Saturday is calledMoving Day on the PGA Tour, but that tired cliché should be DQ'd after whathappened last week. Nothing against Jeff Quinney or Sean O'Hair, who rocketedup the leader board during the third round of the Players Championship byshooting scores of 64 and 66, respectively, but their excellent play was astroll across the street compared to the $60 million move--from March toMay--made by the tournament. So, was the switch a success? Here's our twocents.
The PGA Tour needs to make up its mind. The event is called the PlayersChampionship in some places and simply the Players in others. We like thePlayers, period. It's snappier, like Diddy instead of Puff Daddy.
When it was played in March, the tournament was overshadowed by NCAA basketballand spring training. In early May the Players comes after the Kentucky Derby,before the Indy 500 and in the middle of the endless NHL and NBA playoffs.Perfect.
When Tour commissioner Tim Finchem met with reporters last Wednesday, it waspouring outside, thanks to subtropical storm Andrea. "Welcome to sunny,dry, warm Florida," said Finchem, achieving a personal best for humor. OnThursday the wind gusted up to 39 mph. Maybe the Tour should have checked withAl Gore before inching closer to the start of hurricane season.
Many writers used to spend Players week asking the pros about the upcomingMasters. Last week they were asking about the upcoming U.S. Open. Also, therewas a strange lack of energy. "The tournament seems different, and I'm notsure why," said Kevin Sutherland, who has played in 10 Players. "It'snot two weeks before the Masters anymore, when everybody was gearing up.Before, this was like the first week of the year, when all the best golfers gottogether and there was a sense of excitement. Now, I don't know.... "
The InfamousIsland Green
The famed 17th is more than simply the Players' signature hole--it's become thetournament's identity. Tiger Woods called the hole "gimmicky," but hey,it's been called worse. Although a record 50 balls were hit into the water onThursday (92 for the tournament), there were no major drown-outs to match BobTway's alltime high 12, set in 2005, possibly because somebody had the sense togrow a deeper fringe at water's edge. Nevertheless, at the wee (137 yards)par-3 there were more scores of 6 and above (16) than there were birdies (12);and bogeys or worse outnumbered birdies by a 5-to-1 margin. "It's a mentalthing," says Kirk Triplett, explaining the carnage. "We used to sit inthe clubhouse and hear the odd story about a guy making a 7 or an 8. Now withthat stupid online camera at 17 on all day, you're way more conscious of thathole." The upshot: The 17th is still the best show at TPC Sawgrass.
Course superintendent Fred Klauk always had the Stadium course in tip-topshape, but it would get soft and muddy when it rained. The date change solvedthat problem. Previously, to ensure that it would be green during tournamentweek, the course had been overseeded with rye grass. That's no longer necessarybecause the underlying bermuda grass has come in by May. Plus, all the organicmaterial that had built up over the years was scraped off the fairways in aprocess that could be described as the face-peel of all time. The fairways werecapped with sand and a new strain of bermuda, which make the course firm andfast--the way designer Pete Dye intended. The players raved about the new grassand the end of mushy fairways and mudballs. Mud makes shots squirt off-line,and at a course with as many water hazards as Sawgrass, that's not good."The rye retained so much moisture [that] you'd hit a shot to the greensand see a crater of mud," says Stewart Cink. "You don't see that withthis bermuda. The ball almost never breaks the surface. It simply dents thegrass. I'm digging this stuff."
The bermuda putting surfaces were slightly slower than last year's bentgrassmodels. Woods lamented their lack of speed, but Mike Weir praised them afterThursday's windswept round. "If the Tour hadn't spent the money, itwould've been unplayable today," Weir said. "[During my round] the ballwas oscillating. On the old bent greens the ball would've been blowing around.My ball actually rolled forward on the 17th green anyway, and I had to re-markit."
Tee boxes were moved back on the 1st, 8th, 14th and 18th holes. The 467-yard14th played downwind all week, so nobody complained, and the added length madethe tee shot at the 447-yard 18th straighter and therefore easier. The frontportion of the 12th green, too sloped to be usable in previous years, wasflattened and thus improved. The three pot bunkers added to the right side ofthe 442-yard 7th hole snared Phil Mickelson, among others, and had playersaiming away from them, bringing the water on the left more into play.
Dye, who oversaw the changes, added a few sneaky twists, including a deep grassbunker in the rough on the 1st hole and a new slope on the front-left portionof the 18th green. "There's a little dipsy-do on the last green that wasn'tthere before," says Triplett. "Any play from the right side to a frontpin, you can chip it in the water in a heartbeat." On Saturday, SteveElkington did exactly that and made a double bogey that took him out ofcontention.
Sawgrass's Plecia nearctica Hardy, which hatch in May, is the new unofficialmascot of the Players. Last week the insects were fluttering ineptly throughthe air, usually attached to another (hence the name). "I played with GregOwen," said Paul Azinger, "and he was waving the bugs away and saying,'Get out of here! Go shag somewhere else!'"
The May date is a keeper, but there are still a few bugs to be worked out.
• See AlanShipnuck's Hot List at GOLF.com.
Photographs by David Walberg
Dye added an extra bit of undulation to the green at 18, already one of thetoughest holes on Tour.
The island green par-3, Sawgrass's signature hole, claimed a record 50 balls inthe opening round.
Photographs by David Walberg
García and the other pros had to deal with the unofficial mascot of thePlayers--newly hatched Lovebugs.