Players simply a major challenge

By Times Staff
Published March 28, 2006

PONTE VEDRA BEACH - When Arnold Palmer won the Masters in 1960 and later declared that he was going to try to achieve a modern Grand Slam, the tournament was only in its 24th year yet already had risen to status among the elite tournaments in the world.

Almost by his anointing it so, the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship became the four majors we know today.

The Players Championship has now been played 33 times, including 25 at the renowned Stadium course at the TPC-Sawgrass, where Stephen Ames won on Sunday. It has an impressive list of winners and is universally regarded as the best tournament that is not a major.

So why can't it be a major?

Well, it just can't.

As much as the PGA Tour and commissioner Tim Finchem believe it has achieved such status, as much as it is arguably as good a tournament as the four existing majors, as much as its move to May next year will enhance the tournament, you can't just make it a major.

Why not? Jeff Sluman 's answer probably sums it up best. "When you go to Denny's and order a Grand Slam breakfast, they don't bring you five things," he said. "They bring you four."

Let's face it, we won't see the tour replace one of the majors with the Players Championship. The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship are not going away, and none has lost any prestige. So to make the Players a major, you'd have to have five, and that would be like adding another face to Mount Rushmore.

What would you do about the record books? Would you add Jack Nicklaus ' three Players victories before the tournament moved to the TPC-Sawgrass and give him 21 majors? Would Greg Norman , who won the Players in 1994, retroactively have a major on U.S. soil? Would Calvin Peete , who won the Players in 1985, be considered the first man of color to win a major, instead of Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters?

And what about Gene Sarazen , Ben Hogan and Gary Player ? Would they no longer have a career Grand Slam ?

You could simply start counting the Players as a major, say, next year. But no other major championship - except on the LPGA Tour - has been handled that way.

No, the best thing to do is leave it alone. The Players Championship is a great tournament that will only be better next year for moving away from the Masters and into May. And being the best of the rest is not such a bad thing.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: After saying Sunday that he might not play in the Masters, Ames changed his mind Monday and said he would be going to Augusta National next week. Ames had a family vacation planned with his wife, who last year was diagnosed with lung cancer, and their two children before his Players victory, which gets him a three-year exemption.

Rory Sabbatini and Arron Oberholser received invitations Monday, having moved into the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list through the Players. Both have won this year.

The Masters also announced it was giving a special exemption to Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee , 36, who has finished among the top three on the Asian Tour money list for five straight years. He won the Malaysian Open this year.

NO DEJA VU: Frenchman Jean Van de Velde said his final-hole double-bogey that nearly cost him the Madeira Island Open title on the European Tour did not remind him of his famous triple-bogey blowup on the final hole of the 1999 British Open.

"What happened many years ago (at Carnoustie) was freak circumstances," Van de Velde told reporters after the second victory of his career.

"That kind of thing was not going to happen twice."

Van de Velde had a three-shot lead heading to the final hole of the '99 Open, but played a daring second shot that hit the bleachers. Still with a chance to play safe, Van de Velde tried to hit the shot out of thick rough and went into a creek. After a drop, he knocked his fifth shot into a bunker, then got up and down for a triple-bogey 7 that put him in a playoff that he lost to Paul Lawrie .