Dustin Johnson can be the man at Players

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It may not be a major, but The Players Championship being played this week at TPC Sawgrass always has the feel and the impact of one.

And that impact is even greater this year as the event will mark the first of five straight months with a high-profile tournament (read: this one followed by the four majors).

With that in mind, picking a winner this week might be as easy as going over a simple checklist.

• Does the course fit his eye? Yes and no. He’s had top 20s last two years here but never a win in 10 trips.

• Can he handle the pressure? Now… yes. His struggles in the past are well documented but recently he’s making a habit of being in contention everywhere and he tees it up anywhere (four wins in the last nine months).

• Is he in top form right now? Coming off a victory a couple of weeks ago, that would be an absolute yes.

This one should be a no-brainer as Dustin Johnson, at 12-1, certainly could hoist that winner’s trophy on Sunday in a field that showcases many of the top players in the world who are starting to hit top form with the Masters fast approaching.

Johnson is coming off a two-week layoff after winning the WGC event in Mexico. And in the Mexico event, his highest score for the four rounds was a 67. That’s highest score… as in his worst… as he cruised to a five-shot victory, giving him 20 on the PGA Tour.

Throw in a T9 at the Genesis Open the week prior to his victory in Mexico and Johnson is one of the hotter players on Tour right now.

And with the move of The Players to earlier in the year, look for him to be taking dead aim at his 21st career victory.

We’re also pondering Tiger Woods. He comes in at a healthy 25-1 odds but there are a couple of asterisks next to his name that he will have to overcome if he’s going to be in contention.

He’s going to be our longer-shot choice simply for the fact he’s been as consistent at this event as anyone.

Face it, when he’s hot, he’s hot. He was T11 last year including a weekend run of 65-69 to race up the leaderboard. He’s won here twice, most recently in 2013, and he should be a factor.

But, remember that phrase ‘should be a factor’ because here’s where those asterisks we mentioned earlier come in to play.

One, he’s got to be recovered from the neck injury that forced him to withdraw this past week from the Arnold Palmer Invitational. And two, he has to have ironed out his recent putting problems that overshadowed a couple of impressive ball-striking weeks recently.

In pre-tournament talks, he said he’s feeling well. Add in he’s going to be putting on greens he loves and has worked with a putting coach and he may be ready to hit on all cylinders.

If those two problems are smoothed out, the man with the bright red shirt and that dazzling smile has been hitting it well enough to pick up PGA Tour win No. 81.

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About the Author
Bill Bowman

Bill Bowman

Bill Bowman is a Las Vegas-based writer who has more than 40 years in the sports-writing business. He's spent the past 18-plus years covering the golf scene in Vegas including 10 years as a writer/editor with VegasGolfer Magazine. He also contributes to the GolfNow Network of websites and Las Vegas Golf Insider.

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