By Doug Ferguson
The Associated Press
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The Players Championship should consider changing the name of its course to the TPC Mystery.
The reason The Players is talked about as the next best thing to a major is because the field is the strongest and deepest in golf. Until the PGA Tour recently created a spot for the Senior Players Championship winner, anyone who teed it up on the TPC Sawgrass had as good a chance as the next guy.
The mystery is trying to determine whose game best suits the golf course.
The list of winners is impressive, though it doesn’t offer concrete clues except that two-thirds are major champions. More curious is how infrequently some of the game’s best players are even in the mix late Sunday afternoon.
Start with Tiger Woods.
He was runner-up in 2000 to Hal “Be the right club today” Sutton. He won in 2001 with that putt on the island-green 17th that was better than most.
And that’s it.
At Sawgrass, he’s had only two serious chances at winning.
“There’s no course that less people have worked out than this one,” Geoff Ogilvy said upon leaving Sawgrass last year. “You get one or two chances in your career and you take them. It’s a tournament Tiger has played 15 times and he’s only contended twice. There’s something odd there. Maybe that’s the genius of the golf course. Or maybe that’s the flaw of the golf course.”
But it’s not just Woods.
Phil Mickelson has won 41 times on the PGA Tour, second only to Woods in the last 25 years, with four major championships. He won The Players in 2007, right after switching over to Butch Harmon as his swing coach. And that was the only time he seriously contended at Sawgrass. He tied for third in 2004, but he was five shots behind Adam Scott.
Vijay Singh, with 34 wins and three majors, was runner-up to Woods in 2001. In his 19 other appearances, he never finished higher than eighth. Singh won 17 times from 2003 through 2005. He didn’t record a top 10 at The Players those years — he missed the cut in 2003 — and broke 70 twice.
Ernie Els, another four-time major champion in the Hall of Fame, never had a good look at winning The Players.
Those are the “Big Four” of their generation. That’s a collective 72 appearances, two wins and only four chances at winning.
“No idea,” said Padraig Harrington, who has ideas on everything. “I’m not sure how you would put it down. You pick four players, and it’s not like all four have the exact same game. Only four chances between them?”
Johnny Miller never had much luck on this golf course, making only two cuts in eight attempts. It was still enough to give him an appreciation of Pete Dye’s creation.
“It’s just a nervous tournament. It’s a nervous week,” Miller said. “That’s why a lot of guys hardly do well here. It’s a course that you have to tippy-toe around, and that’s why Tiger ... he won it, but he’s struggled here. And Phil has struggled here and he won it once. You just get a little glimpse of it once in a while when you can play well, and the rest of the time it just eats your lunch. It’s really a fun event. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”