Life's a beach for Rory McIlroy as he aims for Players win

Len Mattiace

The last American victor was Rickie Fowler (+1800) in 2015. Fowler triumphed at Sawgrass three years ago after edging out Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in a play-off, while he finished runner-up to Matt Kuchar in 2012.

"I look at 2000 at the US Open as being the greatest golf I've ever witnessed and I believe has ever been played", said the 47-year-old, referencing Woods' record performance where he won the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes.

"I sort of learned to play the course a little bit better and reined myself in on some tee shots, and that's what's brought me a little bit of success here", McIlroy said on Wednesday. "It would have been nice to have a few better finishes. Not just the pairings, but just about things in general".

If planning on doing some in-tournament betting, perhaps don't wager on the golf odds on the 54-hole leader to win the PLAYERS Championship. He can frustrate you by the design of his golf courses, and you feel like you're getting bad breaks, and that can get under your skin a little bit. "Obviously I have some work to do to get off that list. It was really this event that was the sign of big golf starting for the year and I think that'll happen when it goes back to March". That's where I'm going to be focusing on over the next two days here.

"All I wanted to do this year was give myself chances".

Mickelson was speaking about playing with Woods in his pre-tournament press conference and joked about having a high-stakes game with the 14-time major victor.

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McIlroy is making his ninth start in golf's "fifth major" this week, and he has enjoyed three top-10 finishes in his last five appearances after struggling to get to grips with the course in his first few visits.

"The venue is fantastic, everyone who played previous year really enjoyed it". Most importantly, this course takes a lot of confidence and focus. The game is getting much better. "Not many other people get to walk the fairways".

"Am I one of them?" he asked Tuesday. You know, there was a stretch there of a number of years that it was so impressive that it was hard to imagine that it was actually happening, that he was hitting some of the shots that he was hitting and playing that well week after week. The Aussie, who won The Players Championship two years ago, has been installed as the 14/1 favourite to make it back-to-back tour wins, and on current form he's going to be tough to beat. The other was the third round in 2001, when Woods holed a birdie putt from one end of the island green to the other on the par-3 17th and wound up winning the next day.

At the Honda Classic a month earlier Woods was still headline news despite failing to secure a top-ten spot.

Casey, who is ranked No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Pro Rankings, has finished T-26 or better in 23 of his last 26 starts.

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