The Players prestige falls just short of major status

By Doug FergusonMay 5, 2015, 11:58 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The criteria to be considered for the World Golf Hall of Fame smacks of yet another effort by the PGA Tour to make The Players Championship something it's not.

Eligible players must have won 15 times on any of the six major tours around the world or win at least two of the following tournaments - The Masters, U.S. Open, The Open Championship, PGA Championship and The Players Championship.

Five tournaments of equal standing.

Four of them are majors.

''On first hearing that, it sounds wrong,'' Graeme McDowell said. ''I'm not offended by it. But there are four majors. And this is very, very good.''

The Players Championship tries to dress like a major, and for the most part, wears it well.

There are a few glaring differences, of course. It's tough to get past the Jacksonville Jaguars' mascot parading around the practice range (can anyone picture the Georgia Bulldogs' mascot on the range at Augusta National?), or that the TPC Sawgrass is not open to the public until Tuesday.

Rory McIlroy won't arrive until Wednesday. It's hard to imagine the world's No. 1 player not showing up at St. Andrews until the day before the tournament.

Too much is made about what The Players Championship is not instead of celebrating what it is.

The Players Championship has the strongest and deepest field of the year on a golf course that wouldn't appear to discriminate against any style of game. It has a back nine filled with risk and reward. And it has an island green on the par-3 17th hole that is either exciting or a gimmick, but it makes you look.

A better description of The Players is this: It's the biggest event run by the biggest Tour in golf. The name needs an apostrophe. It's a championship that belongs to PGA Tour players.

That should be enough.

''It's big,'' Jimmy Walker said. ''If you wanted one under your belt, this would be one of them. It's the PGA Tour's premier event. It's the biggest tournament run by the best Tour in the world.''

But a large poster on the wall in the media center has a quote from defending champion Martin Kaymer that starts, ''At the end of the day, for all of us it's a major.''

Augusta National celebrated a piece of wood, a center cut of the fabled Eisenhower Tree lost during an ice storm. The Players countered with a press release that its oak tree overhanging the sixth tee, removed in November because of decay and disease, had been converted into a bench.

And on it goes.

Tiger Woods will meet the Hall of Fame criteria, just barely. He has 90 victories on the major tours and 16 of those special tournaments (14 are majors, along with The Players Championship twice). He wasn't buying the idea of The Players being linked with the majors.

''I think you could probably honestly say,'' he said with a smile, ''it's the Tour that probably runs it, so that's what they're trying to elevate.''

Woods looked at the last two groups of Hall of Fame inductees to say that it's worth paying attention to how score is kept. Fred Couples was inducted in 2013 with 15 wins, including the Masters and two Players Championships. Mark O'Meara gets inducted this year with 16 wins, including the Masters and British Open.

''Freddie actually won less tournaments than Mark did, but he had two Players,'' Woods said. ''But Mark had two majors in there. Freddie had one major. So is that three to two, or is it one to two? According to the new system, it's three to two. I think that's how they're trying to make it look. But I think that us as players – I can't speak for everyone, but certainly me – I think you have to look at them in probably two different categories.''

McDowell puts The Players a notch below the majors, on a level with the World Golf Championships. He said American-born players would tend to place The Players ahead of the WGCs because it's their Tour. The Players has a 25-year head start on the WGCs. And for some international players, the WGCs helped them get PGA Tour cards.

Jim Furyk said The Players was ''always a giant event.'' He described it as the ''fifth-biggest event in golf.''

So maybe the Hall of Fame criteria was right.

The Players might be every bit as difficult to win as the majors. The final hour rarely lacks for suspense or pressure. The tournament does not lack in prestige. It gets better every year. It gets bigger every year. If it hasn't earned the right to be rated alongside the majors, it is getting closer.

In everything but name.

''If it was a major,'' Justin Leonard said, ''then it would be a major.''

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.