Tiger Woods must remain patient in The Players Championship, says Rich Beem

All eyes, including those of Sky Sports pundit Rich Beem, will be on the feature group of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler when The Players Championship gets under way on Thursday.

The star trio tee off at 6:52pm (BST) and will headline our main coverage starting at 6pm on Sky Sports The Players, while you can watch them in action from 1:27pm in the second round on Friday as part of our Featured Group coverage.

Woods already appears twice on the TPC Sawgrass roll of honour, having won in 2001 and 2013, and Beem believes patience will be the key if he is to add to those victories this week as he continues his comeback following back problems.

“Most definitely [he could challenge],” Beem told Sky Sports News. “It’s not a golf course, though, that he particularly loves. He hasn’t had the greatest track record around here, although he is a winner here.

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“It’s a golf course that you have to be patient on and we all know the level of patience with Tiger – that’s why he’s won so many events worldwide.

“Also on this golf course you can take the driver, which has certainly not been one of his weapons, out of his hands. You can come round this golf course and hit a bunch of three woods, hit a bunch of long irons off the tee and not necessarily have to hit the driver.

“But let’s face it, this golf course entices you to hit driver in certain areas and so you have to be disciplined to back away from that if the driver’s not going so well.

“He didn’t hit it that well off the tee last week [in the Wells Fargo Championship] – 25 of 56 fairways possible. Around this golf course that’s not going to work.

“He has to find a few more fairways if he wants to attack these pins. These greens are very small, very firm and with the breezy conditions that are expected around here this week it’s going to be a tough week, so you’ve got to find the fairways.”

Woods struggled with his putter at Quail Hollow last week, producing the second-worst putting performance of his whole career, but Beem does not expect the former world No 1 to have problems on the greens this week.

“I think it’s just a one-off,” he said. “I don’t expect to see him perform that poorly on the greens two weeks in a row, especially on Bermuda greens in Florida where he lives. He’s used to conditions likes this.

Tiger Woods says his comeback from injury has gone better than expected and he's surprised he is in a position to compete at 2018 Players Championship at Sawgrass.

“I think it’s just kind of an anomaly you get out there every once in a while and you just don’t quite have it.

“He is still getting back into the game, he is still learning at times how to compete. Because when you’re out of the game that long at a competitive level, I don’t care if you have the pedigree that Tiger Woods has, you still have a learning curve to get back in there to get the adrenaline and juices flowing.

“I don’t think it’s going to be long but I don’t expect to see him struggle on the greens at all this week.”

Mickelson is also a past winner of The Players Championship, with his victory coming in 2007, and Beem reckons his ability around the greens is capable of winning him a second title, as long as he can rein in his attacking instincts a little.

“He definitely goes for every single thing that he possibly can if he thinks he can achieve it,” said Beem.

“[The key for him] is clearly the short game, it’s around the greens, it’s the imagination that he can come up with. It’s holing those key three, four or five-foot putts that have eluded him at times around this golf course in the past.

“He just sometimes goes for it a little too much around this golf course, including the greens. So he just has to kind of back off a little bit every now and again when it’s time to, and go in and step on the gas when he feels like it’s time.

Phil Mickelson is excited to have been grouped with Tiger Woods for the opening two rounds of the Players Championship.

“He’s got to have a little more patience, but the way he’s going to win around here is around the greens. He’s going to miss some greens but he will chip in a couple of times, he’ll make some putts here and there, but that’s the key to his success round this golf course completely.”

Fowler claimed the biggest victory of his career when he won at TPC Sawgrass in 2015 and Beem has backed him to go on and win a major in the future.

“There’s no doubt that he’s got the talent,” said the former PGA champion.

“He’s got the ambition as well, it’s just sometimes he doesn’t perform up to the level he’s capable of on the weekends.

“I think he’s had a good conversation with Butch Harmon, his instructor, on what he needs to do to change that mindset and to change up the gameplan a little bit going into the weekends when it comes to the majors.

“I think it is just a matter of time and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen this year. He’s a phenomenal talent and there is no doubt in my mind that he’s got all the tools to win a major.”