Lahiri plays with Kiradech as The Players wears an open look

Thu 14 Mar 2019

Lahiri plays with Kiradech as The Players wears an open look


By V. Krishnaswamy, one of India's leading sports writers, who has covered over 20 Majors and 250 international golf tournaments. Follow him on Twitter via @Swinging_Swamy.

Ponte Vedra, Florida, March 14: Anirban Lahiri will tee off late in the afternoon on the first day and he goes out on the first two days with old Asian Tour colleague, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who has now followed him onto the PGA Tour and has already achieved a great deal of success including Tied-3rd at WGC-Mexico. The third player in the pairing is little-known American Ryan Blaum.

Lahiri and Kiradech have both come up from the Asian Tour, where they are still members and make frequent appearances, but for now the focus is all on what is the first big event of the season apart from the Majors and WGCs.

Lahiri, whose last win came at Hero Indian Open in 2015, is hoping to move past his three missed cuts while Kiradech knows he has it to join the likes of KJ Choi (2011) and Si Woo Kim (2017) as Asian winners of this storied event. He was in line for a Top-10 before a quadruple bogey ended those hopes on the final day last year.

Lahiri  needs to make quick points and rack up good finishes on a Tour, which has been his home for the last four years.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of personal goals and career achievements in focus this week.

With the tournament shifting from its May date to March, Tiger Woods tees up as the only March and May winner of the tournament. Adam Scott (2004) is the only other player to have won in March in this field.

Dustin Johnson has not finished in Top-10 even once in past 10 starts and his resume shows that this is the only event he has played 10 times or more and not had a Top-10 finish.

Henrik Stenson, who played and finished Tied-3rd in his only appearance in March, won in May in 2009 and marks the 10th anniversary of that win. He also revealed that the day he won, he received  a speeding ticket whole getting back home from Ponte Vedra to Orlando. “But I could live with it,” said Stenson, displaying his amazing sense of humour.

Vijay Singh, who despite his 56 years, has been doing well on the PGA Tour while winning on Seniors, marks his 25th appearance at the Players, which he has never won.

Reigning FedExCup champ Justin Rose is World No. 2 but his 15 starts here have yielded just one top-10 finish, T-4 in 2014.

Bubba Watson has 11 PLAYERS starts without a top 10  while World No. 3 Brooks Koepka doesn’t have a top-10 in four starts.

Phil Mickelson won in 2007 when it first moved to May but he has not had a top 10 since. In 25 career starts, he has just three top 10s.

Jason Day has a win in 2016, two other top 10s and three missed cuts.

So, there really are no favourites and anyone can walk away with the Trophy – just as Webb Simpson did last year ending a four and a half year title drought.

So why doesn’t TPC Sawgrass have any favourites? David Duval, who won the title in 1999 when the conditions were brutal on the final day, is now a Golf Channel analyst. He said, “All the notables in the game now are a reflection of what is going on in the game; they’re the bombers, they hit it forever. That’s not a necessity here.”

He added, “I think also that a lot of the modern players seemingly like to bully a golf course into submission with length. This golf course doesn't not allow that. You have to play the golf course as it was built and designed (by Pete Dye) and you can get around that way.”

Rose’s final verdict: “This golf course allows everybody that chance to win, which is I think appropriate for the PLAYERS Championship.”