PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding this week’s event, for all of the “fifth major” rhetoric and the prestige of the title and the notable strength of the field, for all of the discourse about its equitable course that has produced an eclectic mix of champions, The Players Championship has been missing a little something.
He’s about 6-foot-1, broad-shouldered and wears a red shirt on Sundays.
Golf tournaments are more ocean than wave pool – they can’t create their own splash. We can debate exactly where this one ranks on the hierarchy of annual events, but there’s one connection that has bound most stimulating tournaments over the past decade-and-a-half.
The inclusion of Tiger Woods on the leaderboard.
Complain all you’d like, Mr. Diehard Fan, about the disproportionate coverage Woods receives when in contention, but there’s a simple reason for it. It’s called the law of supply and demand. Not to go all business school on you, but it’s been proven as a pretty effective method.
And yet, here at The Players, the tournament has largely been devoid of all that extra attention recently.
Since winning his lone “better than most” title here in 2001, Woods has finished the weekend eight times, with a solo eighth place serving as the only top-10 result. And that’s actually the good news. In three of the previous five years, he either didn’t tee it up or withdrew soon after due to injury.
It’s enough for some observers to turn an anticipated Sunday afternoon on the couch into a head start on the honey-do list.
As for Woods, his reasons and rationale for failing to fare better are as long and varied as his results table.
“Well, some of the years I’ve driven it well and not hit my irons well,” he said Tuesday in advance of this year’s edition of the event. “Other years I’ve hit the ball great and not putted well. And other years I drove it awful and didn’t score well. You’ve got to have all facets of your game going here. … Sometimes it’s just tough to have all the guys peak at the right time.”
Of that final point, Woods is completely correct. What forces this tournament’s lack of star power is the very same thing that makes it unique.
Simply put, anybody can win here. Yeah, yeah – that’s true of any course. But it’s an innate characteristic of TPC Sawgrass. The champions list includes big names (Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott), big hitters (Henrik Stenson and Davis Love III), short hitters (Tim Clark and Fred Funk) and lesser-known names (Craig Perks).
The consequence is that the course levels the playing field, a fact that hasn’t been lost on Woods.
“It is a tricky kind of golf course,” he explained. “We’re all playing to the same spots. [Course designer] Pete [Dye] normally does that on most of his golf courses, likes to angle tee shots. There are a few opportunities in which maybe a par 5 here and there that you can take it down there, but most of the holes are angled in a way that you see most of the guys playing from the same spots.”
That’s not to impugn Woods as the only superstar whose track record at this tournament hasn’t mirrored his regular output.
Since his lone victory here in 2007, Phil Mickelson hasn’t finished better than a share of 17th place. In three starts here, Rory McIlroy has yet to see the weekend. Ernie Els has never won. Neither has Lee Westwood. Nor Luke Donald, Jim Furyk or Steve Stricker.
Of course, none of those players can raise the profile of a tournament on Sunday afternoon in the same way as Woods, who has otherwise made a career out of producing thrilling Sunday afternoons. Perhaps this is the year he can finally provide The Players with that extra little something he’s been missing.
If nothing else, he’s certainly talking the talk.
“I'm looking forward to it,” Woods said. “I feel like I've done some very good work, basically a continuation of what I've done for the past couple months.”
Now Woods will just hope the rest of this week doesn’t turn into a continuation of what he’s done in this tournament for the past decade. It could be enough to turn that lingering honey-do list into an exciting Sunday afternoon on the couch.