PGA Tour Confidential: 2008 Players Championship

PGA Tour Confidential: 2008 Players Championship

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Furyk can work the ball into the tight fairways at the Stadium course; plus he's found his putting stroke.
Robert Beck/SI

No Tiger Woods? No problem for us players.

Sure, next week’s Players is the first significant
(not the same as major) championship
in a long time without Tiger, but we’re already
over it. We’re not going to give him a second
thought — except when the Tiger-obsessed media grill us about
him, which I expect to happen endlessly from Monday through
Wednesday.

But once the tournament begins, nobody will even
mention his name, which is going to be a big problem for the
folks at Golf Channel. Without their franchise player, I don’t
know what they’re going to talk about.

I admit I was as surprised as anyone that Tiger had knee
surgery right after the Masters. The big question is how the injury is tied to his swing. As hard as he swings, there’s a lot
of resistance on that left knee. I saw a picture of Tiger hitting
that helicopter, hold-on cut shot out of the pine straw on 13
on Masters Sunday, spinning out on his left leg, and the knee
didn’t seem to bother him then.

The Players is the tournament that, next to any of the majors,
I always want to win because of the perks (five-year
exemption) and the purse ($9 million, with $1.7 million to
the winner). Plus, it’s the best field of the year by a mile. If
you’re looking to move up in the World Ranking, the Players
is the week to try to do it.

Most of the changes they’ve made to the Stadium course
are fantastic, and playing in May instead of March is a big
improvement
because the weather is better. The gigantic new
clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass is gorgeous, but for $100 million,
or whatever the Tour spent on it, it should be.

My only complaint is with the greens. No major championship
is held on bermuda greens, so if we want the Players to be
the fifth major, why are we playing on bermuda? I don’t think
the greens will ever be as good as when they were overseeded
bermuda. The real reason they made the change wasn’t to
make the greens better for the Players, it was to make them
better year-round. When you’re charging the public close to
$400 a round, you have to have decent greens. Before, the
greens were good for only about two months a year — the
weeks before, during and after the tournament.

Personally,
I don’t think bermuda is as true a surface as an overseeded
bermuda or bentgrass or even poa annua that’s cut down and
rolled. From a player’s standpoint, the greens take away from
the championship a little bit.

• With Tiger out of the picture — and that’s the last time I’ll mention
him — Jim Furyk is my pick to win. He usually
plays well at Sawgrass, and his game has come
around at last.

He finally went back to the style
of putter he made all his money with, a face-balanced
mallet. That club fits his stroke. He’s always
been a square-to-square putter, but for some reason tried
a heel-shafted putter like Phil Mickelson’s, which is the
opposite
of what Furyk’s stroke is about. I wasn’t surprised
that Jim struggled. Now he’s back to the mallet, at home — he
has a house nearby — and threatening to win.

• A lot of guys can chase it onto three of the par-5 holes, so I think
a solid putter and iron player, like Scott Verplank,
has a good chance of winning. You have to work the ball into a
lot of fairways, so length isn’t much of an advantage. Sawgrass
is a Pete Dye course and not unlike
Harbour Town — it’s narrow
in spots, and you have to keep your ball in play. I think I just
described Verplank’s game.


• I’d like to say something about our Masters
champion, Trevor Immelman, but to be honest, I don’t know
much about his game. I haven’t even had
a chance to watch the Masters replay and
see how he won. I never thought he
was a great putter,
because Ernie
Els went off on him for using
a belly putter a
few years ago.
Els thought
that long putters
should be banned.

• Two other guys to watch
are Boo Weekley and the Cinderella
kid of the Masters, Brandt
Snedeker. Boo hits it as
well as anyone on Tour.
I watched him play the back nine
one day at Harbour Town, and
he never missed a shot. Jacksonville
has as many rednecks
as any other part of Florida,
so he’ll feel right at home.

When he putts well, Boo
is tough to beat. Snedeker
is a refreshing personality.
I like the simplicity of his
game and how once he decides
on a shot, he steps up
and hits it. He reminds me
of Lanny Wadkins. He does
everything fast. I think he’ll
play well at Sawgrass.

• You still have to be aware of the
Fijian, Vijay Singh.
He spends dawn to dusk at
the Stadium course, pretty
much single-handedly
tearing up the practice
range, and his iron
game is pretty good.

Here’s something you
rarely say about Vijay: He’s
going to be well-rested. He didn’t play Hilton
Head or the Nelson, which I can’t believe. As
good as he hits it, he’s always going to have a
chance at Sawgrass, especially since the greens
don’t have a ton of undulation. On the other hand,
the Stadium course is not a bomber’s paradise,
which may explain why Vijay hasn’t won the Players,
although he has come in second and third and
has had four other top 15 finishes.

• Phil Mickelson is probably
in the worst putting slump of his
career. If you watched him at the
Masters, you saw that he wasn’t
even hitting the hole from five or
six feet. And since you know he
charted all those greens, he wasn’t
misreading the putts.

He also double-crossed himself a lot, hitting
hooks when he was trying to hit
cut shots. Maybe Phil and Butch
Harmon are working on something
in his swing and don’t quite have
it down yet. It surprised me that
Phil won here last year because
nothing about the course seems to
suit his game. That means he either
enjoyed
a great week on the greens
or that Tiger played horribly.

• One last thing about Ponte Vedra Beach. There may not be a whole lot
going on socially
next week, but even if there is, most of the players
won’t know. A lot of guys treat this like a major, so nobody’s
out partying at Hooters — well, except maybe one guy.

There’s a
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse right outside the entrance to the course
that’s pretty popular with the players, but the hottest spot in town
is the clubhouse. Every night the Tour provides a terrific spread for
players and families. The food is phenomenal: steaks, fish, chops,
whatever you want, and it’s free. It’s a great perk; you don’t have to
go out and fight for a table somewhere. They even have clowns and
balloons and stuff for your kids. It’s a heck of a week for families. If
majors were based on food, the Players would be No. 1. This is our
event, and I’m proud to say that it’s first-class all the way around.