By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- THE PLAYERS is the single best tournament on the PGA TOUR schedule.
Take a deep breath and digest that sentence.
That's right. I think it's a better event than the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open or PGA.
I'll give you three reasons.
The Field: There is no debating THE PLAYERS offers the best field in golf. All four of the major championships include players who have no chance of winning. I know this might sound cruel, but an amateur is not going to win The Masters, the U. S. Open or the British Open. Their inclusion makes those events special, but it also weakens the field.
The same can be said of club pros that qualify for the PGA Championship. It's great to have them there and it's a memorable week for the accomplished club professional, but that player has little chance of winning.
The fields at the majors have charm and nostalgia but do not have the depth THE PLAYERS provides.
If you want to argue a golfer who is buried deep in the FedExCup standings also has no chance of winning THE PLAYERS, well try telling that to Derek Ernst or Russell Henley.
Any PGA TOUR player is talented enough to win any tournament and that includes THE PLAYERS.
The Course: TPC Sawgrass is one of the better venues in the world. Look at the list of winners. It accommodates the long hitter and the short. In 2008, Sergio Garcia won a playoff against Paul Goydos. That covers 180 degrees of long and short on the PGA TOUR. The course requires players to hit a draw off the tee, followed by a cut into the green and the next hole will be the exact opposite. Hazards are equally dispersed both left and right. The course does favor shotmakers, but that is what a championship venue is supposed to accomplish.
And who doesn't look forward to seeing the 17th hole every year? That might be the course's signature but the track is filled with memorable holes and provides the best three-hole finish in championship golf.
If you want to argue the greens are severe, I'll agree and applaud at the same time. Every memorable course has its quirks. There's a bunker in the middle of the sixth green at Riviera and have you checked the putting surfaces at Augusta National? The greens at TPC Sawgrass are unique and are part of what makes the course so special.
The History: Year after year we return to Ponte Vedra Beach and the memories build. The Open Rota makes us wait seven years to visit St. Andrews and the U.S. Open goes to Pebble Beach once every decade. The yearly visit to TPC Sawgrass makes the event more memorable as fans recall shots from the past and players apply experience to their approaches.
It all leads to a higher level of competition.
In the interest of total disclosure, I should tell you I am a contract employee of the PGA TOUR. I have never been given an organization manual, but I imagine Tim Finchem won't have a problem with any of my reasoning.
Taking the company line doesn't always make you a sycophant; sometimes it just makes you right.
THE PLAYERS is the best tournament of the PGA TOUR season. Let's enjoy the week.
Conditions: That was money well spent. Back in 2007, the course received an overhaul with most of the changes coming underground in the form of drainage. TPC Sawgrass received enough rain this weekend to cover the land bridge leading to the 17th green, and yet it will play at championship level. The drainage system handled the overflow wonderfully. I don't think the Florida humidity will ever allow the course to play extremely firm and fast but TPC Sawgrass will be at championship level this week despite the rain.
Suggestion: Nobody asked and nobody will care, but I think the 18th would be a better hole if you eliminated the rough from the right side of the fairway. It would allow players to attempt a risky recovery shot. Leave the tree in the right rough landing area that forces a player to start a shot out over the water and cut it back onto the green. From a good lie, a player would be tempted to hit that shot. It would provide more drama than a 50-yard chip-out from the rough.
Stats: I think “fairways in regulation” has become a devalued stat on the PGA TOUR but it bears careful watching this week. The bermuda rough is thick enough to alter approaches and the green complexes have so much movement that chipping will eventually lead to bogeys. TPC Sawgrass has always been a second-shot course, but that second shot needs to come from the fairway in order to control spin and trajectory.
Viewing: The amphitheater by 16 and 17 makes for wonderful viewing and you can spend a whole day there and never be bored but there are other great vistas. Stand next to the TV tower behind the 11th green and watch approaches turn into bogeys, birdies and eagles. A ribbon of water snakes it way around the green and cuts across the fairway. The view is worth a postcard.
Underrated: If you make the trip out to 13th green you get to see the heart of the course and you'll seem miles away from the circus at the 17th. A mound in the middle of the green might be severe but it also makes for wonderfully frustrating approaches and putts. Follow the group down the 14th and you will experience the toughest hole on the course. At 467 yards, it has water on the left and bunkers on the right. A par there beats the field every day.
Winner, winner: TPC Sawgrass is a non-discriminating golf course. Long and short hitters have won here but you must be a good iron player. Place the ball in the fairway, pound the greens and you will eventually make enough birdies. I'm liking Lee Westwood this week. He is trending in the right direction with T10-T4-T3 finishes in his last three events. Westwood has improved his chipping to the point where it is no longer a weakness. He's an impressive eighth in scrambling. Lee Westwood wins THE PLAYERS.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.