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Players Championship: Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa favored for $3.6M prize

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Defending champion Justin Thomas is the betting favorite for The Players Championship this weekend in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/036ca42bd9c69d31bdc0c9891ea03ab9/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Defending champion Justin Thomas is the betting favorite for The Players Championship this weekend in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

March 9 (UPI) -- Reigning champion Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa are the favorites to win The Players Championship, which runs Thursday through Sunday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

The four-round PGA Tour tournament airs on Golf Channel and NBC.

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The Players Championship's $20 million total prize money represents the largest purse in PGA Tour history, outside the FedExCup finale. The winner will receive a record $3.6 million, while second-place finisher earns $2.2 million. The last-place golfer cashes in for $43,000.

"I have a lot of great memories," Thomas told reporters Tuesday at a tournament news conference. "It's a special place here. This is one all of us get very excited for on the schedule."

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Thomas, the No. 8 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, won the 2021 title by one stroke over second-place winner Lee Westwood. Morikawa, ranked No. 2, is one of the most productive golfers this season, with four Top 5 finishes in five events.

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No. 1 Jon Rahm, No. 6 Rory McIlroy, No. 3 Viktor Hovland, No. 4 Patrick Cantlay, No. 5 Scottie Scheffler, No. 7 Xander Schauffele, No. 11 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 9 Dustin Johnson and No. 20 Daniel Berger are among the other expected contenders this week on the Stadium Course.

Scheffler, who won last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, leads the FedExCup season standings. He is 293 points ahead of Matsuyama, who is tied with Scheffler with a PGA Tour-best two wins through 10 events.

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"This is a course I've played well in the past, but it's a challenging golf course," Rahm said. "It's one I enjoy. I enjoy the challenge [course designer] Pete Dye gives us as players and it's a golf course worthy of this tournament. The champion should be really proud when they hoist the trophy on Sunday.

"You truly are the best player in the world if you win this week."

Course, competition

Like many other courses on the PGA Tour circuit, Sawgrass demands accuracy throughout. Errant tee shots often result in less-than-ideal lies, which lead to higher scores and can quickly land players out of title contention.

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The Par 72 course measures 7,256 yards and doesn't include consecutive holes in the same direction. That fact increases the mental demand for players, who must strategize for the best score on each hole. The course also features 17 water penalty areas, but rewards golfers' sublime shots with easier sights at the green.

"A lot of guys feel comfortable on this course, but you've got to come out prepared and ready to play some really good golf," Morikawa said.

Weather also is expected to factor into the tournament. Temperatures are expected to hover between the mid 50s and 70s through Sunday. Rain also is in the forecast. The wet weather could alter players' fluidity with shots and slow the greens. It also could lead to delays and reshuffle rounds.

"Being in March, it's definitely going to favor more of a long hitter than it did in May because of how firm it will be," Thomas said.

"But looking at the winners, it's crazy. It truly is a place that I don't think favors a shot shape. You have enough run-ups to where, if you are in the rough, you can run it up on the green to where you don't need to play it through the air. ... Greens can get kind of firm and fast, but it's not like you need to have high launch and spin to hold the greens.

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"It's whoever goes out and decides to hit it the best that week."

Outside the course itself, golfers also will be challenged with strong competition. No. 12 Bryson DeChambeau and No. 19 Harris English are the only players inside the Top 25 who aren't in the 144-player field.

No. 29 Kevin Na and No. 45 Phil Mickelson join DeChambeau and English as the only Top 50 players not in the field.

No. 33 Webb Simpson, No. 34 Adam Scott, No. 51 Sergio Garcia, No. 54 Si-woo Kim, No. 94 Jason Day, No. 140 Matt Kuchar and No. 205 Henrik Stenson join McIlroy and Thomas as the former tournament champions entered in the competition.

No. 122 Rickie Fowler, the 2015 champion, is an alternate.

"Every part of your game needs to be good," Rahm said. "It's demanding off the tee. It's demanding on the approach shots. If you miss the green, you better be in the right spot.

"It's demanding all throughout, that's what makes it such a great golf course.

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First round tee times start at 6:45 a.m. Thursday with groups of three off tee No. 1 and No. 10, respectively. The last groups tee off at 1:51 p.m.

The fourth group out on tee No. 10 features No. 23 Tony Finau, No. 28 Patrick Reed and Simpson. They tee off at 7:18 a.m. Thursday. Rahm tees off alongside Hovland and Cantlay at 7:51 a.m. from No. 10.

Johnson tees off with Berger and No. 14 Jordan Spieth at 12:34 p.m. on No. 1. Scheffler, Schauffele and No. 16 Brooks Koepka follow at 12:45 p.m. on No. 1.

Thomas, McIlroy and Morikawa are the next group that tees off Thursday from No. 1.

The Top 65 scores and ties through the first 36 holes advance to Saturday's third round.

How to watch

First round: noon to 6 p.m. EST Thursday, Golf Channel

Second round: noon to 6 p.m. EST Friday, Golf Channel

Third round: 1 to 6 p.m. EST, NBC

Fourth round: 1 to 6 p.m. EST, NBC

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