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Strong field again teeing it up at Players

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—The Players Championship attracts the strongest and deepest field in golf.

In its 43-year history, all but 10 winners of the PGA Tour's premier event have captured a major championship.

It also might be the most difficult to handicap.

Rory McIlroy didn't break par at the TPC Sawgrass until his fourth appearance in The Players, including the year after he won the U.S. Open.

At least he's steadily improved with four-straight years no worse than a tie for 12th, though he has never contended on the back nine on Sunday.

“This is a golf course where I've had to rein in my game over the years,” McIlroy noted.

“I've always felt that driving is a big advantage for me if I can drive the ball well, whereas here, it just doesn't let me do that” he remarked.

“Earlier on in my career, I had to come to terms with that, and come to terms with hitting the ball in the same positions as everyone else off the tee and then trying to beat them from there.”

Dustin Johnson wouldn't mind having McIlroy's record at The Players.

He has played 26 rounds on the Players Stadium Course dating to his rookie season in 2008 and only has broken 70 only twice.

“I think both were last year, too, maybe,” Johnson said.

Just once. He shot a 68 in the final round, and it carried Johnson to his best finish ever in this tournament (he tied for 28th).

The other time was the opening round in 2014, though the memory is vague to Johnson.

Jordan Spieth, meanwhile, seems to have worked in reverse. He showed up for the first time in 2014 at age 20 and not only did he share the 54-hole lead with Martin Kaymer, he played 58 holes before making his first bogey.

Too many more bogeys followed, however, and Spieth wound up tying for fourth.

That was the last time he played on the weekend at the TPC Sawgrass. He has missed the cut each of the last two years.

“I want to think that it's just kind of a fluke," Spieth said. ”Those two years could have been spread out over 15 and everything else is solid.

“I know I can play it really well if I play it smart, and I think I've just been trying to do a little too much the last couple years,” he added.

“If you try and take some chances, and you're not quite on, that's where you get in trouble.”

That's what awaits the 147-man field competing on a course that has been referred to as frightening, dramatic, and annoying over the years.

Jason Day last year became the first player in 33 years to lead from start-to-finish.

He returns having not won a tournament since then, and being reminded that no one has ever won in consecutive years since the tournament began in 1974.

Tiger Woods is the only player to win it twice (2001, 2013) since it moved to the TPC Sawgrass.

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