Sports Columns

May 15, 2013

Loran Smith: Musings from the final round at TPC

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The setting for the conclusion of The Players Championship was very familiar. Pretty girls overrunning the golf course, which was resplendent in its classy layout of vibrant green grass, sand that sparkled in the sunlight and enough water trouble to cause the bravest of shotmakers to fret.

It was another remarkable day for this part of the Atlantic coast of North Florida, which has grown in every direction except east since Deane Beman, the visionary commissioner, bought 415 acres for  a dollar and set about making Ponte Vedra the home of the professional tour.

From the beginning — his first year as commissioner was 1974 — he wanted to make this event the showcase tournament on the PGA Tour. Beman had a goal of the Tournament Players Championship paying the most prize money and making the field the best in golf.

He was able to do that, but not without raising some eyebrows, notably from several of the game’s leading players at the time — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. They essentially questioned the tour being in the real estate business.

Beman, however, had the backing of the rank-and-file players who supported him, which led to what we just witnessed this past weekend at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass — about the best you could find in tournament competition.

Tiger Woods, who has been hanging around million-dollar paydays for years, headed back to his home in Jupiter late Sunday $1.7 million richer. He should have called Beman on the short flight to say thanks.

Tiger has always been about money, but that was not his first priority. Winning brings home the big paychecks, and before his career is finished he obviously will own the record for winning the most tournaments in history. He now needs five victories to surpass Sam Snead, who won 82 times in his storied career.

Snead won his last event at age 46, which means that Tiger has nine years, based on birthdays, to overtake him. But the guess is that if he continues to play as he is currently, he will go sprinting past Snead by this time next year if not sooner.

The only question for Tiger now is whether he can regain his magic and dominance in the majors.  The best competition — players like Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, and Adam Scott — faded without a whimper at The Players Championship last week. Who will challenge Tiger at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in June, Muirfield at the British Open in July and the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in August?

However, there were a couple of times during the final round of The Players Championship when you saw Tiger making shots that seemed unthinkable for him in years past. Hitting it into the water at No. 14 on Sunday led to a double bogey, which opened the door for the challengers to seize the moment, but Kevin Streelman, Jeff Maggert, David Lingmerth, Martin Laird and Sergio Garcia folded instead of charging.   

Does the way The Players Championship played out this past weekend suggest that Tiger is vulnerable? When he missed from 11 feet at the fifth hole and eight feet from the sixth, it brought to mind that while he is a young golfer at 37, he is displaying that those 20-footers that used to be gimmes are fewer and fewer. But if his putting stroke holds up he is likely to win everything in sight.

The Players Championship is about birdies. The opportunity to score at Ponte Vedra is considerable, especially with the short par-4 holes that exist on the Pete Dye layout. Three of the holes are shorter than 400 yards in length and the longest measures only 481.

The story is that Dye, the designer, wants to return and lengthen the par-4 holes.  A par-4 hole on tour today, Dye has said, should be 520 yards.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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