PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- While stuck in traffic on my way to the TPC Sawgrass early Wednesday afternoon I caught a few minutes of the local ESPN Radio broadcast. One of the hosts asked the guest, a local golf broadcaster, who he thought the fans would miss more at The Players Championship this week: John Daly or Tiger Woods?
Neither of the tour's biggest names--biggest in one sense for Woods, another for Daly--is here this week, but both generally have large galleries and will be missed. Woods, of course, is rehabilitating his left knee after having surgery after the Masters and will not be playing at the TPC Sawgrass for the first time since he turned pro. Daly, on the other hand, is not at the Players because he's not playing well enough. And if the recent video of Daly playing without shirt and shoes is any indication, he's not really missing the PGA Tour.
Anyway, I took the question to 20 members of the gallery hanging around the grassy knoll next to the 17th hole as the caddies played their annual closest-to-the-pin competition Wednesday afternoon, and, although the sample is small, these fans miss Daly more. (Although, with full disclosure, the sample was skewed. Seven of the 13 who voted for Daly were holding cups of beer in various stages of capacity, including five, um, gentlemen, who shouted Daly loud enough to be heard in Jacksonville proper, some 20 miles away.)
So, yes, the Players gets underway tomorrow, without Daly and without Woods, but with just about every other member of the top 100 on the World Ranking. What they'll find at Sawgrass is a course that is fast and firm with greens running at 13 (13!) on the Stimpmeter. The temperatures Wednesday afternoon reached the upper 80s, and similar highs are expected the entire week.
"I don't anticipate the scores to be too good, to be honest," said Masters champ Trevor Immelman. "Right now the speed [of the greens] is perfect. It's the firmness that's going to be tough to handle if the breeze picks up."
Phil Mickelson won at 11 under a year ago. Don't be surprised if the winner is in single digits to par this week. Which is what the tour wanted when it moved the tournament from its traditional March slot to the second week in May last year. It didn't want to go on without Woods, but sometimes you have to make do with what you have.