Bortles On Being Bad, Better

Any sports discussion in North Florida and South Georgia includes two questions:

Are the Jaguars going to be better? (You hope so)

Is Blake Bortles the guy? (We’ll find out this year)

Just looking at the facts and the stats, Bortles was a typical rookie quarterback, made great progress in his second year and just didn’t play well and never looked right in 2016.

“I get that,” Blake explained after the Jaguars first day of Organized Team Activities outside the stadium on Tuesday. “I didn’t play well, we didn’t play well. It doesn’t really bother me that you have something negative to say about me. I earned that. It’s okay. It doesn’t offend me or bother me at all.”

And while that might all be true, you have to develop a thick skin as a quarterback since you get most of the credit and most of the blame no matter what happens. *Bortles went to California to work on “quarterback things” mostly mechanics and footwork but getting out of town and not having to hear from fans how terrible he was every day was an added bonus.

“I think going to California did help to get away, go out there and not have to deal with any of that stuff and not be around it. That’s part of the job and that’s something that you have to be able to handle, both good and bad. It’s kind of the same thing.”

Returning to the stadium for the off-season conditioning program and now for the first of the on field workouts, Bortles saw an immediate change in the culture surrounding the football team. With Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone now setting the tone, the expectations are pretty clear. They want everybody to know what they need to do and what the consequences would be if that doesn’t happen. That’s all fine with Blake.

“It holds everybody accountable,” he explained. “It’s white and black. There’s not maybe or maybe you were wrong. It’s either you did it right or you did it wrong. I think having that, having that accountability that Coach Marrone and Coach Coughlin are going to hold guys to, I think it’s good.”

With a pretty clear-cut edit to get it right, Bortles said it also carries over to his decision-making on the field. Make the read and execute the play. Marrone agrees that the quarterback has to have some real guidelines so he can make decisions fast.

“Hey, if this comes out and they’re in this formation, hey this is the check,'” Marrone added. “So we’re trying to get all that stuff down and we’re trying to train the players mentally to think quickly because what happens is in this period of time, you tend to be more relaxed because you’re not in full pads.”

For all of the predictions of a new start and better results for the Jaguars, Bortles is a realist when it comes to what really effects a change on the scoreboard.

“You can’t just say, well, you got a new coaching staff with some new guys in the locker room, it’s all going to change. There’s a lot of work that needs to go into it. It kind of started a couple of weeks ago when everybody got here. It’s a long road, it’s a process. I’m excited for it and I think today was a good start.” Is Bortles the “guy?” He’ll play with a much shorter leash this year and without a player on the roster that will push him as the starter; he’ll get a chance to prove that he’s the long-term solution at that position. Coughlin has said “We think he’s the player,” and proved that in this year’s draft.

“Any time they take a tackle, a running back and a receiver, as a quarterback that’s always exciting,” Blake said, showing he paid attention in April. “All three of those guys are extremely good football players in college and it’s been fun the little time that we’ve got to be with them out there to watch those guys run around and integrate into the locker room.”

He’s noticeably leaner at 233 pounds coming into the OTA’s and that’s on purpose. Bortles says the practices are much more up-tempo and being in better shape is an important part of his ability to compete in the off-season.

“As of now, we’re remembered off of what we did last year and what I did last year,” he said, facing up to the big, obvious question. “I can’t wait to change that narrative. It’s more of a personal thing for me as far as what I’m thought of as a quarterback and definitely in this locker room and in this organization, to make sure to prove those guys right.”

And here’s the thing with Blake: He wants to be better. He wants to be great. Believe it or not, there are a lot of players in the league who are just fine with coasting along, making a paycheck. Plenty of quarterbacks who are more comfortable holding a clipboard and wearing a baseball hat on the sidelines. That’s not Bortles. And it’s one of the reasons he’s so popular among his teammates.

He was bad last year and maybe it was a shoulder injury. Maybe it was coaching. Maybe it was the sacks and the losing. But he hasn’t shied away from it, he knows he wasn’t good and is out to fix it. He’s an easy guy to root for and knowing, and wanting to be better is the first step to getting there.

