Jordan Spieth will treat the Players Championship like the major it so desperately wants to be as he looks to improve on his curious record at Sawgrass.
On his tournament debut in 2014, Spieth played his first 58 holes in 14 under par without dropping a shot, but since then is a combined 10 over par for 122 holes with three straight missed cuts.
Asked to put his finger on the reason behind such strange statistics, the three-time major winner told a pre-tournament press conference: “I love this place, I love the golf course but if you’re not on it’s (about) a lot of small areas.
“Small areas to hit your tee shots, small areas to hit your second shots and you really have to think through the place and let it come to you.
This is not a place to go out and try and force birdies and I think that’s where I’ve gone the last few years that’s gotten me in trouble.
“A good example would be like on (hole) number one here, when the pin is front left. If you’re not in the fairway you can’t get anywhere near the hole, but I’ll miss it in the left rough and (still) try and land it on that tier right next to the hole.
“It’s just situations like that where the patience I seem to display at Augusta (National, venue for the Masters), out here the last couple years I just haven’t had that patience.
“I haven’t approached it like I approach the major championship-calibre golf and this tournament and this golf course are major-championship calibre and therefore I need to go in with a different game plan and mindset and stick to it on the golf course.
“The first year I played here I almost won it and so I just kind of assumed that it would come easy to me. I kind of looked at the last few years and just kind of came in thinking, ‘Oh, if I miss it in a tough spot I’ll get up and down’.
“Historically that’s happened, but historically now that hasn’t happened. I’m ready to kind of get back on that first-year path but doing it the right way.”
Spieth will partner Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy in the first two rounds of the so-called “fifth major”, but even that star-studded group will be outshone by the combination of Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler.
And if Mickelson had his way, it would actually all be about a one-on-one shootout between himself and 14-time major winner Woods, whose improved relationship extended to a practice round together ahead of the Masters in April.
“(With) the excitement that’s been going on around here it gets me thinking, ‘Why don’t we just bypass all the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head-to-head and just have kind of a high-stake, winner-take-all match’,” Mickelson joked in his pre-tournament press conference.
“Now, I don’t know if he wants a piece of me, but I just think it would be something that would be really fun for us to do, and I think there would be a lot of interest in it if we just went straight to the final round.”
Sweden’s Alexander Bjork hailed the best round of his career after securing his first European Tour title at the Volvo China Open in Beijing.
Bjork carded seven birdies in a flawless closing 65 at Topwin Golf and Country Club to finish 18 under par, a shot ahead of Spain’s Adrian Otaegui.
Otaegui was left to rue a three-putt bogey on the 17th, although a birdie on the last sealed outright second ahead of compatriot Jorge Campillo and the English pair of Matt Wallace and Jordan Smith.
Bjork began the day a shot behind Wallace and Otaegui, but made an ideal start with a birdie on the first and picked up further shots on the fourth and eighth to reach the turn in 33.
The 27-year-old also birdied the 11th, 12th and 15th to move ahead of clubhouse leader Smith, who had surged through the field with a superb 64, before a birdie on the 17th capped a nerveless display.
“It’s tough to describe the emotions,” Bjork told Sky Sports. “I’m really, really happy, really proud of myself the way I played today.
“It’s probably one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever played, I would say the best round given the situation. I made pretty much no mistakes today so I’m super happy.
“I had a really good feeling this morning actually. I was less nervous than I usually am before a really big final round. I felt confident almost all the way so I guess it was just meant to be.
“I didn’t look (at leaderboards) too much the first nine holes but from 12 I knew I was up in the lead, but then I saw a guy had finished on 16 under and I knew I needed to make birdies. That actually helped me to stay positive instead of playing safe.
“I just lost out in Hong Kong in the first tournament of the season with a bad finish and I was close last week (in the Hassan Trophy) so it was my turn today and I’m so happy for that.”
Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington has declared his interest in captaining Europe at the 2020 Ryder Cup.
Harrington has played in six European Ryder Cup teams and has been a vice-captain under Paul McGinley in 2014 and Darren Clarke two years later.
The 46-year-old is expected to be named by current European skipper Thomas Bjorn as a vice-captain for the next edition of the Ryder Cup against the United States in France in September.
But Harrington has his sights set on being Europe’s captain for the 2020 tournament, especially because he would be aged 55 by the 2026 Ryder Cup.
He believes it would be too risky to wait until then, given he would be a good many years away from the main European Tour.
“I would love to be a Ryder Cup Captain down the road,” Harrington told reporters on Tuesday.
“I see my game at the moment that putting my name in the ring to be Ryder Cup Captain is coming sooner rather than later as it does not look like I will be playing my way into this year’s team.
“But as regards to 2026, it’s too late for me to wait. It would be too much of a risk.
“I would be somewhat out-of-touch with players by 2026 and there would a lot of good players coming on the scene by 2026.”
Harrington has the pedigree to lead Europe’s top stars after winning two British Open titles and the PGA Championship during his career.
The 2020 Ryder Cup is to be staged at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin and it would pit Harrington possibly up against the likes of England’s Lee Westwood and Scotland’s Paul Lawrie for the captaincy.
“There is good players who are playing now who will be looking for the captaincy in 2026,” Harrington added.
“It would me creating a risk that I might not get the job.
“So, I don’t think I will be waiting around for 2026 as much as I would love to be the captain in Ireland but I think the risk would far outweigh the reward of waiting.
“It would be just good timing for me in terms of my career to be the captain in 2020.”