Which tournament should be considered the fifth major?

Which tournament should be considered the fifth major?

17th hole, 2011 Players Championship

Robert Beck/SI
The Players Championship has been called the 'fifth major' by some, but which event is really worthy of the name?

Nineteen aught four. That's when the Australian and Canadian Opens were first played­ — 12 years before the first PGA Championship and 30 before the Masters. Jack Nicklaus routinely called the Aussie Open the fifth major on his many trips Down Under. But he said in his 1969 autobiography, The Greatest Game of All: My Life in Golf, with Herbert Warren Wind: "In conversations with friends I referred to the Australian Open as a major championship, but they knew and I knew I was kidding myself. Being the national championship of a golf-minded country, the ­Australian Open was a most estimable tournament to be won but simply wasn't a major championship except in the eyes of Australians. Of course, the men who won it prized it highly."

As for the Canadian Open, Lee Trevino, who sandwiched his win in 1971 between U.S. and British Open victories, a feat christened the Triple Crown: "The Canadian Open is one of the world's oldest championships, and I rate it among the top four in the world."

Nicklaus played in the Canadian every year from 1974 through '89, 27 times overall, although he never won. After he built Glen Abbey outside Toronto, the club became the tournament's permanent home in '77, yet the championship morphed into just another PGA Tour stop. When the FedEx Cup was launched in 2007, the Canadian Open suffered the indignity of being scheduled the week after the British Open. Dave Perkins in the Toronto Star: "Now, virtually every reference to [title sponsor] RBC rebuilding the tournament carries a line like 'attempting to restore the Open to its former glory when it was widely considered the fifth major.' I think it's one of those self-fulfilling media prophecies. We keep repeating it as if it were true, therefore it must have been true."

In 1976, when Nicklaus founded the Memorial Tournament near his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, everyone assumed the Memorial would be his version of the Masters, although Jack never said he intended his tournament to someday become a major. Others said it for him.

The Columbus Dispatch in '81: "When he was asked the oft-asked question, What do you think about the ­Memorial's chances of one day being a major, Mark Hayes flatly predicted, 'One day I think it will be bigger than Augusta.' "

Three years later the Dispatch quoted '80 Memorial champ David Graham: "Nicklaus is a legend who has surpassed Bobby Jones and probably everyone else. One of these years he's going to retire. The only place players and fans will be able to see Jack will be Muirfield Village during the Memorial. Shades of Augusta National. You think that won't make the Memorial a major?"

The Memorial might have made it if it hadn't been run over by the Players, which debuted in 1974. The event didn't really take off until 1982, when it was first played on the Stadium course. The instant Jerry Pate won the inaugural, pushed Tour commissioner Deane Beman and course designer Pete Dye into the water next to the 18th green and dived in after them, the Memorial fell to second in the fifth major standings.

When Nicklaus won his first Players, he half joked that he had done so "just in case" the Players became a major.

Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force by Adam Schupak: "When Jack decided to build his own facility and have his own tournament, that would be to him what the Masters was to Bobby Jones. And of course, our tournament stood in his way."

Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf's Greatest Rivalry by Ian O'Connor: "Deane came up with a great idea with the Players Championship . . . but you can't buy a major and that was sort of the effort being made," Nicklaus said. "The Memorial was his only competition . . . but everything he could do to put one ahead of the other, he would do and that's always stuck in my craw."

Dan Jenkins in Sports Illustrated after the 1984 Players: "For two years the pros had been howling louder than a North Florida wind about the horrors of the design of their own course at their own headquarters and the site of their own championship, which has certainly become the 'fifth major.' "

Greg Larson (from the 1985 PGA Championship) in The Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville: "Deane Beman was quoted in a New York Times story yesterday as calling for [the Players] to be declared a fifth major. If the PGA, which begins today at Cherry Hills, is any measurement, Beman should be screaming for fourth place. . . . After two days of walking around Cherry Hills . . . nothing jumps out and says, 'Hey, this is ­different than the Memorial, the Crosby or the Bay Hill Classic.' "

Phil Mickelson in 2008: "What's difficult from a player's point of view is scheduling because if you take the five majors, counting the Players, and the three World Golf Championships, which is eight. . . ."

Last year the European tour issued a press release touting its BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth as the fifth major. Seven of the top nine players in the World Ranking competed. Lee Westwood of England: "The Players ­probably used to be regarded as the fifth major, and it felt that way back in the late '90s. But since the invention of the World Golf Championships, the Players has actually stepped back. So what is it, eighth on the list now?"

Ernie Els (above) of South Africa: "[The BMW] is definitely taking the place of the Players. I also feel we have a stronger field here and a classic course."

Lawrence Donegan in The Guardian of Great Britain: "America doesn't need any more majors. It's ludicrous that we have four majors and three of them are on one continent. Golf is becoming more global and if Asia is the new frontier, and it is, where better to have another major? The fifth major should be the Australian Open. It has the history, the tradition, the courses. But four is a great number. So forget the PGA Championship — just plug in the Australian Open."

Larson, now a radio sports-talker in Jacksonville: "The Tour was always blowing in people's ears, 'This is a major,' and I think they pushed it too hard. If they had simply left it alone, everyone would consider it a major by now."

There is one other possibility, Beman (left) believes, that might accelerate the coronation of the Players — Tiger winning more Opens, Masters and PGAs: "Then Jack may want [the Players] to become a major after all." That would make the score Jack 21, Tiger 15.