Actually there are six majors. Or, I should say, six mens golf events that compel me, over and above all the others.
They are, in order of interest to me: The U.S. Open, The Masters, The Ryder Cup, THE PLAYERS, The PGA Championship and The Open Championship.
The Ryder Cup and THE PLAYERS are unofficial majors and are doing just fine without being part of Tiger Woods countdown to Jack Nicklaus.
And THE PLAYERS is the most improved of the bunch. For what its worth, it now has the best clubhouse. It has the best field. It has the biggest purse. It doesnt have the best golf course'Augusta National will always be No. 1 there'but its not that far behind any more.
And a younger generation of television viewers has come to know its holes almost as well as the holes at The Masters. The U.S. Open traditionally ends of Fathers Day. Now THE PLAYERS, with its new May dates, ends on Mothers Day.
THE PLAYERS gets incrementally better, from stem to stern, each year. Sunday at TPC Sawgrass THE PLAYERS staged a pretty good little final round duel between Phil Mickelson and Sean OHair.
Mickelson won his first PLAYERS in 14 tries when OHair hit two balls into the water on 17, bogeyed 18 and spent about three quarter of a million on the last two holes alone. Mickelson shot a final round 69, earned $1.62 million dollars and vaulted past Jim Furyk and into the No. 2 spot in the world rankings.
The stage is set for next months U.S. Open at Oakmont where the pre-tournament story undoubtedly will be Mickelson vs. Tiger Woods.
At the outset Sunday, the fourth round quickly devolved into a kind of match race between Mickelson and OHair, the final pairing. OHair led at the start at 9 under, one better than Mickelson. The second-to-last group of Peter Lonard and Jeff Quinney began at 7 under produced two bogeys on the first hole. Their struggles continued.
For the second straight day Mickelson birdied the first and second holes. OHair matched him at the par-5 second with a nifty up and down. Mickelson then took the lead for the first time on the par-4 seventh with a 14-footer. He would never relinquish it.
Meanwhile Spains Jose Maria Olazabal, who opened with an horrific 78 Thursday, started climbing his way up the leaderboard. After bogeying No. 1 he birdied the second, seventh, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th holes to get to 8 under, just two back of OHair. Olazabal wound up tied for third with Stewart Cink, one back of Sergio Garcia. Garcia birdied 14, 15, 16 and 17 and was rewarded for his efforts with second place.
At 41 years of age, Olazabal had followed the 78 with a Friday 66 and a Saturday 69. He was looking to become the first Euro to win THE PLAYERS since Sandy Lyle way back in 1987. No European has won the PGA Championship since Tommy Armour in 1930. No European has won the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970. No European has won a major championship of any kind since Paul Lawrie defeated Justin Leonard and Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie in 1999.
World No. 1 Woods, by the way, showed once again that he doesnt know how to mail it in. He started the day nine shots off the lead and with virtually no shot at catching the leaders.
After a double bogey at the fourth he responded with four straight birdies starting at No. 8. Then he stepped on a 6-iron from 199 yards on the par-5 16th. The ball stopped 9 and a half feet from the hole and he drained the putt for eagle. Woods parred the final two holes to finish with a closing 67 and an even par total of 288 for 72 holes.
Mickelson has now finished third, third and first since officially switching instructors from Rick Smith to Butch Harmon. Afterward he thanked Smith, Harmon and Dave Pelz, his short game guru.
He also thanked all the mothers of the world.
A more gracious winner you won't find.
A more improved event you won't find.
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