The Players Championship Stands Alone

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.--Lets not even go there. OK?
 
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 . . . .
 
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