Is The Players Championship a Major?
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Jason Day won the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow on Sunday primarily on his short game. He hasn’t missed a putt inside five feet in his last 176 attempts and got up and down from greenside bunkers 14 out of 15 attempts. He says he’s on a quest to regain the World #1 ranking. Meanwhile, Justin Thomas is just a top 10 finish away from unseating Dustin Johnson from that same World #1 spot while Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Patrick Reed round out the Official World Golf Rankings Top 10. Is there much to separate any of these golfers when all are playing their best or do you see one or two players separating themselves from the pack and dominating for a stretch?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): This really seems to be developing into some sort of a golden age for quality players on the PGA Tour, with no one truly dominating the way Tiger, Greg, Tom, Jack, Arnie, Sam, Ben and Byron did from 1945 on. Looking at the current top 10, I’d say any one of those guys could separate themselves for a while, like Rory, Jordan, Jason and Dustin have sporadically, but one dominant force? To quote famous sage Kevin McAllister, “I don’t think so.”
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Being a golf fan of the USPGA TOUR right now is utopia unless you believe in the dominant player theory which I don’t. Each of these players listed can win at any time when they knock a few ‘in’. It’s refreshing to finally watch the best players in the world drive the ball into the fairway; something we aren’t used to over the past 15 to 20 years. The operative qualification given is: when all are playing their best. To date that hasn’t happened. We are yet to see two three or four of those listed all jockeying for the lead on the back nine. However, in answer to the question: ‘no’ and ‘both’. None are good enough to separate themselves from the others and they are each good enough to dominate if the stars line up. I live in hope for an 8 way tie with the players listed going into the 63rd hole of the Players or the US Open!
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): That Top 10 is stacked with talent. I don’t view any one of those players as head and shoulders above the rest because they are all capable of going on incredible runs. It’s really just a matter of who is making putts and playing well, and right now it is Jason Day who is doing both of those things.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It always seems like someone gets hot and threatens to dominate the tour and stay on top for a few years, but in this day and age, with the number of uber talented guys that all work their butts off, it’s almost impossible to see someone get to the top and stay there for an extended period of time. I think that Tiger’s record for most weeks at World No 1, and most consecutive weeks there will be as hard to beat as some of the unbeatable records in the world of sports, like the other Tiger’s NHL Penalty Minutes record.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): It’s quite a group and the players in the next 10 in the OWGR aren’t exactly chumps either. Almost any of them could make a sustained run to put a little daylight between themselves and number 2. As Tiger always said, winning takes care of everything. However, the only player I see with the potential to become dominant like Tiger did for fifteen years is Jon Rahm. That guy has all the tools and just needs experience to turn him into a consistent winning machine.
The media is making a big fuss about the Tiger/Phil pairing for the first two rounds of the Players Championship this week. (Rickie Fowler will be the third). Some have suggested that this could be a possible Ryder Cup pairing; others have hinted that some head-to-head play against Phil is all Tiger needs to get back on form. Other than bragging rights for two aging veterans, is there really anything to see here?
Deeks: Recent media accounts have tried to suggest that Phil and Tiger really never hated each other at all during their heyday, and actually get along just fine. I just don’t know what to believe, not that it’s causing loss of sleep. But I will be looking for the slightest grimace from Tiger as Phil does something memorable (positive or negative), and I’ll be looking to see if Phil doubles up on the crowd-pleasing “aw shucks” grins that show he’s not the intensity machine that Tiger is. I’ll also expect to see both players shoot 76-76 in each others’ company, while Rickie slips through with 68-67.
Schurman: I’m not a fan of either so I don’t really care. Tiger is on his 12th or 13th comeback and is starting to show effects of age and war wounds. I’m tired of Phil and will wonder forever how these two ‘players of our time’ can’t drive the ball into the fairway. I wish they’d both just go away into the sunset.
Kaplan: I can assure you that Tiger Woods is not lacking for motivation. He’s the most competitive person on the planet. He’s got that in spades. So for that reason, I don’t see this Thursday/Friday pairing as the catalyst that is going to set Tiger off. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to tune in! Any time Phil and Tiger are paired together, it is must-see TV. The quality of golf probably won’t be through the roof, but their interactions are usually priceless and I can sure use a few laughs after the thrashing the Raptors took this week.
Rule: I think it’s really cool that they have developed a friendship. It was always a bit awkward watching them play together, but since they’ve both chilled a bit in their older age, it’s a more comfortable pairing for each of them (and for Rickie!). But the fire is still there, so hopefully it propels each of them into a great first two rounds and into contention for the weekend. Of all the guys on tour to be paired with the two of them, I think Rickie is one of the best to be able to handle the situation.
