The Players Championship
Defending Champion: Matt Kuchar
Why is McDonald’s the most popular fast food restaurant in this nebula? Over a centillion served! Is it the underwhelming burgers made from plastic and bits of real cow? Those succulent nuggets processed entirely from pigeons found rummaging through the dumpsters out back? Jester pressure? The blitzkrieg of advertisements littered across every form of media, including the criminally under utilized Ham Radio? That last one, potentially. But mainly, we all inevitably scurry to the Golden Arches because of its consistency. Delicious, delicious consistency. From Times Square to Calcutta, you know exactly what you’re getting – a delectable triple bypass in the making, all for a very reasonable price! Its deleterious impact on our health is of no concern to us right now – let future us worry about that – we’re just addicted to the familiarity, and the trace amounts of heroin cut into the salt. It’s the same reason people go so nuts for the Players Championship. Minus sweet lady H, I hear Sawgrass is hooked on meth.
Every year it’s the same. We know what to expect: A scenic course, agua abound, star-studded field, alligators and, of course, the most recognizable hole in golf. Oh, and if there’s a need to play past 72 holes, we’re heading back to 17 for the playoff. And exactly like McDonald’s, we long for it, but the moment its finished, we’re fine not seeing again for another year.
There’s just something disingenuous about The Players Championship, though. It’s the biggest try-hard in golf, going to great lengths inoculating our minds with its prestige at every turn. I don’t care that you call yourself the “fifth major” – there are only four majors. I’m not going to buy in just cause you say it, doesn’t work like that. Ask anyone who has ever started calling themselves “Flash” in the hope everyone follows suit. Fun fact: They won’t. Lots of style, scant on substance. The course is glossy, made for HD, but besides the water, where’s the challenge? Sawgrass wants to be Augusta, but its lack of history and residence in a cesspool like Florida immediately disqualifies it from that discussion. So, in turn, it tries little things to up the ante: Awarding the winner a couple extra FedEx Cup points, paying them slightly more than any other tournament and offering exemption on Tour for the next five years.
Maybe I’m being too harsh, because I do find The Players very entertaining; there’s a giant separation between ‘entertaining’ and ‘quality’, however. Take the upcoming Great Gastby movie. Looks great right? Nope, actually it doesn’t. Well, let me retract that, visually it looks incredible, but in terms of quality it’s going to be a massive failure. No Daisy or Oscars for you Jay. It’s taken excellent source material and doused it in a coat of ostentation: Green Screen. Miscast, but bankable actors. Jay-Z produced soundtrack. Baz Luhrmann. Independently, these things all sound great, but unlike the jazz synonymous with the era, there’s no fusion to it. It’s less 2001 Patriots and more 2011 Eagles.
Much like Gatsby himself, the pictures glow luminescently, fooling us into thinking it’s a spectacle for the ages, but that glitz is just a mask for its genuine lack of substance. So unless Luhrmann has gone completely meta, and turned the movie into an allegory of itself, you’ll walk out of the theatre after two-and-half hours satisfied, but will be unable to recall a single definitive moment five minutes later.
Quick, who won The Players two years ago?
Not Tiger – I’ve passed on Tiger in two of his five eligible events so far this season and he won both, so know that. But The Players isn’t kind to repeaters. It’s not 27 Red on the roulette table. In fact, a previous winner hasn’t claimed a second trophy since David Love III in 2003, before that it was Hal Sutton in 2000. It’s not that it can’t happen, but it will be someone with a better track record at Sawgrass than Tiger. Like…
Sergio Garcia – Sergio hasn’t missed a cut here since 2003 and entered the final round inside the Top 10 in eight of those nine starts. Unfortunately, El Nino’s Sunday performances have been the wild cards. Five times, he’s played himself out of contention, firing 77 or worse on the event’s terminal day of play, the other three he finished first, second and 12th. This recommendation is Thursday through Saturday only.
Billy Horschel – Only twice in the tournament’s 38-year history has someone made The Players Championship their first PGA victory: Tim Clark and Craig Perks. And Clark had done enough, winning on the Euro Tour by 2010 that he really shouldn’t really qualify. That’s terrific news for Horschel, who’s returning from a well-deserved week off after claiming his first win in the Bayou. No player has been more consistent over the past two months and another Top 10 shouldn’t come as a shock, whether it’s his first time playing the course or not.
Also, what do you suppose became of Craig Perks?
Graeme McDowell, Jim Furyk, Justin Rose – The remainder of my picks get sectioned off into two groups. The first: ball strikers. Even a quick glance at a list of previous champions reveals a lot about what type of players win here. What do K.J. Choi, Matt Kuchar, Henrik Stenson, Fred Funk, Davis Love and Justin Leonard all have in common, besides all being members of the least sexy boy band in history? They’re all deadly with an iron in their hands. Just like McDowell, Furyk and Rose.
Luke Donald, Fredrik Jacobson, Ian Poulter – The second group: Flat stick savants. Referring back to that papyrus of past prizewinners you’ll notice another sect of golfers: Phil Mickelson, Tim Clark, Stephen Ames, Adam Scott, Hal Sutton and Tiger Woods. Better known as the group of golfers that rode their putters to victory. Along with hot iron play, finishing inside the top five in strokes gained on the green is the other essential component to being bestowed the trophy that looks vaguely like a mini, glass version of an Easter Island head… from a distance. Now, predicting which specific player is going to catch fire on the greens is best left of the imbecilic, but taking a trio of the most consistent is just plain savvy. You never know when Bubba Watson is going to start rolling in 15-footers, but you can be certain Donald, Jacobson and Poulter certainly won’t give away and strokes on the putting surface.