Monday at The Players

By Rich LernerMay 4, 2009, 4:00 pm
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The Players ChampionshipPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' No doubt you have questions about the 36th edition of The Players Championship. On Monday, I went to the men who will be competing for some answers.
How would you assess the golf course?
Mark Wilson: Great shape, playing pretty firm and fast right now. Its what weve come to expect when we come to TPC Sawgrass.'
Davis Love III: Its in great shape. Its been closed for three weeks. They got it set up pretty similar to the last couple years and it ought to play pretty tough if the wind blows.'
Stephen Ames: Always in good condition every time we come here. With the changes that theyve made from the first May that we came here it was a little weak then but I think after the years its really matured. Its a little soft right now but I think as the week goes along it will get a little firmer, which is what they want. The rough is there but I wouldnt say its overly thick as it has been in the past when we played in March.'
Anthony Kim: Greens are running fast down grain and really slow up grain. Its going to be a good test of golf.
Charley Hoffman: No ones played out here for three weeks. Theres not a divot out here. Its playable. You may catch a lie where you cant get to the green but pretty much every lie gives you a chance to get up somewhere near the green.

The premium will be on what aspect of the game?
Wilson: I think definitely on the short game. The rough doesnt seem so bad this year so youre going to see some recoveries from the rough and so its going to come down to who putts the best.
Love: Mental first because its a tough golf course to think your way around It will require every shot, lots of different shots off the tee, lots of different shots to the green. And you have to have your short game in great shape. I think youve got to be hitting the ball fairly well. Youre not going to scramble your way around.
Ames: I think a combination of everything. You have to get the ball in play. And your second shot with the greens being a little firmer will have to come out of the fairway to have a little more control over it. Plus I think with the ball running a little bit more away from the greens youre going to have a premium on short game.
Kim: Its a ball strikers golf course. In the past the guys that have won have hit it really well and hit a lot of greens.
Hoffman: You got to drive it good to be able to attack the golf course.

You would take what four round score relative to par right now?
Wilson: 8 under.
Love: Realistically, someone always seems to get into double digits.
Ames: Sergio was 5 under last year? I think Id take that same number again right now. They can dry this golf course up right away. This time of year the wind really blows so thats going to help it dry out even more too.
Kim: If the wind picks up Ill take four 70s and like my chances.
Hoffman: With Tiger in the field obviously you got to get it to double figures.

At what point in the round do you begin to think about the shot at No. 17?
Wilson: Probably warm up! Actually when I come around 16 after Ive hit my tee shot I kind of glance over there and see the green so thats when I start thinking about it. Its always in your mind. With that green as firm as it is now and the way the wind always seems to swirl there Im just hoping to hit the green four times. I try to glance over there and see the group in front of me and how they hit shots. If theres a tendency you know short or long or whatever you kind of keep that in mind.
Love: Ive been thinking about it for about a month. You know its there. Dr. (Bob) Rotella can tell you all he wants that its just a shot and its just an 8 iron, but its still 17. Its what made this tournament and given it some identity and now it may sometimes hold it back because it can be a tricky, goofy finish to what is otherwise a major championship looking tournament. Its always looming.
Ames: I dont until I get to the 17th hole. Im still playing the last hole. It changes according to what time of day youre playing it.
Kim: You try not to think about it until 17 tee, but its always in the back of your mind.

Why does a victory at The Players mean more than most?
Kevin Streelman: Strength of field, integrity in that theres no title sponsor. Win here and you can say at least for this week that youre the best.
Wilson: Its our championship. If you finish in the top 125 on the money list the year before you get the honor of playing in this tournament. Its certainly the biggest purse in golf as far as I know. It would be nice to be in that Hall of Champions that they have now.
Love: Its a lot like the Masters, played at the same course every year. Its got some history and tradition, shots made, putts made. Every year its the hardest tournament to win. The name was very well chosen. Its The Players Championship. I remember winning both times being shocked at the purse after the tournament ' it's a shocking amount of money and shocking amount of credibility around the world.
Ames: The exemptions obviously nice. Five years takes me all the way to the Champions Tour! Its a great victory, to win a Players Championship.'
Kim: This is our championship. This is the strongest field we play all year including the majors.

If Phil Mickelson overtakes Tiger Woods in the world rankings would you consider Phil truly to be the best player in the world?
Streelman: No.'
Wilson: Probably not. I think just because Tigers had a lot of time off so he hasnt had very many events.
Love: I played two rounds with Phil at Quail Hollow last week so Id say its pretty close to a tie no matter what the world rankings say right now theyre both playing great. The players discount the rankings because its hard to figure and Tigers played a lot less. Its hard to argue between the two of them. Its whichever one is making putts.
Ames: I think that Tigers still way ahead of him. How many has Phil won, three? Tigers got how many, 14? Theres a big difference, sorry.
Kim: Im not going to answer that!

  • Rory McIlroy turned 20 Monday and was serenaded with 'Happy Birthday' as he walked from 16 green to 17 tee.
    Nice to turn 20 and no longer be a teenager, he told me.
    He played 17 for the first time in his life, hitting a baby 9 iron down breeze from 144 to the back edge, then a full wedge to about 10 feet.
    Ive played 17 a lot on Play Station, he cracked. My caddie said that if I made four pars Ill have had a good week.
    He grew up watching The Players in Northern Ireland and showed an impressive grasp of its history.
    I remember Tiger making that insane putt, Hal Sutton with the fist pump and even Craig Perks chipping in, he said. Its a tournament everyone wants to win.
    McIlroy spent last weekend in Vegas. He saw Manny Pacquiao stop his favorite, Ricky Hatton, in the second round. Win any money at the tables? I asked.
    Im not old enough to gamble, he replied with a sheepish smile.
    His plans for tonight? Quiet dinner with his dad, whos flying in from Belfast, then early to bed so hes fresh for an early Tuesday practice round.

  • Former Players champ Fred Funk, now 52, was playing with a noticeable limp.
    I cant straighten the leg all the way out so thats where the limp is coming from, he said. Fred estimates hes 70 percent. The right knee is bone on bone and just wont respond to strength training, he explained.
    Hes strongly considering knee replacement later this year. You know a lot of people I talked to, professional golfers whove had similar problems, wish they didnt put it off, he said.
    Always a fighter, Funk stressed that he wasnt going to sit this one out, considering that it was by far the biggest win of his career.
    Id be out there in an ambulance going around if I had to, he said.
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