saved by the collar between the flag and the water. Look at that mass of blue on the left-hand side of the plot.

A plot of Thursday's tee shots on 17, featuring plenty of clustering in an area left of the pin that should have seen a lot more balls in the water. (Image: PGA Tour)

Every possible factor (club technology, instructional advancement, Trackman, etc.) is making professional golf easier for the best players in the world. Adding a bumper to one of the most famed holes on the schedule is a prime example of the PGA Tour’s failure to understand and prioritize how to test the best professional golfers in the world.

And please, do not point to pace of play as a reasonable excuse for botching the setup of one of golf’s great par 3s. I’m tired of hearing about why playing opportunities and other considerations are being prioritized at the expense of, you know, competitive golf. The NFL wouldn’t let their level of play suffer just to get a few more athletes on the field.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter as part of our Players Championship coverage, sponsored by Tourism Ireland. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.