Players Themselves Have Varying Opinions On The Players
Ogilvy feels too much luck is involved on No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass.
Ah yes, the Players Championship. Perhaps no other event in professional golf provokes such a wide range of opinion among potential participants. There are those on the PGA Tour who feel it is the biggest tournament of the year that is not a major. Those guys love the Players; they look forward to it and prepare for it just as if it were a major. Others see it as merely a big deal, a week with huge prize money on offer, but nothing more than that. Then there are Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, neither tour members, who have chosen not to even enter.
It's easy to make a case for why the Players should be viewed as such a big tournament, of course. Statistically at least, only the PGA Championship competes with it for the year's strongest field. Being held on the same course annually helps its stature too. Just as at Augusta National, history has been built over the years; great and memorable and dramatic things have happened, especially over the testing finish. It doesn't hurt either that almost every relevant player has won the tournament since it moved to TPC Sawgrass in 1982. A winning roster containing Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Nick Price, Steve Elkington, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott only adds credibility to the event.
Having said that, there is a group of players on tour who find the course really hard to figure out. They just don't like it. They never play well there. And they rarely make the cut. So they get a bit grumpy and dismiss the tournament, just because the venue doesn't happen to suit their games. Which is understandable on one level and not really fair on another.
Regarding my own experience, I played Sawgrass better in March than I have in May. I haven't adapted too well to the Bermuda greens and rough. But I'm far from alone. No one seems to have the place completely figured out. Not even Tiger in his pomp; he's won the Players only once. I see guys winning or contending one year then 12 months later they miss the cut.
The island green at the short 17th hole doesn't help the event's cause either. Because of the amount of luck involved in the penultimate hole, it's almost impossible to imagine a Players finishing in the same way as the Masters did this year. A guy who plays great down the stretch at Augusta is always going to do well. The same cannot be said with the same certainty at the Players. Look what happened to Sean O'Hair at the 17th in 2007. That sort of lottery should not be deciding an event purporting to be a major championship.
Besides, there is nothing wrong with being the most important event in the world that is not a major. I certainly can't think of one that is more important than the Players, whether Lee and Rory turn up or not. It's certainly a bigger deal than the World Golf Championships. In fact -- although the last thing golf needs is another major in the U.S. -- if we were starting over tomorrow, the Players, as the biggest event on the world's biggest tour, would surely be a major.
As for the course, the thing about Sawgrass is that you have to bring your complete game. It's a strong test. There are some aesthetic things I don't like though -- the flat bunkers with the grass faces, for example. And a kind of Pinehurst No. 2 or Pine Valley-look and feel, rough and ragged round the edges, would be an improvement over the overly narrow and overly roughed course it has become in places.
You do need every club in the bag at Sawgrass. There are tee shots where we hit irons. There are others where 3-wood is the correct club. And there are holes where length is a massive advantage. You have to move the ball both ways off the tee if you want to do well. There's a long par 3 and there's a short par 3.
There are par 5s that are reachable for almost everyone, and there are genuine "three-shotters." And you have to make smart decisions at the right times. So there is something for everyone. It's a balanced examination and easily the best TPC course I've ever played.
But I don't see the Players being a major any time soon. Sorry, Tim.
*Geoff Ogilvy, 33, will be playing in his 10th Players Championship. The Australian native and 2006 U.S. Open champ has made the cut four times, his best finish being a T-16 in 2004. *