The Players Championship Stands Alone
To attempt to make the argument that it is golfs fifth major does a disservice to The Players Championship. It is separate from that.
For me, there are only three events in golf, ahead of The Players Championship, that clearly get my attention, without a bit of prodding, every time they are staged.
They are, in order, The Masters, The Ryder Cup and the U.S. Open. The Masters has tradition, history and its very own shade of green. The Ryder Cup has national pride and teammates. The U.S. Open is our sports most dependable annual crucible.
The British Open, also known as The Open Championship, has an undeniable charm and an international field. But in two of its last five stagings (Carnoustie in 1999 and St. Georges in 2003), the golf course took on a life of its own and that life was not of this world.
The PGA Championship, the seasons final major, has improved itself on a regular basis, especially over the last decade. But the PGA of America, its parent organization, runs a more compelling event in the Ryder Cup.
All of which brings us back to The Players Championship, which begins Thursday morning at Pete Dyes Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Heres what it has: The second-best recurring venue in golf behind Augusta National; the strongest full field; the largest purse and the first important date of the year on the mens professional golf schedule.
Moreover, it has a growing body of anecdotal evidence that is maturing quite nicely into a unique history.
Jerry Pate shoving Pete Dye and Deane Beman in to the pond to the left of the 18th green moments after winning in 1982. And jackknifing in after them. Greg Norman storming to victory with a 24-under total in 1994. David Duval surviving brutal conditions to win in 1999 at 3-under, followed by Hal Be The Right Club To-DAY Sutton holding off Tiger Woods in 2000.
Craig Perks needing just one putt over the last three holes to stun Stephen Ames and win in 2002 (Saturday of that tournament Phil Mickelson--very much in contention at the time--five-putted the 10th green from inside 20 feet). And last years final round 64 by Davis Love III in the cold and the wind.
Have I mentioned the 17th hole yet?
Perhaps more than anything, The Players Championship, by not switching venues annually, has schooled a whole generation of golf fans into the nooks, crannies, quirks and strengths of The Stadium Course. People are finally beginning to realize, for example, what a truly difficult par 5 the ninth hole is. They are beginning to appreciate that the golf course begins in earnest on the fifth hole (as long as youre not left with your approach on the fourth).
I could go on and on here. Nobody has ever successfully defended this tournament on this golf course.
For its part, the tours well-oiled publicity machine gets it. The fifth major debate is one they dont mind seeing and hearing about in the media. But the tour understands it has a stand-alone event that is grown up into golf tournament that can hold its own.
Or as NBCs Gary Koch might say, it is . . . . better than most . . . . better than most . . . . better than most . . . .
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open
The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:
Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)
What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.
Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.
Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.
Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.
Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday.
Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one
Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.
Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia
SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.
Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.
''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.
But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.
In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.
''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.
The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.
''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''
NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.
Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long
Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.
Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.
"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"
The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.
Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.
"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."
Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.
"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.
"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.
"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."