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A Major change

Time to consider Players Championship the fifth major

Posted: Thursday March 16, 2006 12:11PM; Updated: Tuesday March 21, 2006 10:15PM
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Sawgrass is a unique course that doesn't favor one type of player.
Sawgrass is a unique course that doesn't favor one type of player.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
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Changes are in the wind for tournaments in Florida.

Doral will get a facelift by becoming a World Golf Championship event next year.

The Bay Hill Invitational is adopting the name of its founder and will soon become the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The only other tournament to be named after a former great competitive player on Tour is the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.

With these changes, including the shakeup of the entire 2007 PGA Tour schedule, it's time to elevate another important Florida event -- the Players Championship.

Is the PGA Tour's showcase event finally on its way to becoming recognized as a fifth major? Here are five reasons it should be.

1. The schedule change

For as long as I can remember, the Players Championship has been contested in March, just a few weeks prior to the Masters. The interesting change on the horizon is that the Tour has decided move the tournament to May beginning in 2007, sandwiching the elite field event between the Masters in April and the U.S. Open in June. This new slot on the schedule gives players five consecutive months with a major-type tournament.

2. The best always play

The Players Championship annually boasts one of the strongest fields -- if not the strongest -- in championship golf. Next week will be the first event of the '06 tournament schedule in which the Big Five of Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els will all compete. As with the majors, an invitation to this elite event would never be turned down by the world's best without a good reason. Kenny Perry has a good one -- knee surgery, which will keep him out for six weeks, including this year's first actual major, the Masters.

3. Golf's governing bodies

Currently, the United States Golf Association has the U.S. Open, the Royal & Ancient has the Open Championship, and the PGA of America has its championship -- all hold one of the legs of the Grand Slam of golf. But the PGA Tour has been on the outside looking in for quite some time. Undoubtedly, when it comes to the standard in professional golf, the PGA is the major league. All other tours are mere pretenders and have adjusted their schedules to the changes the Tour proposed last fall. It's about time for the PGA to be included in this fraternity, and the Players Championship is up to the task.

4. A great venue

Of the Players' early years, Don January once said, "It's the only course I know of that could burn down." Initially, my thoughts on the TPC at Sawgrass were that it was too contrived, with all the railroad ties, to be known as a great course. But that was before I had the chance to see it under tournament conditions in 1992 while caddying for close friend Keith Clearwater.

The great thing about this course is that in today's craze of going longer in the majors, Sawgrass is a fair test to everyone in the field. Traditionally, they try to get the course to play under fast, hard conditions, but rain always seems to be a factor (one reason for the move to May). Other factors are that the greens are difficult and the rough's thick puts a premium on accuracy. Winners here include the bombers like Tiger and Davis Love III and plodders such as Justin Leonard and last year's champion, Fred Funk.

5. Continually improving

Other than the Masters, this venue would be the only major with a permanent home. There's something to be said for the tradition of playing annually at the same course. Except for the wacky yardage at Augusta, the PGA has taken a page from the Masters and has tried to continually upgrade the course for its championship. Designed to be spectator-friendly, the large galleries can watch from stadium-type viewing areas around each hole, and the addition of a new clubhouse will be a great upgrade to the facility. Other than one of the current majors, if you have a chance to attend a professional golf event, make it the Players Championship.

Change can be good, and recently the Champions Tour included a fifth major as part of its schedule.

So what's wrong with the idea of having five majors on the PGA Tour? Nothing. And a growing faction (which includes myself) thinks it's time to consider and embrace the notion.

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