World's best fight for number one at TPC
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2005 The Players Championship | Preview | 23 Mar 2005
The Players Championship, now considered to be the tournament most want to win outside the four majors, takes to the fairways of the TPC at Sawgrass on Thursday with another chapter in the intriguing 2005 about to unfold.
The field of 144 consists of the top 50 in the world ranking plus various categories of winners from the PGA Tour and World Golf Championship events in recent years, the top 125 on last year’s USPGA Tour money list and the top ten from this year’s money list. This mix, results in a field which is always considered one of, if not the strongest in tournament golf. Add to this a golf course that tests very component of the game and the formula exists for one of the year’s best events.
This year’s event has the further twist in that the ongoing battle for the number one position in the game will continue with all those in contention very much in form. The top fifty in the world ranking are all here including the defending champion Adam Scott, who last year won by a narrow one shot after a miraculous recovery at the 72nd hole for bogey saved the day. He had led by four at the turn on day four, but a charge from Padraig Harrington over the last few holes all but caught the Australian. Last year Scott was 18th in the world ranking leading into this week, this year he is inside the top ten in 9th place. At twenty four, he is the youngest player inside the top ten.
The event has had its home at Sawgrass near Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida since 1977, although the event was staged on three occasions prior to that at the Atlanta Country Club, the Colonial Country Club in Texas and the Inverrary Golf and Country Club in Florida. Prior to the TPC course being built, the event was played at the Sawgrass Golf Club before being moved to the TPC in 1982.
The course and stadium concept is the brainchild of original Tour Commissioner Deane Beaman, who in the 1960’s had seen the merit in developing a course that would accommodate large galleries and make viewing golf, user-friendly.
He engaged the respected, but perhaps at the time, controversial course designer Pete Dye to assist in the project and the concept of TPC courses was born. It opened to rather mixed reaction, especially from the players, but the fans and sponsors loved it and soon the players warmed to the course and the concept. The par three 17th, while controversial and occasionally criticised , is perhaps one of the most recognised and feared holes in the game. At just 137 yards the hole would be a breeze if surrounded by grass. It is not and with it being virtually surrounded by water, other than the walkway to access the green, it takes on a new dimension and dynamic.
The greens are Tifdwarf bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis & Princeville bentgrass. The greens, at 4500 square feet, are on the small side compared the tour average of 6000 square feet, this is further accentuated by the length of rough during tournament week.
The field is headed by the just re-crowned world number one, Vijay Singh who, although he often practices here, has been inside the top ten on only two occasions in twelve attempts. His best was in 2001 when finishing just one shot behind Woods but it is impossible to count him out of anything right now so he must be considered.
Tiger Woods, since a rather ordinary start to his TPC career in 1997 and 1998 has always been there or thereabouts with one win, two top tens and three top twenties in his six starts since then. His form last week at Bay Hill was perhaps surprising given what he had shown at Doral.
Ernie Els, like Singh, has not replicated his results elsewhere at the TPC. He was only fair last week at Bay Hill but that may have been as much a result of two consecutive wins the previous two weeks as much as anything.
Phil Mickelson had his best ever finish here last year when third behind Scott, perhaps reflecting an increasing capacity to turn some previous trends in his game around. His increased ability in the last twelve months to play courses where he has not excelled in earlier years has been noticeable. Two wins and a second in his last four starts this season are also very noticeable. He has not been a prolific winner in Florida or Florida-like conditions, but his performance at the Ford suggests that he may have turned the corner in that regard.
Retief Goosen is in rare form right now and although he has had a shocking record at the TPC (five missed cuts in six starts) he comes into this week’s event no doubt full of confidence on a golf course which should in theory suit his game. The memory of all those missed cuts hardly inspires confidence in me however.
Padraig Harrington is now number six in the world and it may just be at the end of this week that he is even higher. He has been runner up in each of the last two years here and coming off the win at the Honda, he is in the mood to go one better this year. His back nine of 30 in last year’s final round will likely still be in his memory as he tees off on day one.
Adam Scott comes off a win three starts ago at the Nissan although his subsequent form has been less impressive. Like all players who have won on a particular golf course he will come here feeling very good about his chances but I’m not quite as convinced he can go back to back at the TPC. There have been no back to back winners in the thirty year history of the event. One thing that is for sure is that if he does win he will not be playing Bell South next week and obvious mistake last year after such a gruelling victory, especially leading into the Masters.
Kenny Perry has shown, when in form previously, that he can hold it. It’s always difficult to back up after a win the previous week, but he has shown in the past the capacity win back to back (Colonial and Memorial in 2003) and given that he finished 6th here last year then another win this week would not exactly shock.
European stars Thomas Bjorn and Paul Casey have shown enough good form of late to be considered with both having played reasonably here in the past.
Of the Australasians other than Scott there are plenty. Steve Allan, Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Geoff Ogilvy, Aaron Baddeley, Steve Elkington, Richard Green, Mark Hensby, Stephen Leaney, Peter Lonard, Nick O’Hern, Geoff Ogilvy, Craig Parry, Rod Pampling, Craig Perks, John Senden and Andre Stolz, surely our largest contingent in this event ever.
An event worth a cool US$8 million with US$1.44 million to the winner.