Sunday Stroll For Si Woo Kim

With the lowest round of the week in the 2017 Players a 66, and the best in the final round a 68, the thought that, “You don’t have to do much around here” to be in contention was as clear as ever. The changes in the golf course, the firmness of the greens and exacting nature of every hole kept anybody from going very low.

Over the weekend, Si Woo Kim made one bogey and none in the final round enroute to a 69 and a -10 winning score. Kim is the youngest player to ever win The Players and the second South Korean, joining his mentor K.J. Choi as a champion.

“K.J. has become a really good model, so because he had won before I have I am kind of confident that a Korean can win one of these tournaments and that actually helps me when I’m playing,” Kim said through an interpreter. “While I was practicing with him, he taught me about the course at the Stadium, and so when I was in position the last round, before he actually explained about his experience of being in the leading position, so that kind of advice actually helped me a lot.”

Most of his competitors at The Players were impressed with Kim’s calm demeanor. They knew he could play, but being able to play bogey-free on Sunday at The Players is something special.

“I just focused on myself and I didn’t try to think about others scores. I think that really helped me to be stable.”

And it wasn’t by accident. Kim learned the “focus on winning” mindset early in his golf career. “While I was a junior player, I’ve learned that when you focus on the second place, you don’t do your play well,” he explained. “So I learned that experience, so I was just trying to focus on my play, so I was kind of feeling better just focusing on myself, and I played very aggressive today to get more points ahead of him, so I think that really helped me.”

It was almost as if Kim was ignoring the situation and what was going on around him in order to focus on his own game. He wouldn’t get rattled.

“He’s gone clean out there today, which is extremely impressive under that pressure,” runner-up Ian Poulter said. “I kind of got close there on 11 once I made birdie, and obviously I wanted to try and put a little bit more pressure on, but it was tough to get it close. You have to take your hat off. You have to respect some good golf, and that’s exactly what he’s done.”

A first-hand look of Kim’s final round is just what Louis Oosthuizen got on Sunday. And he wasn’t surprised that Kim held onto the lead down the stretch.

“Well it’s just the way this golf course is,” he said after posted 73 in the final round. “He didn’t really have to do a lot at the end there, just needed to stay in play and make pars. You can get ahead a few shots and the way the weather was today, the way it was so windy, it’s tough to make bogeys at the end there. If it’s perfect weather like yesterday afternoon, yes, you can go, 2, 3-under the last three, four holes, but it was tough today.”

Not only did Kim not make a bogey in the final round, he also lead the field in scrambling, getting it up and down from everywhere. Oosthuizen said that’s the key on the Stadium Course but what Kim did on Sunday was nonetheless impressive.

“If you can do that around this golf course, I mean you can out score everyone,” he explained. “And he played like someone that was doing it for five or six years like it was just another round of golf. It just shows you how good a player he is and how cool and calm he is and never once did he look flustered at all.”

Still Anybody’s Tournament

When you start looking at the leaderboard after the second round of The Players, there are a lot of familiar names but none jump out as current superstars in the game. Get down around even par and you find the top players in the world: Number one Dustin Johnson at even par, #2 Rory McIlroy also at even, #3 Jason Day at -2 and #4 Hideki Matsuyama at one under. I’ve always thought that The Players should adopt the rule to allow anybody who is within 10 shots of the lead to make the cut. The golf course lends itself to being able to make up 10 shots over two rounds. In 2017 players within eleven shots of the leader will play on the weekend. The cut was at two over par.

“I thought that the course was a little more gettable than that,” world number two McIlroy said after posting a one under 71 in the second round. “But it just shows, it’s Sawgrass, it’s tricky, you got to hit some really quality shots to get the ball close and give yourself opportunities for birdies. I shot under par at the end of the day and I’m in for the weekend, which was the main objective going out this morning.”

