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For those of you with the modern comforts of High Definition television, there might have been a time or two during the broadcast of the Players Championship when you thought the color needed some adjusting. The greens at the TPC Sawgrass were more brown than their name imply. The purpose wasn’t intentional rather quite the opposite. The water spouts were maintained on a tight control in order to make the conditions as difficult as possible. Now the idea of playing rock hard greens where its difficult to make the ball stop isn’t my idea of fun. In fact if those conditions were the norm versus the aberration, I might be inclined to try my hand at something else for fun, like sticking pins under my fingernails. Golf is difficult enough under docile conditions: Trying to get a ball into a hole in the least number of shots. But you won’t find the big boys crying in their Wheaties over the robust conditions that were present last week at the TPC Sawgrass.
“This golf course should be played firm and fast, baked out,” said Jim Furyk. “It actually is a lot more fun this week, but it's also more challenging.”
The change in dates from its traditional March time slot to May has been met with wide approval of the individuals within the field. “May by far, that's not even a contest. The golf course was not meant to be played on over seed, it was not meant to be played slow,” said Furyk. “The weather is better. I remember some days in March were pretty miserable. March is -- on over seed, you have to water it down too much. The golf course plays too slow. This golf course should play fast and running, and good championships should play fast and running. May sets up a better date in between the Masters and U.S. Open. It's just a much better championship. That's not even close.”
Tiger Woods also liked the firm and fast conditions but he’s a bit bias on the subject. “I didn't like playing here when we caught mud balls all the time. It's not a golf course where you want to have mud balls. It was nice to play it this way,” he said. “I love a golf course firm and fast, the faster the better. I think it brings back creativity, hitting shots, and especially when the greens get hard and fast, to be able to have to land a ball in a certain spot and see it roll out, expect it to bounce and I think that's how golf courses should be played. You can't always have that because of the weather. But if you can, I think it's great to have it.” The putting surfaces require more attention to detail than usual not only due to the speed but also the direction of the grain.
“They're certainly way different than what we played before,” said Woods. “This time of year they're all Bermuda and there's no over seeding anymore. They're certainly much faster down grain than they used to be. You've just got to be careful on some of the down grain putts that it doesn't run off on you, especially when you get putts that come up over a rise and fall away from you, you've got to the be careful.”
Woods called the course tricky when asked to sum it up in one word, while Padraig Harrington called it exciting. “There's quite a lot of short, tricky par-4s out there,” the Irishman explained. “And there's a lot of intimidating shots, a lot of water. So it's a golf course that's exciting at all times. Plenty of birdies can be made. The likes of 16, you can make an eagle, you can make a double bogey on it. So it's that sort of golf course.”
Phil Mickelson considers it interesting. “It's different in that it's not naturally blended into the land; it's very artificial. It's made up, bulldozed, dirt everywhere, but yet shot value has been created that is second to none,” he said.
Its been said that timing is everything in life. While that applies in many instances to individual opportunities, it extends the application to the change of dates for the Players Championship as several of the key combatants believe the course itself is the benefactor of the switch. “I don't like a winning score being constructed before the tournament starts,” said Geoff Ogilvy. “I like a golf course that's set up to find the guy who's played the best this week, and sometimes that might be over par,” he continued, “Par is just arbitrary. It could be anything, you could set it at anything. The setup that rewards good shots and allows the players playing really well to separate themselves from the players that aren't. I just think you set up a golf course to allow the guy who has the most game that week to separate himself.”
While Tiger and Company often take top billing week in and week out, the course itself is the X factor. In the case of Players Championship, the move to May seems to be what brings out the best both in the course but in turn the field.