It was one year ago when everything went south for professional golf, well, all sports.
The PLAYERS Championship is one of the elite golf tournaments of the season, with most of the PGA Tour players, as well as many in the media considering the tournament the “Fifth Major.”
After one round last year, the tournament and professional golf went to the shelf because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here we are one year later and one of my favorite tournaments is back – even with some fans allowed – and it is time to get excited as we return to the TPC Sawgrass!
What makes it so special?
The Pete Dye design often forces players to make uncomfortable shots to take the shortest route to the hole. Not necessarily the easiest way but the shortest.
To me, it features the toughest two closing holes in golf. The island green on No. 17, followed by the daunting, water-protected 18th is wonderful to watch.
It gives me an almost perverse pleasure to watch the players nervously walk to the 17th tee. It is a long, torturous walk, one that will be enhanced by fans being back at the tournament.
If they survive the par 3 that often makes or breaks a round in the Players, it is fun to watch the “dead man walking gait” while they move to the 18th tee.
This is one event where a 2-3 shot lead heading into the last two holes doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The margin of error is so little on the final two holes that one minor mistake could cost a player their chance to win the tournament.
There are plenty of tournaments where I almost turn the TV off is someone has a 2-3 stroke lead heading into the final two holes. Not here. Not at the Players.
I have had some of my favorite players win the event – Fred Couples, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler – and here, more than anything else, you feel the nerves watching them hit their tee shots on those two holes.
Who can forget that in 1997, Couples aced No. 17, then two years later in the first round, he put his tee shot in the water. Undaunted, his third shot from the drop zone went in the hole for one of the greatest par-saves of all time – a shot now known as a “hole-in-three.”
Finally, 2001 brought one of the seminal calls in golf history when Woods holed a 60-foot, multiple break putt, prompting announcer Gary Koch to utter “better than most,” three times while the ball was rolling to the hole.
Even the playoff, if there is one, is riveting as they play a 3-hole aggregate on 16-17-18, and then if needed they go sudden death on 17-18-17.
It is not boring to be sure.
Some of the interesting groupings for the first two rounds of the tournament are: Phil Mickelson, Charles Howell III, Tony Finau; Sergio Garcia, Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy; Ty Hatton, Paul Casey, Xander Schauffele; Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth; Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson; and, Si Wo Kim, Harris English, Justin Thomas.
It promises to be a great four days of golf, especially Sunday over the last few holes!
By Dennis Miller