Playing with the number one player in the world and former champ Matt Kuchar, Rory found it interesting that after 36 holes, all three of them posted even par.

“You wouldn’t have thought looking at the three of us today and yesterday that we’d all finish on even par. We all sort of did it in a different way.. I thought the course was — it felt gettable, but looking at the scores, no one went super low. I wish I could have been closer to the lead, but the guys haven’t went that low, so tomorrow morning maybe shoot us a low one and get myself back in the tournament.”

After a second round one-over par 73, Johnson didn’t like anything about his game but was still playing on the weekend.

“Yeah, I can’t blame anything on anyone but myself,” he said. “The golf course, it wasn’t — it’s playing difficult, but if you hit good shots you can shoot a good score. Good scores are out there, I just didn’t play well enough to shoot a good score.”

Last week in Wilmington, Johnson made the cut on the number and was in contention to win on Sunday after a low Saturday round. He hopes the same think happens this weekend. “I’ll probably be teeing off pretty early and go out and post a good number and get myself back in the golf tournament,” he explained. “If the lead’s around 6- or 7-under,(it’s 9 under) that’s still within reach, absolutely.”

As the defending champ, Day also tied the course record last year at 63 so he’s not afraid to shoot a low number. He’s at -2, seven behind the leader but believes a low number on Saturday would put him in contention.

“Yeah, you don’t really need too much around here.. It’s difficult to try and close around here, but I need a good one tomorrow.

I asked Jason if they can set the golf course up so somebody could go out there and shoot a low number tomorrow.

“I hope so,” he deadpanned to much laughter by the assembled media.

“That would be nice,” he continued. “It’s just that some of the changes — you take 15 for instance, that’s, they lengthened that by 20 yards and usually I would be hitting a 2-iron there with a wedge. Now I’m hitting driver and 9-irons in there. So they definitely made the golf course a lot tougher. I think there’s opportunity over the next two days to really kind of catch up to hopefully to the lead.”

Also at two under par, Phil Mickelson thinks a low number will be shot on Saturday morning.

“I think the guy that is going to be leading tomorrow is going to be somebody that’s at like even, 1-under par right now that goes out early and has a chance to shoot a low round,” he said. “Because as the day wears on, the course firms up, dries out and it gets a lot more difficult.”

Any round in the 60’s would be fine for him tomorrow said the 2007 champ. So he thinks a good round puts him in the thick of it.

“Yeah, I think anybody that made the cut has a really good shot,” he explained. “But especially if you’re even, 1-under, I think those guys go out a little early and I think they could shoot 6-, 7-under par and get right back in it. I know there was probably a couple of those today, but I don’t see many of those out there.”

After a stellar 2016, 2004 champ Adam Scott has struggled since the first of the year. But despite back-to-back double bogeys yesterday on 17 and 18, he’s still within striking distance at two under par. He said he hit a couple of loose shots and that always costs you at the Stadium Course.

“But you know, I’m going to have to sharpen that up for the weekend,” he said after his round. “The rhythm of the swing wasn’t quite there today like it was yesterday, so if I can just go out and find that for tomorrow, I like where I’m at.

Scott agreed that the golf course doesn’t appear to be as difficult as it’s playing. And the scores reflect that.

“I’m not quite sure why the scoring isn’t better. It just must be tricky out there. You know, everyone trying to come to terms with a few little changes here and there. The greens certainly aren’t fast. They’re firm, and maybe it was a tough set of pins today. I don’t know, it was just tough to get it close. You know, this course you have to ball strike it to death to kind of limit the mistakes, and if you hit one off line, it’s hard work getting it back on track.”

Without much focus, Masters Champion Sergio Garcia kept himself in the tournament with an ace on 17 yesterday and got to even par with a 71 on Friday including a birdie on eighteen. He admits it’s been tough to come back after his win at Augusta and compete in the Players as his first time back.

