The PLAYERS Championship for 2018 just got a little more interesting. Past champions Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have committed to the field. Today Woods also committed to play in the upcoming Wells Fargo Championship.
The two superstars, who have won a combined 122 PGA TOUR events (79 for Woods, and 43 for Mickelson) will highlight a star-studded field in Ponte Vedra Beach in the TOUR’s showcase event on May 8-13.
It is a place where both have positive memories. Mickelson succeeded at TPC Sawgrass in 2007 while Woods took top honours in 2001 and 2013.
Coincidentally, Woods has not won on the TOUR since 2013, but has quickly risen up the World Rankings in his recent comeback after multiple back surgeries. Woods was not able to defend his 2013 PLAYERS title due to his health. This year, he earned a spot in the best field in golf due to the five-year exemption that exists for past champions of the event.
Mickelson recently earned his 43rd PGA TOUR win at the WGC-Mexico Championship in a playoff against reigning FedExCup champion Justin Thomas, 23 years his junior. As Mickelson looks to become the seventh player to win THE PLAYERS more than once, he is also in search of his first multiple-win season on TOUR since 2013.
Players not otherwise exempt who are inside the top-50 of the Official World Golf Ranking as of Monday, April 30, will qualify for THE PLAYERS. The final opportunity to qualify for THE PLAYERS would involve either winning the Wells Fargo Championship or moving into the top-10 in the FedExCup standings.
After undergoing back surgery in April 2017, the only two-time FedExCup champ (2007, 2009) made his first official TOUR start of the 2017-18 season at the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open and made his first cut on TOUR in two years en route to a T23 finish. Since then, Woods has made five other starts on TOUR, missing only one cut (Genesis Open) and then posting the following finishes in his next four starts: 12/The Honda Classic; T2/Valspar Championship; T5/Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard; T32/Masters Tournament.
Woods is one of six two-time winners of THE PLAYERS (Jack Nicklaus has won the championship three times), where he owns 16 made cuts in 17 starts, including one runner-up (2000) and three additional top 10s. He also ranks second behind only Sergio Garcia in career money earned at THE PLAYERS ($4,421,241.90), and his 13 consecutive made cuts at THE PLAYERS is the second-most in tournament history, behind only Sergio Garcia and Brad Faxon, who each own 14 straight made cuts. Should Woods win THE PLAYERS this year, he would join Jack Nicklaus as the only three-time winners of the event (1974, 1976, 1978), and he would also notch his 80th TOUR victory, bringing him within two of Sam Snead for most wins on the PGA TOUR.
Here’s a closer look back at Woods’ two wins at THE PLAYERS:
A 25-year-old Tiger Woods entered THE PLAYERS fresh off a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, where he posted four under-par rounds to edge Phil Mickelson by a stroke. Woods shot a first-round 72 to sit T37, then fired rounds of 69-66-67 for a 14-under 274 total, beating Vijay Singh by one stroke.
Woods started off birdie-eagle in the final round (which finished on Monday) to take the lead from Jerry Kelly which he never relinquished, but his 2001 victory is perhaps most remembered for his birdie putt on the 17th hole on Saturday. Woods hit a 60-foot putt that rode two tiers and broke three times before falling, with NBC’s Gary Koch repeating the now famous phrase “Better than most,” as the ball tracked toward the hole. It’s one of the most iconic shots ever witnessed at THE PLAYERS and a moment that will forever be remembered in golf history.
With Woods victorious at THE PLAYERS, he became one of only three champions who have won the week immediately preceding their victory at THE PLAYERS. Woods went on to win the Masters Tournament in his next start on TOUR, making him the first player to hold all four professional major titles at once. Woods would also go on to win his third of five straight Player of the Year titles and a third consecutive money title at the conclusion of the 2001 season.
“It is special, to be able to win a championship like this, on an extremely demanding golf course, with probably the best field assembled in all of golf — all of golf for the entire year,” Woods said after his 2001 win. “It is extremely rewarding to do that. Not only that, to be able to play down the stretch against Jerry and Vijay, two guys that played extremely hard this week. And obviously, I’m just very fortunate enough to come out on top.”
Five years ago, Tiger Woods held a share of the lead heading into the final round of THE PLAYERS, thanks to opening rounds of 67-67-71. This marked the first time Woods had held a lead/co-lead after rounds one, two or three at the tournament. Heading into THE PLAYERS, Woods was playing incredible golf—his previous three finishes were: Won/WGC-Mexico Championship; Won/Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard; T4/Masters Tournament.
Woods was tied with fellow past champion of THE PLAYERS, Sergio Garcia, with just two holes remaining in Sunday’s final round. Playing in the penultimate group, Woods made par on the 17th hole, while Garcia, playing in the final group, watched on. Garcia proceeded to hit two shots into the water on the 17th en route to a quadruple bogey, while Woods striped a drive on the 18thhole to set up another par and his second title at THE PLAYERS.
With his win, Woods joined Jack Nicklaus, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton, Fred Couples and Davis Love III as multiple winners of the event. His victory at TPC Sawgrass became his fourth of the 2013 season, the earliest he had achieved the feat in a season. Woods would go on to record his fifth win of the season at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which marked his 79th career victory, and would finish the season No. 2 in the FedExCup standings.
THE PLAYERS 2007 champion will be making his 25th start at TPC Sawgrass this year, where he has recorded 16 made cuts, eight top-25 finishes and three top-10 finishes and ranks fifth in all-time career earnings at THE PLAYERS ($2,900,485.65). His T41 finish in 2017 snapped a string of four consecutive missed cuts in the tournament; however, Mickelson made 11 consecutive cuts at THE PLAYERS from 2001-2012, which is tied for sixth-most consecutive cuts made in event history.
His victory at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship snapped a 96-event winless drought (since the 2013 Open Championship) on the PGA TOUR and moved the lefty from No. 17 to No. 3 in the FedExCup standings (he is now No. 4). Mickelson’s best season-ending ranking in the FedExCup standings was No. 2 in 2009; he finished No. 34 last season
In 11 starts this season, Mickelson has made 10 cuts and has notched five top-10 finishes: T3/Safeway Open; T5/Waste Management Phoenix Open; T2/AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am; T6/Genesis Open; Won/WGC-Mexico Championship.
Mickelson won THE PLAYERS in its inaugural showing in May, overcoming a one-stroke deficit to 54-hole leader Sean O’Hair and posting rounds of 67-72-69-69—277 to finish two strokes ahead of Sergio Garcia, who would go on to win THE PLAYERS the following year. It took the then-36-year-old Mickelson 14 starts at THE PLAYERS before his first victory – the most before a win of anyone except Tom Kite and Fred Funk, who both needed 15 starts at THE PLAYERS before their first win. He also owns the three-best finishes ever by a left-handed player at THE PLAYERS – 1 in 2007, T3 in 2004, T8 in 1998.
“I think as I look back on my career after I stop playing, I think I’ll look back on this tournament victory in the same light as the majors,” Mickelson said after his 2007 win.