Junior Players preview: Swinging at Sawgrass
Golfweek.com brings you closer to the action at the Junior Players Championship than anywhere else. Check back daily for reports from the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
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Junior Players Championship
When: Sept. 3-5
Where: TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Defending champion: Bobby Wyatt (6-under 210)
What to watch for: Many of this week’s competitors made an appearance at the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay last week. Apart from the prestige of topping one of the premier junior fields of the year, the winner this week will also receive an exemption into the Nationwide Tour’s Winn Dixie Jacksonville Open, which is scheduled for Oct. 18-24 at TPC Sawgrass – Dye’s Valley Course.
The AJGA will use the same yardage and hole locations as the PGA Tour does for The Players Championship. For the practice round, the AJGA will use The Players’ first-round hole locations, and so on so the final-round hole locations for both the PGA Tour and the AJGA are identical.
A solid field will tee it up at the famed Players Stadium Course, but spectators may not have to wander too far from Friday’s 8:45 a.m. and 8:54 a.m. tee times to see the cream of the crop.
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• Denny McCarthy: McCarthy, Golfweek’s top-ranked player in the field (No. 2 in the Golfweek Junior Rankings), has been one of the hottest players on the junior circuit this summer. Coming off a T-24 showing in the stroke play portion of the U.S. Am (where he was ousted in the Round of 64), McCarthy, 17, also won the Junior PGA Championship and was a semifinalist at the U.S. Junior Amateur at Egypt Valley.
• Oliver Schniederjans: The 17-year-old from Powder Springs, Ga., was the 36-hole leader at the Junior PGA (where he eventually finished T-3). Schneiderjans, No. 3 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, has finished T-5 and T-11 in his two AJGA invites this year. He was also the winner of the 2009 Polo Junior Golf Classic.
• Patrick Rodgers: He is fresh off a T-2 finish in stroke play qualifying at Chambers Bay. Although he lost in the Round of 32 to Alex Ching (the same opponent that topped McCarthy), Rodgers, 18, Golfweek’s No. 6 junior, has won the Western Junior and finished second at the Rolex Tournament of Champions in 2010. He finished fifth at the Junior PGA and has one AJGA victory under his belt.
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• Jim Liu: Earlier this summer, Liu eclipsed Tiger Woods as the youngest U.S. Junior champion in history. Liu, Golfweek’s 10th-ranked junior, was well outside the cutline at the U.S. Am, shooting 74-77. However, another battle against his peers might be exactly what the 14-year-old needs to get back on track.
• Jordan Spieth: Spieth also stumbled at the U.S. Amateur, turning in a second-round 83 at treacherous Chambers Bay. However, his struggles are far exceeded by his triumphs – Spieth won the 2009 U.S. Junior, has three AJGA victories and finished T-16 at the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Championship; He has also won three straight Byron Nelson Junior Championships. After a long stint as Golfweek’s top-ranked junior, Spieth, 17, has slipped to No. 4.
• Emiliano Grillo: Ranked No. 5 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, Grillo squeaked into match play at the U.S. Amateur, winning his first match over Northwestern’s Eric Chun and losing in the Round of 32 to eventual champ Peter Uihlein. Grillo, 17, the winner of last year’s AJGA Ping Invitational, was the individual champion at this year’s Copa de las Americas, where he led his native Argentina to the team title.
Junior Extra 2007: Fun at Sawgrass' 17th
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Others to watch: Outside of the marquee pairings, there will still be plenty of other familiar names at TPC Sawgrass including:
- Gavin Hall, whose second-round 62 and quarterfinal showing at the U.S. Junior helped earn him a sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s Turning Stone Resort Championship last month.
- Curtis Thompson, who was the medalist at the U.S. Junior – quite a feat considering he topped Hall’s 62 and a late birdie barrage by Spieth.
- Tanner Kesterson, the Oklahoma State commit who won June’s AJGA FootJoy Invitational and competed in the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship.
- Wyndham Clark, the third-place finisher at the Junior PGA Championship and Golfweek’s 18th-ranked junior.
- Jay Hwang, runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Junior and finished fifth at the Junior PGA.
- Robby Shelton, the 14-year-old who took down both Spieth and Golfweek’s top-ranked junior Anthony Paolucci before advancing to the semifinals of the U.S. Junior.
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Stat tracker: How do the juniors compare to the PGA Tour pros on TPC Sawgrass’ par-3 17th hole in terms of stroke average?
- 2008: 3.218 (AJGA), 3.302 (PGA Tour)
- 2009: 3.316 (AJGA), 3.025 (PGA Tour)
- 2010: 3.302 (PGA Tour)
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Splash!: Check out the number of balls in the water during the PGA Tour's Players Championship:
- 2010: 29 (23)
- 2009: 30 (24)
- 2008: 64 (48)
- 2007: 93 (81)
- 2006: 57 (38)
- 2005: 68 (40)
- 2004: 30 (23)
- 2003: 29 (19)
Note: Number in parenthesis is through three rounds, the same amount of rounds for the Junior Players; AJGA does not have statistics for balls in the water