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Players 2022: The (short) case for every contender heading into Monday at TPC Sawgrass

March 13, 2022

Jared C. Tilton

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — A wet and wild (and cold and windy and just plain crazy) week at TPC Sawgrass is finally set to come to an end on Monday (!). Thanks to a great weather forecast, seemingly rare around these parts, that we know.

As for who is going to actually win the tournament, we have no earthly idea.

Had casual golf watchers popped in on Sunday to check the coverage, there's a decent chance they wouldn’t know a single name near the very top of the leader board. No sign of Brooks Koepka or Jordan Spieth or Collin Morikawa. Patrick Cantlay? He was here Sunday morning, but a disastrous triple-bogey 6 at the 17th sent him home for a third straight missed Players cut. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas are all sticking around for Monday's marathon, but Thomas is the only one who could even be described as "lurking" at four under (five off the current lead).

So that leaves a group of 10 names within three of the lead, which could also be described as having a legitimate shot to bag the $3.6 million winner's check on Monday. Of that group, maybe half would classify as "proven" PGA Tour players. To put it another way, guys who have won big events and/or multiple events in their careers. The other half are entering some seriously uncharted territory.

Here's the (short) case for each contender at the 2022 Players Championship.

Doug Ghim (-6, three back)

Jared C. Tilton

The 2017 U.S. Amateur runner-up (and 2018 Ben Hogan Award winner) was in one of the final pairings a year ago in this same event. Played alongside Justin Thomas, who showed him what a victorious Sunday at TPC Sawgrass looks like. Seemed to have turned a corner with his irons, the strength of his game, last week in a MC at Bay Hill. Will begin Monday with a prime up-and-down birdie opportunity at the par-5 11th to get within two.

Cameron Smith (-6, three back)

Already a four-time tour winner, the latest of which came at the Sentry TOC in January, where he had a ridiculous four-day total of 34 under at Kapalua. Also has four top 10s in majors, including a T-2 at the COVID Masters. Has a dope mustache. Has an even doper mullet. Will have 15 feet for birdie when he restarts his third round at the par-5 11th on Monday.

Daniel Berger (-6, three back)

Ben Jared

Extremely hungry for a win after that recent, um, meltdown on Sunday at the Honda Classic. Was in the final pairing in a U.S. Open once (2018, Shinnecock). Four tour wins, one by three strokes over Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson (ever heard of 'em?). Another one in a playoff against current World No. 2 Collin Morikawa. Will not back down.

Francesco Molinari (-6, three back)

Mike Ehrmann

Won an Open Championship. At Carnoustie. With Tiger Woods breathing down his neck. I think we're done here.

Sam Burns (-7, two back)

David Cannon

Bermudagrass putting specialist (currently eighth in the field in SG/putting). Briefly earned the "hottest player in the world" designation thanks to two tour wins between last May and last October (Valspar, Sanderson), plus a pair of runner-ups in that span, too. Saved a very nice bogey at the seventh hole Sunday night after rinsing his tee shot in the water down the left side. Hung on for a pair of pars at No.'s 8 and 9 to settle the nerves. Will resume his third round on 10 tee on Monday.

Paul Casey (-7, two back)

David Cannon

A prolific winner on the DP World Tour. Also a back-to-back winner at the Valspar Championship, where he could win for a third time next week. A boat load of top-10s in majors but no wins. Tied for fifth here a year ago his best career Players finish. Should be able to clean up a four-footer for par at No. 10 on Monday morning and then gets the par-5 11th, where he could potentially get within one.

Sebastian Munoz (-7, two back)

Patrick Smith

By far the hottest player on the course at the time of the suspension of play due to darkness Sunday night. Bogey-free and six under through 15 holes, with the par-4 sixth, seventh, par-3 eighth and par-5 ninth awaiting him Monday morning. Hold on for dear life there, and there's a scenario where he's T-1 heading into the final round. Has one PGA Tour win, a victory in a playoff over Sungjae Im at the 2019 Sanderson Farms.

Harold Varner III (-8, one back)

Sam Greenwood

No PGA Tour wins, but did have an impressive breakthrough in February at the Saudi International, where he holed a 92-foot eagle putt at the final hole to win by a stroke over Bubba Watson. Has been in a similar position before in a big-time event, the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he shot a brutal final-round 81 to fall from second to T-36. Hey, nowhere to go but up, right?

Tom Hoge (-8, one back)

Icon Sportswire

Showed some huge stones last month at Pebble Beach, where he birdied 11, 14, 16 and 17 on the final day to hold off Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay for his first PGA Tour win. Grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, which would explain why the weather hasn't affected him in the slightest this week. Coming off a 24-foot birdie conversion at the par-5 ninth which should give him all kinds of positive momentum going into the final day.

Anirban Lahiri (-9, leader)

David Cannon

Two-time Euro Tour winner. Owns just one top-10 finish in a major. Has a high finish of T-40 this season and entered this week off a 76-82 weekend at Bay Hill. Most importantly, is the solo leader.