Tim Finchem was asked if The Players was a major earlier this week. After saying that he's been asked that for 13 years, and that he's been consistent on the matter, the PGA Tour's commissioner artfully dodged the question. (Although this fact pretty much sums up the Tour's position: the winner of the Players gets as many FedEx Cup points as the winner of any of the four majors.)
Is the Players a major? Here's an idea: You decide.
Major: Phil is in the mix even though he's hitting it all over the place. Tied for second-to-last in driving accuracy, Mickelson is eight-under, a shot behind the leader, Sean O'Hair.
Not a major: Tiger is not in the mix whatsoever. Also tied for second-to-last in driving accuracy, he is five-over for the tournament after another lackluster round Saturday, a one-over 73. "He was hitting good putts, but they just didn't go in the holes," said Henrik Stenson, Tiger's playing partner for the last three days, who fired a six-under 66 Saturday and was at two-under for the tournament. "And then he was hitting a couple of wayward drives. It's kind of hard to get a good score going if the putts don't drop and you hit a couple of bad ones."
Major: The diminutive South African Tim Clark, who always seems to pop up on the leaderboard at these things, especially at the Masters, did so again with a five-under 67 that included two eagles Saturday. He's four-under for the tournament.
Not a major: Peter Lonard made the second double-eagle of the week Saturday, this time on the 532-yard, par-5 second hole. (Hunter Mahan made the other one on the 558-yard, par-5 11th hole Friday but missed the cut.) If you think the USGA would stand for two double-eagles in one week, think again. The field averaged 71.06 strokes Saturday, a stroke lower than Friday (72.05) and two and a half strokes lower than Thursday (73.57). In addition to the two double-eagles, the players made a whopping 298 birdies and 12 eagles. There were so many red numbers on the board, Geoff Ogilvy (four-under after a 67) said, "It's like Palm Springs out here."
Major: Sergio Garcia is up to his usual business in the big tournaments (minus the Ryder Cup), alternating between hitting it terrifically well and fantastically awful. At seven under par for the day and five under overall, he was near the lead until he pulled his 6-iron approach shot into the water and made double-bogey on 18. He dropped to three under for the tournament. "I wanted to hit a proper shot on 18; I wanted to give myself a good birdie chance," Garcia said. "I didn't want to blast it right. I just got a little quick, a little stuck and unfortunately didn't cut it."
Not a major: At the top of Tom Lehman's swing on the 17th tee, a gallery yahoo yelled, "Water!" When was the last time that happened at Augusta or at the British Open?
Major: Garcia wasn't the only one who started melting down on Saturday afternoon, a sure sign that these guys are all too aware of what they're playing for. (The $9 million purse is the richest in golf.) After getting up and down for birdie on 16 to take sole possession of the lead at eight-under, the jittery Argentine Jose Coceres finished with a double-bogey and a bogey to fall back. "I just let the pressure of 17 get to me, and I just hit it too hard," he said. "I saw my playing partner (Kirk Triplett) hit something along the lines of a 9-iron, so I decided to hit an 8 and just hit it too hard."
Not a major: The Tour's new, 77,000-square-foot clubhouse doesn't fit the old-school vibe of your usual major championship venue.
Major: At peak hours, the drive to Sawgrass on A1A is bumper-to-bumper, a preview of what's expected to be a clogged commute to Oakmont next month.
Major: The media center's wireless Internet crashed early in the week, just like it did at Augusta this year. Eight gigantic Rolex clocks are mounted on the walls of the state-of-the-art press room, so you can tell the time in London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Sydney, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Geneva and Ponte Vedra.
Major: Chris DiMarco is right in the thick of things at five under after firing a three-under-par 69 Saturday that featured three birdies in his first four holes. "I don't think the wind blew as hard as it did the first few days," DiMarco said. "The green speed is not overly fast, and I think that's why you're seeing some low scores. Guys are able to be aggressive on first putts."
Major: Hot-and-cold Rod Pampling, who once led the British Open after the first day and missed the cut, was up to his old tricks Saturday. Starting at three under and playing in the third-to-last group, Pampling inexplicably shot an 80 in perfect scoring conditions. His day included an In-N-Out Burger (double-double) on 17 and 18.
Major: The tournament may come down to whether Mickelson can keep his tee shot from sailing into the abyss to the left of the 18th hole on Sunday.
Yep. It's a major.