Ernie Els was in Dubai when everyone else was at Doral. Phil Mickelson was skiing in Utah when the rest of the best were battling at Bay Hill. Tiger Woods was on his boat when he wasn't playing, while Vijay Singh was on the range the two tournaments he skipped this year.
The one thing they have in common is winning.
It doesn't always work out that way at golf's fifth major.
The Players Championship is the richest tournament in golf ($8 million) with the strongest and deepest field of the year, with 82 of the top 100 in the world ranking gathered on the TPC at Sawgrass, and all 146 of them capable of winning the $1.44 million prize.
The roll call of champions is worthy. In the 31-year history, only six champions have not won a major.
But the Big Four usually are a Big Flop at Sawgrass.
Woods and defending champion Adam Scott are the only players among the top 10 who have won The Players Championship, and Scott made it interesting last year by pulling a 6-iron into the water and having to salvage bogey with a testy up-and-down from 40 yards.
'Maybe I've run out of patience here in the last couple of years,' Els said. 'So I think this week I've got to be really patient, sometimes just throttle back and put the ball in play -- play it like a major.'
Els has only two top 10s in his 11 years at Sawgrass, and the others aren't much better. Singh has just two top 10s, his only year in contention ending with a tee shot he hooked into the water on No. 14 in 2001 when he finished second to Woods. Mickelson's best finish came last year, when he was four shots behind Scott.
Woods has no qualms with his record. Four years ago, he became the only guy to win The Players Championship and the Masters in the same year. He also was runner-up to Hal Sutton in 2000. And he won the first of his three U.S. Amateur titles at Sawgrass in 1994.
'I've had a nice run here,' Woods said.
But he has gone three straight years outside the top 10, and last year nearly missed the cut after opening with a 75.
And for those who want to throw Retief Goosen into the mix and make it a 'Big Five,' the stoic South African has missed the cut five out of six years at Sawgrass.
'I like the look of the course,' said Goosen, who played a practice round Wednesday with Woods. 'But for some reason, I'm just not hitting the right shots around it.'
Precision is everything at Sawgrass.
The course is not long by today's standards, measuring only 7,093 yards. Woods, Singh and Els were pounding drivers on just about every hole last week at Bay Hill, but Sawgrass is more about position.
And rain could change everything. The course got nearly an inch of rain overnight, and there is virtually no chance of getting it firm and fast by the end of the tournament. With more rain in the forecast later in the week, some already are bracing for a Monday finish.
Much of the focus is on Singh.
He is coming off two torturous weeks, missing a 30-inch par putt on the second extra hole to lose in a playoff to Padraig Harrington at the Honda Classic, then hitting a 7-iron into the water on the 18th hole while tied for the lead with Kenny Perry at the Bay Hill Invitational.
'It still plays in my mind,' Singh said. 'It's nothing that you just kind of forget about a week later. It's a disappointing thing to lose tournaments like that. But you have to look ahead all the time, and that's what I'm doing.'
Singh wants to win this tournament as much as any other.
He has a house down the street and had his annual Monday night bash with some 200 guests. When he's not on the road, he's at home on the range at Sawgrass, and probably knows this course better than anyone in the field.
To help his chances, he even cut out one of his practice rounds this week.
'This is where the biggest gathering of players are, and it'll be one of the biggest achievements of my career if I can win this thing,' Singh said. 'My focus right now is to play as I good as I can.'
Mickelson also is looking ahead.
His last PGA Tour event came at Doral, where he wanted Woods in the final round, but watched as the eight-time major winner rallied from two shots behind to beat him.
There has been a lot of speculation how Mickelson will respond to losing another showdown, but he already is back at work. He spent two days on the Stadium Course over the weekend, taking 8 hours in a practice round to study virtually every angle around the greens.
Then, he headed up to Augusta National for two days of practice for the Masters.
'I think I'm pretty close to being ready,' Mickelson said. 'I'm excited to get the tournament started.'
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