“Definitely, I’m not going to lie, it has been difficult. But even like that, I felt like I fought hard the last two days after a terrible start, and it’s a shame because today without playing amazing, I felt like I could have shot 3-, 4-under par and that would have been really, really good. Unfortunately, I let a couple slip away there towards the end, but I played well the last two holes with the pressure of making sure that I didn’t do anything stupid so I could be here on the weekend, and hopefully I can free up a little bit on the weekend and have a solid two days.”

As a pure ball striker, it’s no surprise Garcia has the best record here among players who have been in the tournament since he won in 2008. But his mental state, as he admits, has been off since he teed it up yesterday.

“It has been overwhelming, I’m not going to lie. I haven’t won a Major and I haven’t won the Masters before, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect and what to feel. I’ve hit some really good shots but I hit some shots that I wasn’t hitting lately, so I need to kind of tighten that up a little bit.”

Malik Jackson At The Players: “It’s Pretty Dope”

He’d be hard to miss in any situation. But Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson at 6’6″ and 290 lbs. was wearing a bright burnt, Tennessee orange shirt on Thursday watching golf in the first round of The Players.

“It’s just to see all of my Tennessee brothers and sisters,” he said with a laugh and a wink when asked what the actual intent of wearing Volunteer colors might be. “I want us to come out of hiding in this Florida, Florida State place. Because we (Vols) thrive here.”

Always affable and available in the Jaguars locker room, Jackson was clearly relaxed and enjoying himself in a different environment.

“I’m terrible at golf,” he said after coming into the Jaguars Den (chalet) from watching golf at the 17th hole. “You know when I first got here we had a little golf outing with Sen’Derrick (Marks) and Roy (Miller) as a D-Line and it was fun but not for me. I’d rather be home playing golf on video games.”

Still, Jackson has a special appreciation for what the best players in the world can do on a golf course.

“Kind of like when Pop Warner watches us,” he chuckled. ” It’s cool to see these guys do their thing, kind of like when they come to a football game and watch us. I have no clue what they do and how they do it. It’s cool to see another pro do his thing.”

Growing up in California, Jackson started his college career at Southern Cal, then to Tennessee. He played in Denver before signing as a free agent with the Jaguars. After being here a year, his still discovering what North Florida has to offer, year ’round. And he likes it.

“I didn’t know TPC was here,” he explained. “Jacksonville has a lot to offer with things like this and music festivals. It’s pretty dope to experience this,(and) the biggest outdoor cocktail party. It’s fun to be around. It’s opening my eyes to what Jacksonville has to offer.

Winning Score? TPC Stadium Is Firm And Fast

If they wanted to, they could make it impossible. The Stadium Course in 2017 is going to be firm and fast, thanks to a lack of rain in Ponte Vedra in the last month.

“We’ve been able to control it this year,” said Jeff Plotts, the Stadium Course’s Director of Agronomy. “We haven’t had rain here in a while so we’ve been able to make it just right.”

It’s quirky, that’s for sure. Locals say often “you’ve been TPC’d” when a shot is a foot or two off line and trundles into an impossible spot.

“You can’t fake it around here,” Rickie Fowler said this week. “If you’re not on, it’ll expose you.”

So with the lack of rain, the firm greens, the quirkiness and the ability to hide the flagstick in obscure and tight places, they could make it impossible. But they won’t because it’s The Players Championship and the players want to make birdies and that’s what fans want to see.

With benig weather expected, the best players in the world will figure out to shoot a low score. But how the golf course is set up will determine how low the winner can go.

It seemed everybody at the PGA Tour was upset when Greg Norman shot -24 in 1994 and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. They failed to mention that only Fuzzy Zoeller and Jeff Maggert that year approached Norman’s record score with the rest of the field near single digits. Since then, Davis Love in 2003 (-17) and Tim Clarke in 2010 (-16) have gone low.

But something in double-digits under par usually wins The Players. In four straight years, 2011-2014, the winning score was -13. Rickie Fowler shot -12 (So did Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia that year to get into a playoff). Last year Jason Day won at -15.

Since the tournament moved to May in 2007, Garcia’s -5 in 2008 (also in a playoff with Paul Goydos) is the highest winning score. In March, David Duval’s victory came at -3.

