TPC event majors in participation Presence of top 50 players brings history to tourney


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- It looks like a major, but The Players Championship has always been treated as a lesser light in the golf galaxy.

The tournament is in only its 24th year, but it's a lot closer in feel to the Masters or U.S. Open than it is to the Fats Domino Desert Classic. It will never be granted Grand Slam status, but now the tournament has a place in history, as this week it becomes the first event ever to have the world's top 50 players participating.

"I think, by far, this is the strongest tournament we play in all year," Greg Norman said. "From a stature point of view, you've got your four majors. Leave them where they are. Then you've got the best of the next. And I would say the TPC is, by far, ahead of the best of the next because of the strength of the field."

From Jack Nicklaus' win in the inaugural tournament in 1974 to Fred Couples' runaway last year, the Players has quickly built a solid legacy. The past five winners at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass, outside Jacksonville, have been Davis Love III, Nick Price, Norman, Lee Janzen and Couples.

Norman's win wasn't even the most significant event at Sawgrass in 1994. It was the site of the U.S. Amateur that year, and Tiger Woods became the youngest holder of that title with a stirring win over Trip Kuehne.

Woods is here, along with an expanded security force and his buddy from Orlando, Mark O'Meara. After struggling for years on the East Coast, Phil Mickelson is looking for his second straight win east of the Mississippi.

Then there's Norman, who this month has gotten more attention as a homeowner than as a golfer. Norman is being grilled about two topics, his collapse at the Masters last year and President Clinton's fall at his Hobe Sound compound.

"You feel bad if anyone hurts himself at your house," Norman said of Clinton's knee surgery, "but it compounds the problem when it is the President of the United States.

"Some of the players have asked me about it, so I talk with them, but I won't go into the nitty-gritty details of it, that's for sure. For some ridiculous reason, it got a life of its own. Everything from the morning talk shows to Larry King, all those people wanted to get my idea or my view of what happened."

NOTE: The PGA announced that Nicklaus will be the U.S. captain for the next Presidents Cup, which will be played at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia in December 1998. Last year, the biennial competition between 12-man teams from the United States and the rest of the world outside of Europe went to the Americans in Lake Manassas, Va.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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