Saturday is called
Moving Day on the PGA Tour, but that tired clich� should be DQ'd after what
happened last week. Nothing against Jeff Quinney or Sean O'Hair, who rocketed
up the leader board during the third round of the Players Championship by
shooting scores of 64 and 66, respectively, but their excellent play was a
stroll across the street compared to the $60 million move--from March to
May--made by the tournament. So, was the switch a success? Here's our two
The PGA Tour needs to make up its mind. The event is called the Players
Championship in some places and simply the Players in others. We like the
Players, period. It's snappier, like Diddy instead of Puff Daddy.
When it was played in March, the tournament was overshadowed by NCAA basketball
and 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.
When Tour commissioner Tim Finchem met with reporters last Wednesday, it was
pouring outside, thanks to subtropical storm Andrea. "Welcome to sunny,
dry, warm Florida," said Finchem, achieving a personal best for humor. On
Thursday the wind gusted up to 39 mph. Maybe the Tour should have checked with
Al Gore before inching closer to the start of hurricane season.
Many writers used to spend Players week asking the pros about the upcoming
Masters. Last week they were asking about the upcoming U.S. Open. Also, there
was a strange lack of energy. "The tournament seems different, and I'm not
sure why," said Kevin Sutherland, who has played in 10 Players. "It's
not 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 got
together and there was a sense of excitement. Now, I don't know.... "
The famed 17th is more than simply the Players' signature hole--it's become the
tournament'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 on
Thursday (92 for the tournament), there were no major drown-outs to match Bob
Tway's alltime high 12, set in 2005, possibly because somebody had the sense to
grow 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 mental
thing," says Kirk Triplett, explaining the carnage. "We used to sit in
the clubhouse and hear the odd story about a guy making a 7 or an 8. Now with
that stupid online camera at 17 on all day, you're way more conscious of that
hole." The upshot: The 17th is still the best show at TPC Sawgrass.
Course superintendent Fred Klauk always had the Stadium course in tip-top
shape, but it would get soft and muddy when it rained. The date change solved
that problem. Previously, to ensure that it would be green during tournament
week, the course had been overseeded with rye grass. That's no longer necessary
because the underlying bermuda grass has come in by May. Plus, all the organic
material that had built up over the years was scraped off the fairways in a
process that could be described as the face-peel of all time. The fairways were
capped with sand and a new strain of bermuda, which make the course firm and
fast--the way designer Pete Dye intended. The players raved about the new grass
and 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 greens
and see a crater of mud," says Stewart Cink. "You don't see that with
this bermuda. The ball almost never breaks the surface. It simply dents the
grass. I'm digging this stuff."
The bermuda putting surfaces were slightly slower than last year's bentgrass
models. Woods lamented their lack of speed, but Mike Weir praised them after
Thursday's windswept round. "If the Tour hadn't spent the money, it
would've been unplayable today," Weir said. "[During my round] the ball
was 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-mark
Tee boxes were moved back on the 1st, 8th, 14th and 18th holes. The 467-yard
14th played downwind all week, so nobody complained, and the added length made
the tee shot at the 447-yard 18th straighter and therefore easier. The front
portion of the 12th green, too sloped to be usable in previous years, was
flattened and thus improved. The three pot bunkers added to the right side of
the 442-yard 7th hole snared Phil Mickelson, among others, and had players
aiming 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 grass
bunker in the rough on the 1st hole and a new slope on the front-left portion
of the 18th green. "There's a little dipsy-do on the last green that wasn't
there before," says Triplett. "Any play from the right side to a front
pin, you can chip it in the water in a heartbeat." On Saturday, Steve
Elkington did exactly that and made a double bogey that took him out of