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The Players Championship: A Major Package

miller-postWhen most PGA Tour players talk about The Players Championship’s Stadium Course, it is like the smoke monster from LOST is practically in the room with them.

Few players light up when they are asked to share their experiences with the Stadium Course. In fact, I think most would prefer to have teeth pulled.

Rory McIlroy, who won his first PGA title last week at Quail Hollow, spoke on Wednesday about his recent improved play: “You know, I’ve said this before, just going out and playing like you’re a kid again. Go, hit it, find it. Hit it, find it again. Hole the putt, go to the next tee. Just really look forward to hitting that next shot.”

That might not be the best strategy for The Players. At the Stadium Course, one might hit it, but finding the ball [especially at No. 17] is usually easier said than done. To compete at The Players for all 72 holes, a golfer needs a straight drive, a consistent style of play and the ability to take advantage of putts.

It’s why the Ponte Vedra Beach course is so well-respected. The 7,215-yard green sea of frustration has even wreaked havoc on the world’s No. 1 player, Tiger Woods. Out of all PGA tournaments, his highest scoring average is at The Players – 71.5. In 11 tournaments at the Stadium Course as a professional, Woods has one victory. Having earned golfers’ respect over the years, The Players has slowly evolved into the game’s fifth major.

“But, I find that this tournament has built over the years a real credibility in the sense that the top players are coming to the top now here. The golf course is the same – we use the same course every year just like Augusta. So you see history being made and shots being played that you can look back on over the years,” said Phil Mickelson, a four-time major champion and the 2007 Players winner.

Englishman Ian Poulter, who finished runner-up to Henrik Stenson at The Players last year, commented on the well-respected stadium course, “I like the golf course. It’s a tough golf course. It’s always set up that way, and it’s meant to be that way. This is supposed to be the fifth major, and I like the way the golf course sets up. It’s difficult. There’s tough par-4s, there’s challenging par-3s, and there’s some par-5s which are all reachable.”

Apart from missing the cut in 2005, Poulter holds a 72.05 scoring average and has made it into weekend play the past four years. The 34-year-old Poulter, who actually learned the course on PlayStation, rates The Players as one of the toughest courses in the world. “I would rate it in the top five [of courses he plays week in and week out] for sure.”

For others like Jay Haas, he might have cashed more checks from The Players had he played the course in video games. Having played 23 years here, Haas, a Champions Tour regular, has missed the cut nine times. Reflecting on the Stadium Course, Haas admitted, “It’s hard to fathom when I break down the golf course, I don’t think it’s that easy at all. Maybe my mindset is that it’s a tough golf course and that’s how I play it, I’d kind of respect it a little bit and don’t try to put the pedal down too much.”

But, the golf course itself cannot be talked about without including the fans. The spectators have made The Players one of the most recognizable golf tournaments in the world. Woods stated, “It’s always been fun to play here. The excitement, especially as you make your way through the golf course and you come up on the last few finishing holes, you can hear a lot of the roars as you’re playing.”

The Players Championship is a tournament loaded with the best 144-man field in golf played on a top-notch, difficult course. Add in the fanfare and The Players is the total package.

Richard Miller is a national broadcaster for Jacksonville Jaguars’ home games on Sporting News Radio.

Additionally, he can be heard on ABC 1320 WBOB in Jacksonville and 103.7 FM at the Jacksonville Beaches at 5:45 p.m. on Wednesdays with The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show. Richard also hosts Inside the Game every Saturday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on WBOB.

Currently, Richard is writing David Lamm’s biography entitled Lamm at Large: The David Lamm Story, which will be available in 2010.

Follow Richard’s daily blog on The Jacksonville Observer.

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