The Players not a major, but has plenty of positives

By John HawkinsMay 8, 2012, 10:04 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Not that anybody has been losing sleep over it, but I’ve been pretty hard on The Players Championship over the years. The whole fifth-major thing just doesn’t sit well in my tummy, and though the PGA Tour is careful to avoid branding it on such a designation, perception amounts to approximately 85 percent of reality.

Blame it on the cockeyed media, which tends to build stuff up so it can generate interest, and then tear it down to invite controversy. In this business, hype + conflict = recyclable copy. A vast majority of Tour pros certainly don’t consider The Players to be as important as the U.S. Open or PGA Championship. When someone such as Bubba Watson chooses to skip this tournament to spend more time with his family, you get the sense Camp Ponte Vedra could double its promotional onslaught of the event and it wouldn’t change a thing.

During my live chat on last Thursday, I asked those in attendance if The Players should be accorded “fifth-major” status. Seventy percent chose “absolutely not,” with just 10 percent deeming it worthy. Interestingly, not a single person who participated in the poll chose the option, “it’s getting there.”

So much for that move from March to May, but let’s step back and assess the product from a wide-angle perspective. The Players is an excellent golf tournament, enriched by stellar fields (despite recent no-shows) in a market that truly adores its high-end status on the golf calendar. The crowds this week will be large, the atmosphere festive. Northern Florida has a pretty bad NFL team and not much else when it comes to pro sports. No doubt, The Players warrants a lot of civic attention.

Anytime you get 48 or 49 of the game’s top 50 performers on the same piece of property, golf’s entire universe should take notice. In the last 15 years, however, the number of premium-field tournaments has basically doubled, thanks to the inception of the World Golf Championships (1999) and FedEx Cup playoffs (2007). Neither of those series has necessarily weakened The Players, but it has alerted the game’s hardcore fan base to the notion that you can manufacture “big events” with a massive pile of prize money and an irresistible set of competitive perks to the winner.

That said, the three WGCs and four postseason tilts are part of a pair of collective platforms, whereas the title-sponsorless Players stands alone. It is played on the same course every year – only the Masters can make that claim over an extended period among premium-field gatherings – which gives it a consistency and familiarity that only helps its identity.

A fair number of Tour pros aren’t terribly fond of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, but only in rare instances has that led to them not showing up. I honestly think Tiger Woods would skip The Players if not for a certain obligation to the Tour on which he is (by far) the most important member. Much to its credit, Camp Ponte Vedra has dutifully peddled the premise that this gathering is designed solely to showcase (and reward) all of the world’s best golfers.

“This is our tournament,” any given pro will tell you. Although I’m not entirely sure what that means, it has worked. The fact that Bubba’s withdrawal became news speaks highly of the constituency’s regard for this championship. Watson didn’t play last week in Charlotte, either, but nobody seemed to notice much.

We can talk all day and night about how good the course is, about the finishing stretch, where death looms just a few awry yards away. I think the ninth and 16th holes are two of the best par-5s on the planet. Relatively speaking, Sawgrass does not cater to long hitters nearly as much as many Tour venues. It is a complicated design characterized by numerous forms of trouble, making position off the tee almost essential to success.

Last year’s Players serves as a perfect example of Sawgrass’ control-friendly disposition: K.J. Choi over David Toms in a playoff, Paul Goydos and Luke Donald both two strokes back. Phil Mickelson eschewed his driver here in 2007 and won with a vintage performance; straight-hitting Sergio Garcia nudged Goydos in a playoff the following May. One gets the sense the Tour wants to give everyone a chance. Loosely translated, that means hitting it a long way the wrong way will earn you two off-days.

More than anything, however, it is the PGA Tour’s no-expense-spared devotion to this tournament that makes it special. It is a big-league ballpark with a clubhouse (pictured above) of gigantic proportions, a structure completed a little more than five years ago without an ounce of guilt or pretense. A stylish merger of opulence and decadence, the building seems to symbolize the Tour’s declaration of bigness – an utterly conspicuous sign of growth and prosperity regardless of the nation’s economy or the game’s television ratings.

Clothes don’t make the man and a clubhouse can’t make the golf tournament, but that doesn’t mean the PGA Tour shouldn’t try like hell to look good. For such a supreme effort overall, we should offer a tip of the cap and a nod.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

Getty Images

Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

Getty Images

Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.