PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – For whatever else the Players Championship may or may not be, the case can be made that it is the most egalitarian of the game’s most significant events.
It favors no one and it favors everyone.
Consider the categories of winners through the years since the tournament moved to TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course in 1982:
Bombers: Jason Day, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Davis Love III, Greg Norman, Fred Couples, David Duval and Henrik Stenson come to mind.
Straight hitters: Calvin Peete, Fred Funk, John Mahaffey, Tom Kite and Tim Clark.
Shortish hitters: Mark McCumber, Nick Price, K.J Choi, Lee Janzen, Justin Leonard, Funk and Clark.
Million-to-one shots: Craig Perks.
Those who still haven’t won: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth.
The point of such diversity is this: As another Players begins, picking the favorite seems to be anyone’s guess.
At The Masters, the list of favorites is pretty easy to draw up each April. The U.S. Open tends to favor grinders (just ask Andy North). The Open Championship favors players who like links golf and the PGA Championship tends to be more like the Players though it is venue-specific each year.
It’s because of the golf course, which has a brilliant way of giving players just enough temptation to ruin them. It would be possible to win the Players without hitting a driver, though it would put a higher premium on wedge play. It’s also possible to overwhelm the Stadium Course with power, reducing the par-5s into reliable birdie holes.
When Pete Dye designed the course and with the subsequent tweaks, there has always been an emphasis on risk/reward. The final three-hole stretch is one of the ultimate risk/reward sequences but temptation is sprinkled across the property.
With warm to hot conditions expected this week and enough wind to throw some uncertainty into club selection, particularly going into newly resurfaced greens, every player feeling good about his game should have a chance. Those playing poorly, though, aren’t likely to find the elixir here.
The goal of tournament golf is to determine the best player over four days.
The Players Championship may do that as well as any event.