by Jeff Skinner
Forget all the debate about The Players Championship being the fifth major. Disregard the debate about it being a bigger tournament then The World Golf Championships. Here are the pertinent facts: There are four and only four majors. The WGC events are good tournaments. The Players Championship is a great tournament with a great field on a great course, period. We don’t need to label it anything other than The Players Championship.
However, this year’s Players Championship is a bit different. This could be the most important week of the season for the PGA Tour. This Players Championship could be the most important in its history. Commissioner Tim Finchem relishes his chance to showcase his PGA Tour boys at his own TPC Sawgrass but he could be facing a very tough Monday if things don’t work out over these next four days.
If Phil Mickelson is playing some of the best golf of his career then Tiger Woods is playing the absolute worst golf of his. Phil could dethrone Tiger from his world number one ranking with a win and a sixth place or worse finish by Tiger. No one is playing better than Phil right now. Tiger is playing like a man that has been through the wringer. If they both continue to stay to their current form the tour could have a new look come Sunday night.
Woods has held the top spot in The World Rankings for an unimaginable 258 weeks. Phil has never been able to get past the second slot. Only David Duval and Vijay Singh have taken the number one slot from Woods.
It’s difficult to decide which would be the more significant event: Phil taking over the top spot or Tiger losing it. Phil is generally accepted as the best golfer in the world right now and earning the top spot would be proof of that. Tiger is facing a critical phase in his career. If Woods does not play well at The Players it could be a sign of major troubles. Woods missed cut last week and his inconsistent play have ignited speculation that the pressures of his personal situation have affected his golf game. It’s not hard to imagine that with all Woods has been through that he could start to show some negative effects.
If Tiger continues his downward spiral on the course the PGA Tour would be losing its number one attraction. Phil is well loved but Tiger drives the dollars for the tour, even a damaged Tiger. If Phil wins his second Players Championship he’ll confirm his status and the best golfer in the world. If Tiger plays well at The Players it will be a signal that his comeback is a work in progress. If he finds his swing and manages to win it would once again prove that he is, well, that he is Tiger Woods. If Tiger plays poorly or misses his second consecutive cut, the panic button will be pushed and Tiger will be in a slump the likes of which he has never seen. Come Monday Finchem may wake up to see a new PGA Tour.