By Lawrence Donegan | The Players Championship
At this stage in the proceedings it has been fairly well established that Tiger Woods isn’t a monk but, still, it came as the something of a surprise to click on the well-known American celebrity gossip website USmagazine.com (I read it so you don’t have to) and find a report that the great man was tripping the light fantastic at a big celebrity event in New York on Monday night.
As US Magazine’s very own Woodward and Bernstein wrote: “Woods fell while walking up a small flight of stairs – and didn’t move from the spot until (Lindsay) Vonn, clenching her teeth and looking embarrassed, helped him up and guided him (swaying a bit as he walked) to the exit.”
Clearly there is nothing wrong with a grown man having a few beers on a night out with his girlfriend. However, when the gentleman in question is Tiger Woods and the big night out happens on the Monday of The Players Championship – the tournament that likes to call itself the fifth Major – questions need to be asked.
Needless to say when Woods appeared before the press at TPC Sawgrass on Tuesday morning, the questions were asked.
- Can you even talk about any tournament being a fifth major?
- Do you think you would have gone to a red carpet event in the week of a major championship?
Woods was both diplomatic and nimble in response but there was no denying his presence in New York and no escaping this essential truth: There is NO CHANCE he would be wandering down the red carpet three days before the start of a major championship.
Equally true – Woods doesn’t consider The Players to be a major championship. He doesn’t even like the tournament or the golf course it is played on, the Pete Dye-designed Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass.
In this, the World No1 is not alone. Rory McIlroy has gone on record numerous times stating his dislike of the venue. A few years back Lee Westwood didn’t even bother turning up for the tournament, citing his indifference to the golf course and the event’s major championship pretensions. Phil Mickelson may have won there in 2007 but the Stadium course’s attractions are lost on him too.
Power and Flair
What all of the above players have in common – apart from their brilliance – is their ability to overwhelm any golf course with power and, when the occasion demands, flair. The problem, at least from the point of view of Woods and Co., is that the Stadium course doesn’t reward power or flair. It rewards caution and persistence. It looks kindly upon the risk-averse, upon those players for whom flair means the wide part of a trouser leg.
Even the medium-length hitters in the field will only need to hit their driver a handful of times over 18 holes. Sure, the lakes and ponds that are dotted around the course look great on television but as features on a championship golf course they are curse on those who seek excitement – why would a player go for the green in two on a par-five when the penalty for a marginal miss-hit is a wet ball and one (or possibly two) dropped shots?
Only a killjoy would deny the fun and excitement of the famous island green of the 17th hole. But let’s stand back and think logically for a moment – is it really right that a player can lose everything he has worked for all week on the 71st hole of a tournament, a par-three which is no more than a flick with a nine-iron? In 2007, the year Mickelson won, Sean O’Hair did exactly that, running up a quadruple bogey seven at the 17th hole on the final day, thereby ruining his chances.
Keep the faith
Look at the list of winners of The Players in recent years. Sure, Mickelson is in there, as is Sergio Garcia. But more often than not this is a venue that has rewarded the mid-table plodders.
Tim Clark (2010), Fred Funk (2005), Stephen Ames (2006) and KJ Choi (2011) have all won at TPC Sawgrass and the search for 2013’s winner must begin with a look at players of that ilk.
Matt Kuchar fits the bill perfectly. He won The Players last year and could win again this year, except that no player has ever won this event in successive years. But there are plenty of others who could prevail – take your pick of one from 50. Better still, place your faith (and money) on someone like Brandt Snedeker or DA Points to win, with Kevin Streelman and Bill Haas as good each-way bets.
Lawrence Donegan is the Guardian’s former golf correspondent. He is also author of the acclaimed book, Four Iron in the Soul, based on his experiences caddying for tour pro Ross Drummond. In the 1980s he was a bassist for the Bluebells and Lloyd Cole And The Commotions, but we forgive him for Young At Heart because he’s such a sound lad. Follow him on Twitter here.