So what wins this year?

The way the golf course is set up, somebody will play great and post a low number in one round. But over 72 holes, the Stadium Course will offer enough resistance to keep only the best and most patient players of the week at the top of the leaderboard.

It’s why I like Sergio, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy this week. The first to -10 wins.

Sergio: Everybody’s New Favorite

It’s funny how perceptions change. Think George Foreman. Big, hulking, brooding, tough guy that nobody rooted for as the heavyweight champion. After losing to Ali in the ‘rope-a-dope’ fight, the public started to take to Foreman and through the years he’s become the big loveable guy who sells grills.

For a long time in his career, Sergio Garcia was the villain, certainly not the favorite in any situation and especially not in the US. He started as Tiger Woods’ rival as a 19-year old teenager. He became the “Best player to have not won a major” for a long time. Then he was the petulant, self-pitying, talented player who never achieved his potential. The bottom of his image came when he said, “I’m not good enough. I have to accept that I’m just playing for second or third.” He was openly heckled in the playoff at The Players in 2015.

In his 20-years on the PGA Tour, Garcia certainly appears to have matured, and the perception of him has come from fans and media who weren’t part of his inner circle. He became the favorite on the back nine at the Masters this year and the outpouring of support since winning his first major surprised him. Because, in his mind, Garcia hasn’t changed at all.

“I think I’ve been saying it, and I always say it, that I’m still the same person. I told you, I always try to be true to myself,” Garcia said on Wednesday at The Players. “I try to be as genuine as I can be and as honest as possible. I think that at the end of the day that people see that, and now they’re even happier because, yeah, we won at Augusta. But I think at the end of the day, the most important thing is to not change. You are who you are, and one major or 20 majors shouldn’t change you.”

No question Garcia had doubts. His public comments reflect that. But perhaps what he didn’t know was how many of his peers were on his side. That has surprised him since winning the Masters in April.

“Yeah, it’s been amazing. I think that — there’s so many great things that have happened since Sunday at Augusta,” he explained. “You know, the support from fans and supporters and everyone around the world has been amazing. But for me, what has meant the most, it’s to see the reaction from the players, you know, towards me and how happy — other than a couple, how happy they all have been (laughing). It shows me how much my fellow players respect me and care about me. It’s something that you can’t really fake, so that’s awesome.”

In the four weeks since his win in Augusta, Garcia hasn’t played any competitive golf but he’s been busy. He attended Rory McElroy’s wedding, he tapped the ceremonial opening kick in Spain at El Classico and he spent a couple of weeks at his place in Switzerland. So to come back for his first tournament at The Players would seem like a challenge. But his track record at the Stadium Course is stellar and even with the one win in 2008; he’s been in contention enough to have won a few more.

“I like the golf course,” he said. “I feel like I’m still swinging the club well. I feel confident out there. I’ve just got to keep doing more and more of that, and at the end of the day, it’s the same thing we did four weeks ago, so it shouldn’t change too much.”

“Is it ideal to come back and be the first tournament this one? Hopefully. Hopefully we’ll be able to say that on Sunday.”

Since he hasn’t played on Tour since the Masters, when he tees it up on the first tee on Thursday it’ll be the first time he’s been introduced as the “Masters Champion,” part of the ceremonial nature announcing the players each week. Even he admitted that will be special.

“I’d love to tell you what it’s going to feel like,” he said, “But I’m not going to know until Thursday, but I’m excited about it. I’m not going to lie to you. I’m sure a lot of things will go through my mind about that week and stuff, but it’s a great thing to have.”

And true to his thought that he’s the same person, Garcia said he’s still trying to win.

“At the end of the day, to stay hungry, the other thing you have to do is just keep working hard,” he added. “I know that I can still improve, so that’s my goal. I’ve always said it, my goal is always to become better, so it doesn’t matter — like I said, I could have a year where I don’t win and I feel really, really good about what I’ve done because I feel like I’ve become better, and then some of the years where obviously maybe you get three or four wins and they’re even better, but it doesn’t mean that — it’s not only about winning.” When asked who the “Best Player to Not Win a Major” is now, Garcia paused and with a laugh said, “Not me!”

