In tennis the four majors are played on distinct surfaces, and you could certainly say the same of the first four biggies of the men's golf season. Augusta makes you switch gears, between extreme power and extreme finesse, from one shot to the next. U.S. Open rough and baked greens will turn your head to mush. The British Open will make you play low, boring shots that defy the heavy sea wind. The Players mixes elements of all three, really. In its own way, it's one of a kind.
"It's weird," somebody said on Sunday night to Ty Votaw, one of the PGA Tour's executive vice presidents.
"Weird in what way?" Votaw asked.
"Weird cool," came the answer.
"Weird cool, we're fine with that," Votaw said. "The PGA Tour has never claimed that the Players is the fifth major. What we're trying to do is make the tournament better every year than it was the year before, and in the 36 years of the event, we've done that."
Zach Johnson, winner of the 2007 Masters, was paired with Furyk on Sunday. Two winners of majors paired together on a Sunday in a big tournament. After Furyk made his third birdie on the back nine, Johnson started to wonder if he was playing with "the guy who would win the tournament." About the only time you'll hear players talk like that is when they feel as if they might be witness to a little golf history.
But how historic—how significant, how memorable, how emotional—is a win in the Players? That's really the question. Have you ever seen a player cry after winning the Players? Jeff Rude, a senior writer for Golfweek and a Hall of Fame voter, says he gives a win in the Players more weight than an ordinary Tour event when sizing up a player's career, but that doesn't mean the Players is a major, or close to it. "It's a 21st-century golf tournament," Rude says. It's the new kid on the block. A peculiar, hybrid May event, the Players is still a toddler. And 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, for one, feels the Players lost something by moving from March to May.
That's significant because players, more than sportswriters or marketing campaigns or anything else, really say in the end what is and what isn't a major. They know. Furyk didn't say that deep in his heart the Players is a major championship—he said it was a championship. Tiger didn't say the Players was the fifth major. He said it was like a fifth major, and he is a man precise in all things.
And then there's Phil Mickelson, winner of three majors and the 2007 Players Championship. You likely know the Potter Stewart quote about pornography, in which the Supreme Court justice says it's hard to define "but I know it when I see it." Mickelson, in his own way, has a litmus test for majors. When he's done playing in a major, he's so worn out, physically and mentally, that he spends the following week in bed. After finishing 55th at the Players, Mickelson said he's not going to spend this week in bed. Nope. He'll be on the range getting ready for the second major of the year, the U.S. Open at Bethpage.
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