Mumford: The Tour is really amping up the spectator experience with some fun groupings but the Tiger – Phil thing was cooked up by somebody stuck in a time warp in a hidey-hole at Ponte Vedra and beyond gossip value has no bearing on anything. Tiger is barely a shadow of his former self and Phil, while playing well, isn’t vintage Phil. Neither has anything to prove and the results will be lost amidst more critical scores. Tiger and Phil will probably talk to one another occasionally but this is not going to lead to some family bonding adventure or annual get-togethers at Christmas and Thanksgiving.
The Players Championship supposedly features the best field in golf and is played on a course that delivers a lot of drama. With the majors, WGC events and other tournaments, where does The Players Championship rank for you?
Deeks: Since the move to Beman/Dye’s TPC course in 1982, The Players Championship has ranked as the Number Five event in my subconscious, and would actually be Number Four if the PGA Championship wasn’t officially designated as a major. I think it’s a great tournament on a great course, and a can’t-miss television event for me. It usually produces a worthy winner, and even when it doesn’t (Craig Perks and Fred Funk, come on down!), it’s always interesting and often emotional to watch.
Schurman: Next year when the PGA goes into May and the Players returns to March it (The Players) will gain tremendous notoriety. It will ‘kick-off’ the major championship season as the first of 5 consecutive months with a major. And, I call the Players a major then because it will be. It isn’t up to me to decide which events are majors but I know this much; it’s a way ahead of the WGC’s and all other tour events. When the Tour players broke away from the PGA in 1968, the PGA of America wished them good luck. In 44 short years that wish for good luck is becoming a reality. The PGA of America, owners of the PGA Championship, in a bid to strengthen public opinion of their event by a move into May have pushed the Players into March and made it a major. The PGA Tour thanks the PGA of America!
Kaplan: I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty indifferent to the Players Championship. Like you said, it’s not a major or the Ryder Cup or even a WGC-event. It’s just another tournament with an impressive field that pays out a little bit more than the rest of them. The 17th hole isn’t enough to keep me glued to my couch all weekend, especially when there is golf to be played!
Rule: I know that it’s the “best field in golf”, but there’s something that’s missing from the tournament to make it a must watch for me. Perhaps it’s the less than dramatic golf course (except for the finish of course), or the fact that it’s too close to the Masters and US Open, I’m not sure. But it just doesn’t excite me like other tournaments, and certainly not as much as any of the majors. I’ll hopefully tune in to watch some of the weekend play, but likely only if someone I like is in contention!
Mumford: The traditionalist in me wants to say it’s one of eight events on my must watch calendar along with four majors, the Match Play, the Canadian Open and the Ryder Cup but I’m reluctantly coming to the conclusion that there are five majors and this is it. I could cite a long list of why the Players should be a major and not one reason why it shouldn’t except that history will ultimately decide what’s important and what’s not. Years or decades from now, I believe the list of champions and the weight of this event will say, “It’s a major”. For now, it’s just one you gotta watch.
Who’s your pick to win The Players Championship on Sunday? Add a long shot/dark horse/sleeper too pick if you like.
Deeks: Only five guys have managed to win two TPC’s since the move to the formerly-called “stadium course”, but I’m going to pick Jason Day for his second victory this weekend. Obviously, he’s coming off a win so hopefully his clubs are smokin’ hot, and I just love his calm demeanour and patience, which you need on that golf course. My sleeper pick would be Matsuyama, who’s in the current top 10 but never seems to be in the winner’s circle. Maybe this week.
Schurman: My pick to win the Players is Paul Casey. He is hitting it great and putting very well. He is long enough and straight enough. The small greens favor a shot maker and there is a little less pressure on putting. My dark horse is Adam Hadwin.
Kaplan: Zach Johnson has been playing really this year. He hasn’t missed a cut in 13 starts and I think this is the week that he notches his first win since the Open Championship in 2015. Dark horse: Tiger Woods. That felt weird to type.
Rule: I’m going to play the homer card and say that Adam Hadwin is due this week to break through. The champions at the Players in the past have been all over the map, with guys like Stephen Ames and Craig Perks winning, along with some big names occasionally, so it seems the course allows for the champ to come from anywhere in the field! Let’s hope this week that a Canadian contends into Sunday!
Mumford: I’m going with Jon Rahm to win because as long as he stays healthy, he’ll probably be my pick to win majors for the next 20 years. As for a long shot, is Craig Perks playing? No? Okay then let’s go with Tyrrell Hatton. The Englishman is ranked 20th in the world which doesn’t exactly make him a super long shot like a Monday qualifier but he is a PGA Tour rookie and you could likely get pretty good odds if you were to make a small wager.