THE PLAYERS In May Or March Is Still Huge

As administrations have changed at the PGA Tour over the last 40 years, the focus of The Players has changed as well. The tournament founder and then-Commissioner Deane Beman wanted it to be the first significant tournament of the year. And in truth, wanted it to become the fifth major. Beman was visionary when it came to what The Players could be, but in some cases was a lone voice, albeit an important voice for what he always called “Our Championship.” Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus both had tournaments in Florida and Ohio and also wanted their tournaments to be something more than just another tour spot. Nicklaus had visions of Augusta at Murifield Village outside of Columbus. Both he and Palmer considered Beman a rival when it came to building golf courses, they didn’t think the PGA Tour should be in that business, so neither were big proponents of The Players in the early years.

Nobody at the Tour was ever happy when a lot of the talk during this week was about The Masters. Falling just two weeks before the first “major” many players of the era talked about using The Players as a run-up to Augusta.

So over time, and a new commissioner in Tim Finchem, the Tour did everything they could to make The Players the best on every level they could: Biggest prize money, best practice facility, magnificent clubhouse and on and on. But even as the tournament grew in stature and became a tournament that players wanted to win, (Adam Scott in 2004 was the first to say “I grew up dreaming of winning this tournament”) it still lived in the shadow of The Masters.

In 2007, after years of studying the weather and agronomy, The Players moved to May, four weeks after the Masters and a month before the US Open. While the tournament stands alone and is now a significant international sporting event. There is a sentiment among the PGA Tour staff, under new commissioner Jay Monahan and among current PGA Tour players that the tournament should move back to March. Former champion David Duval is a big proponent of the move, saying “the golf course plays in March the way it was designed.” Johnny Miller echoed his thought noting that, “in March, you occasionally get a north wind which makes 17 and 18 play very differently. In May, it’s just a flip wedge for these guys.”

Current players say it’s big enough to stand on it’s own, not as a run up to Augusta. The golf course would be more predictable, as in hard, and it would do two things to the schedule: reinstate the ‘Florida Swing” with three tournaments in the state leading up to The Players and if as the PGA of America has talked about, the PGA Championship moves to May, it would have five big tournaments, one a month, starting in March. Plus the FedEx playoffs (they signed a new 10-year sponsorship extension today) would end around Labor Day, keeping the “Championship” from competing with college football and the NFL.

Predictably, Monahan had a very political answer to the question of moving the tournament when asked on Tuesday.

“Well, it’s in May, and right now we don’t have any plans on moving it back to March,” he said flatly. “That’s certainly been part of the consideration set. But until we make a decision or at the point in time we make a decision to make any change, I would be happy to answer that question and answer that question directly, but right now we’re focused on making THE PLAYERS the best it can possibly be in May.”

Stars in the golf world don’t seem to feel strongly one way or another. Former world #1 Rory McIlroy understands the argument but thinks it’s a long way off.

“I can definitely see why it would move back to March,” he said. “I can definitely see the reasons for it. And, yeah, if it did go that way, it would obviously take a few different courses off the PGA rota, the places up north that wouldn’t quite be ready. But I can definitely see why it would happen, but I think there’s a lot of things to cover until we get to that point.”

As the defending champion, World #3 and former #1 Jason Day considers the playability of the golf course and how it would change how it’s played.

“Yeah. Firstly, there’s a lot of history behind this golf course with regards to the champions that have played here,” he explained. “I think it’s very, very difficult golf course. Once again, we do have a little bit of weather here every now and then, but for the most part it’s a very difficult golf course at this time, especially with the Bermudagrass and with the current position of them actually thinking about changing the date, that will change the way the grass plays and everything else, so that may change the way that I view the golf course.”

