The Players Championship: Tournament History

By Ryan Watson

TPC Sawgrass 17th hole

The Players Championship, often referred to as simply the Players, has garnered the nickname "Golf's Fifth Major" by many fans because of its prestige and difficulty. The Players was first played in 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club as the Tournament Players Championship. The tournament moved to Florida in 1976, finally moving to its current home at the TPC Sawgrass in 1982. 

TPC Sawgrass

TPC Sawgrass was the first TPC course to be built and also houses the PGA Tour headquarters. The Stadium Course, which hosts the tournament, can accommodate 36,000 spectators. The course is best known for the par-3 17th hole known as the “Island Green” for its small green surrounded by water. The hole is notoriously difficult, once seeing 50 balls lost to the water in a single round in 2007.

The Players Championship Field

The event attracts one of the strongest fields in golf, with invites extended to all PGA Tour winners over the previous year, as well as the top-50 golfers in the world regardless of whether they have won on the PGA Tour in the past year. Only major championships award more points in the Official World Golf Rankings than the Players Championship, reflecting the importance and prestige of the event.

The Players also has the largest purse in golf with $15 million on the line, with $2.7 million alone going to the winner. In addition, the winner gets a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a three-year exemption to the U.S. Open and Open Championship, as well as a three-year exemption to the Masters.

Notable Players Champions and Moments

The tournament has had numerous notable winners thanks to the high-profile and challenging course. Past champions include Lee Trevino, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. Tiger Woods has two Players Championship titles to his name, while the “Golden Bear” Jack Nicklaus is the only three-time winner. 2017 winner Kim Si-Woo became the tournament's youngest winner at age 21, while Steve Elkington holds the scoring record with 24-under par in 1997. Oddly, no one has ever repeated as champion in the history of the tournament, with nine defending champions failing to make the cut in their title defense.

One of the notable finishes includes Raymond Floyd coming back from six strokes behind in the final round to win the 1981 Players Championship in a sudden-death playoff. The tournament’s most comical event happened in 1998, when Brad Fabel’s shot onto the 17th Island Green only to be picked up by a seagull and dropped into the water. Luckily, the bird was considered an “outside agent” and Fabel was allowed to replace his ball where it came to rest on the green

Players Championship All-Time Winners, Scores and Winnings

The 2022 Players champion will cash a $3,600,000 check as the total purse increased to $20,000,000 for 2022.

The Players was canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020 after the first round of play. From 1974 to 1987, the tournament was called the Tournament Players Championship before shifting to simply The Players Championship in 1988.

Year

Champion

Score (to Par)

Winner’s Check

2022Cameron Smith

275 (-13)

$3,600,000

2021

Justin Thomas

274 (-14)

$2,700,000

2019

Rory McIlroy

272 (-16)

$2,250,000

2018

Webb Simpson

270 (-18)

$1,980,000

2017

Kim Si-woo

278 (-10)

$1,890,000

2016

Jason Day

273 (-15)

$1,890,000

2015

Rickie Fowler

276 (-12)

$1,800,000

2014

Martin Kaymer

275 (-13)

$1,800,000

2013

Tiger Woods

275 (-13)

$1,710,000

2012

Matt Kuchar

275 (-13)

$1,710,000

2011

K.J. Choi

275 (-13)

$1,710,000

2010

Tim Clark

272 (-16)

$1,710,000

2009

Henrik Stenson

276 (-12)

$1,710,000

2008

Sergio Garcia

283 (-5)

$1,170,000

2007

Phil Mickelson

277 (-11)

$1,620,000

2006

Stephen Ames

274 (-14)

$1,440,000

2005

Fred Funk

279 (-9)

$1,440,000

2004

Adam Scott

276 (-12)

$1,440,000

2003

Davis Love III

271 (-17)

$1,440,000

2002

Craig Perks

280 (-8)

$1,080,000

2001

Tiger Woods

274 (-14)

$1,080,000

2000

Hal Sutton

278 (-10)

$1,080,000

1999

David Duval

285 (-3)

$900,000

1998

Justin Leonard

278 (-10)

$720,000

1997

Steve Elkington

272 (-16)

$630,000

1996

Fred Couples

270 (-18)

$630,000

1995

Lee Janzen

283 (-5)

$540,000

1994

Greg Norman

264 (-24)

$450,000

1993

Nick Price

270 (-18)

$450,000

1992

Davis Love III

273 (-15)

$324,000

1991

Steve Elkington

276 (-12)

$288,000

1990

Jodie Mudd

278 (-10)

$270,000

1989

Tom Kite

279 (-9)

$243,000

1988

Mark McCumber

273 (-15)

$225,000

1987

Sandy Lyle

274 (-14)

$180,000

1986

John Mahaffey

275 (-13)

$162,000

1985

Calvin Peete

274 (-14)

$162,000

1984

Fred Couples

277 (-11)

$144,000

1983

Hal Sutton

283 (-5)

$126,000

1982

Jerry Pate

280 (-8)

$90,000

1981

Raymond Floyd

285 (-3)

$72,000

1980

Lee Trevino

278 (-10)

$72,000

1979

Lanny Wadkins

283 (-5)

$72,000

1978

Jack Nicklaus

289 (+1)

$60,000

1977

Mark Hayes

289 (+1)

$60,000

1976

Jack Nicklaus

269 (-19)

$60,000

1975

Al Geiberger

270 (-10)

$50,000

1974

Jack Nicklaus

272 (-16)

$50,000

About the Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.