The lead-up is over, and the big-boy events are here. This week's Players Championship ---- is the preeminent event of 2020 thus far. We have storylines for days, and this list could have easily been 20 or 30 long.
We'll start at the top with the best (and hottest) player in the world as we head into TPC Sawgrass for what should be a hell of a week as the Florida swing continues.
1. Rory's repeat: Rory McIlroy is the best golfer on the planet right now, and he also happens to be the reigning champion. Famously, nobody has repeated here, but if it was ever going to happen, it would be this week with the No. 1 player in the world coming off his seventh consecutive top-five finish last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
2. No Tiger: Because we don't know how hurt or not hurt Woods currently is, his skipping of this week's event doesn't say much about the importance of the event. For all we know, he wouldn't be playing this week if it counted as five majors. However, him missing is a big deal whether we want it to be or not. The Players is the biggest golf tournament of the last eight months, and Woods said, "No thanks." Whether this is a one-off or a sign of things to come remains to be seen, but even in his absence and even in the biggest week on the PGA Tour's calendar, Woods remains a primary story.
3. Florida swinging: The tour is in the middle of a heater right now. After the west coast swing and a quick stop in Mexico, the last few weeks have been outstanding. Difficult golf on firm courses in unpleasant conditions. TPC Sawgrass is often the epitome of this, depending on how the course is playing and how much the wind is blowing. As somebody who loves it when conditions reward ball-strikers like they have of late, I hope we see something in the single digits win.
4. Young studs: The PGA Tour popped Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland -- all playing in their first Players Championship -- into the same Thursday-Friday trio and made them a featured group. Great, let's see what they got on the big stage. I'm excited about all three, although I think there's a good argument that it's Morikawa who's playing the best golf (he still hasn't missed a cut as a pro).
5. Diverse boards: Go back and look at some of the past Players leaderboards. They're insane. Heck, last year's top four is insane. Rory as the winner with Jim Furyk (!), Eddie Pepperell and Jhonattan Vegas all in the top four. We get new, weird boards with great players every year, and this course -- more than any other course on the PGA Tour -- delivers wonky outcomes and rewards great play. That's hard when it comes to picking a winner, but it's great when it comes to enjoying the event.
6. Lost Lefty: Phil Mickelson has wondered in the past how in the world he ever won at TPC Sawgrass, and he might be wondering right now if he'll ever win again. His 2020 has been a ride. Two top-three finishes sandwiched inside of two missed cuts on either side. A win this week would be the most unlikely of his career.
It’s been an up and down year with 4 MC’s and 2 3rds. Frustrated after throwing away some decent play and a chance to compete on the weekend at the API. I hope to see many of you this weekend at the Players but I have some work to do to get there.— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) March 7, 2020
7. Lonely island: The 17th always gets a ton of attention at TPC Sawgrass, and it deserves it. The last few years have been pretty mild in terms of it determining an eventual winner on Sunday, so we might be due for some real drama on Saturday and Sunday. That is, I hope we're due for some real drama on Saturday and Sunday.
8. Im coming out: Three years ago, a 21-year-old South Korean named Si Woo Kim burned down TPC Sawgrass en route to a three-stroke win over Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen. Three years later, another 21-year-old South Korean might be playing even better golf. After winning the Honda Classic and nearly winning the API, Sungjae Im has to be considered one of the favorites this week at Sawgrass. If you don't know the name, get to know it because he's going to be around for a long, long time.
9. Every player, hole and shot: The Players is attempting to show every shot from every player in the field live on PGA Tour Live this year. That's awesome and something that I hope every PGA Tour event (and major) is able to go to in the future. As a reminder: You can get on Masters.com right now and view every shot from last year's event when Tiger Woods beat Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele by a stroke.
10. Rahm meltdown? The moment of the event last season (other than everything McIlroy did coming home) came when Rahm hollered at his caddie after hitting a ball in the water on the 11th hole. He's quietly playing some of the best golf in the world over the last year, and I hope for the sake of the drama and the show that he's in the mix just like Tyrrell Hatton was last week at the API.