Debate worth ending: The Players a major by every measure except status
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The criteria to be considered for the World Golf Hall of Fame smacks of yet another effort by the PGA Tour to make The Players Championship something it's not.
Eligible players must have won 15 times on any of the six major tours around the world or win at least two of the following tournaments -- The Masters, U.S. Open, The Open Championship, PGA Championship and The Players Championship.
Five tournaments of equal standing.
Four of them are majors.
"On first hearing that, it sounds wrong," Graeme McDowell said. "I'm not offended by it. But there are four majors. And this is very, very good."
The Players Championship tries to dress like a major, and for the most part, wears it well.
There are a few glaring differences, of course. It's tough to get past the Jacksonville Jaguars' mascot parading around the practice range (can anyone picture the Georgia Bulldogs' mascot on the range at Augusta National?), or that the TPC Sawgrass is not open to the public until Tuesday.
Rory McIlroy won't arrive until Wednesday. It's hard to imagine the world's No. 1 player not showing up at St. Andrews until the day before the tournament.
Too much is made about what The Players Championship is not instead of celebrating what it is.
The Players Championship has the strongest and deepest field of the year on a golf course that wouldn't appear to discriminate against any style of game. It has a back nine filled with risk and reward. And it has an island green on the par-3 17th hole that is either exciting or a gimmick, but it makes you look.
A better description of The Players is this: It's the biggest event run by the biggest tour in golf. The name needs an apostrophe. It's a championship that belongs to PGA Tour players.
That should be enough.
"It's big," Jimmy Walker said. "If you wanted one under your belt, this would be one of them. It's the PGA Tour's premier event. It's the biggest tournament run by the best tour in the world."
But a large poster on the wall in the media center has a quote from defending champion Martin Kaymer that starts, "At the end of the day, for all of us it's a major."
Augusta National celebrated a piece of wood, a center cut of the fabled Eisenhower Tree lost during an ice storm. The Players countered with a press release that its oak tree overhanging the sixth tee, removed in November because of decay and disease, had been converted into a bench.
And on it goes.
Tiger Woods will meet the Hall of Fame criteria, just barely. He has 90 victories on the major tours and 16 of those special tournaments (14 are majors, along with The Players Championship twice). He wasn't buying the idea of The Players being linked with the majors.
"I think you could probably honestly say," he said with a smile, "it's the tour that probably runs it, so that's what they're trying to elevate."
Woods looked at the last two groups of Hall of Fame inductees to say that it's worth paying attention to how score is kept. Fred Couples was inducted in 2013 with 15 wins, including the Masters and two Players Championships. Mark O'Meara gets inducted this year with 16 wins, including the Masters and British Open.
"Freddie actually won less tournaments than Mark did, but he had two Players," Woods said. "But Mark had two majors in there. Freddie had one major. So is that three to two, or is it one to two? According to the new system, it's three to two. I think that's how they're trying to make it look. But I think that us as players — I can't speak for everyone, but certainly me — I think you have to look at them in probably two different categories."
McDowell puts The Players a notch below the majors, on a level with the World Golf Championships. He said American-born players would tend to place The Players ahead of the WGCs because it's their tour. The Players has a 25-year head start on the WGCs. And for some international players, the WGCs helped them get PGA Tour cards.
Jim Furyk said The Players was "always a giant event." He described it as the "fifth-biggest event in golf."
So maybe the Hall of Fame criteria was right.
The Players might be every bit as difficult to win as the majors. The final hour rarely lacks for suspense or pressure. The tournament does not lack in prestige. It gets better every year. It gets bigger every year. If it hasn't earned the right to be rated alongside the majors, it is getting closer.
In everything but name.
"If it was a major," Justin Leonard said, "then it would be a major."
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