Perhaps the new commissioner gave us some clues into what he’s thinking and whether the tournament is just fine where it is.

“it’s our showcase of excellence,” he explained. “We continue to do everything we can to enhance every facet of this event. And we do that so that you all and our fans can talk about its significance. All we can do is control everything that we have here on property, and we’re very proud of how this event evolves.”

As far as where The Players is in the pantheon of “significant tournaments and whether it’ll ever be considered a “Major,” Monahan admitted that’s not up to him.

“I think this championship’s in a great place,” he added. “And I think if that’s where — if that’s how it’s described and it is being described as that by some today, whether it’s the media or players, that’s something we’re very comfortable with because we think that description is befitting of the work that’s been done over 40 plus years to build this championship.”

“And it’s the PLAYERS Championship,” he continued. “They come here, it’s their tournament and it’s unique and different and they’re obviously playing the same course year in and year out. This course is phenomenal in terms of the way it’s democratic and it really defines the best playing, the best player at that point in time, and hence the great list of champions we have.”

GJO To The Players Is A Long Trip

From John Tucker, Dick Stratton and a few others sitting at Silver’s Drug Store in Jax Beach talking about holding a golf tournament to the present day, the old GJO (Greater Jacksonville Open) has morphed into one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

It didn’t take long for the new Executive Director of The Players, Jared Rice to recite the statistics for this week’s tournament at the TPC at Sawgrass.

“Twenty-five countries, over a billion households, the tournament telecast is distributed in over 30 languages, this is one of the highest trafficked weeks of the year at Jacksonville International Airport, Hotel occupancy is at it’s highest,” he said on Monday. “It really is a showcase of our region, we love this community, it’s a great place to live work and play, bring in out of town guests, business decision makers, it’s a great opportunity for us.”

If you’ve been out to the Stadium Course at all in the last four months you know they’ve made a lot of changes to the golf course and to the spectator experience. And there’s always more work to do.

“It’s less than 24 hours away when we open the doors to the public,” Rice added. “A little paint, some final nails, we are ready to go and look forward to seeing everyone out here tomorrow.”

For years The Players boasted of being the “best field in golf.” This year, that’s just a fact. Only two of the top 50 aren’t here. Brandt Snedeker is injured and Belgian Thomas Pieters didn’t enter. Currently, 46 of the top 50 FedEx Cup will compete this week. And as far as the actual strength of the field, there are 110 PGA Tour winners among Thursday’s starters with the players entered combining for 458 PGA Tour wins.

Two-time Arnold Palmer Invitational winner and Florida Gator Matt Every lives nearby but isn’t as familiar with the course or the changes as you might think.

“I don’t come here a lot,” he explained. “It’s pretty crowded during the year, kinda like a resort. My game’s all right, it’s good enough. I’m not far off at all.”

And even with that, Every wasn’t convinced of his chances this week.

“I’m not playing super good right now so it would be shocking for me if I would win here,” knowing he missed the cut at Sawgrass two of the last three years. “I know when it’s coming and when it’s not so if it happens great but if not, it’s OK.”

With the changes on the golf course, some players agree it will make it more difficult, favoring somebody who has some patience this week.

“These greens have always been firm. It’s nice, they’re brand new greens and it’s nice that we’ll have them firm this year,” former FedEx Cup champ, local resident and Florida Gator Bill Horschel said after a practice round.

“I think aesthetically they did a real nice job of improving the course. I think everyone’s raved about it,” he added. “They did a fairly decent job at 12. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of guys go for it this year so they’ll come back and tweak it.”

Again this year, PGA Tour officials decided not to open the course to the public on Monday, giving players a lot of space to work on their games. That’s probably why so many, including the defending champion Jason Day, were at the course early.

“It’s nice, it’s considered a fifth major and a lot of guys come out here and practice and do our own thing,” Horschel explained. “‘Bothered’ isn’t the right terminology but it’s nice to have a peaceful quiet day before all of the commotion gets going tomorrow. They could have record breaking attendance to it would be awesome to see.”