Sam: 'The Players is wide open'

Published On: May 04 2014 11:09:48 PM EDT   Updated On: May 05 2014 08:32:34 AM EDT

A worker looks for new places to put the next cup on the famous island green at the 17th hole. Tents and chalets behind the green on the 16th fairway are set up for fans.


As the last qualifier for The Players, J.B. Holmes has quite a story.  He was a well-known quantity on the PGA Tour -- a popular player with galleries and a two-time winner in Phoenix, one of the most raucous stops on the circuit.

Holmes embodied the ‘grip it and rip it” bomber style popular on Tour.   Then all of the sudden he was diagnosed with a rare brain disease, recovered from that, was allergic to the resin that kept things in his head in place, and recovered from that.  He hurt his elbow hitting balls trying to get back on Tour, but didn’t have surgery on that until he suffered a broken ankle and figured he wouldn’t be playing anyway so he finally got it fixed. 

Soon he was back on Tour playing on a medical exemption and won one of the toughest events, getting him into the Players this year and the Masters in 2015.

Because Holmes wasn’t already eligible for the Players, he pushed Ryo Ishikawa into the first alternate spot.  JU’s Russell Knox stays in the field of 144.

As well as he’s playing; it’ll still be interesting if Holmes contends this week.  The Stadium Course doesn’t favor anybody who just stands on the tee and kills it.  It’s a bit too demanding in the landing areas, and the players haven’t been able to overpower that part of the golf course.  Yet.

That’s why somebody like Luke Donald should do well here.  Not particularly long but accurate and a good putter.  When he won in 1994, Greg Norman shot 24-under, setting the tournament record. He took advantage of how long and straight he drove the ball in comparison to his peers.  Plus his putting touch that week was impeccable. Nobody seemed to enjoy that, except for Norman and the runner-up Fuzzy Zoeller.  Add Jeff Maggert to the mix and those three lapped the field.  Everybody else was down near -10 and in single digits.  It was enough of a low score though to change the golf course to make it harder and faster and more difficult.  The funny part is that the last three years, ’11, ’12 and ’13, the winning score has been the same:  13 under. 

Look at the winners over the years and there’s not one thing that binds those guys together.  Some long hitters, some short knockers have won, but that week, they all were able to manage their game perfectly.  “It’s not a golf course for scatterguns,” former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman once told me during a round at the Stadium.  I’ve always thought that the golf course identifies the player who has command through his whole bag.  He’s driving it straight, he’s accurate with his irons, he’s chipping well and rolling it well with the putter. That’s how Justin Leonard and Jodie Mudd won here.  I’m surprised Nick Faldo never won at the Stadium as meticulous as he is. 

Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Stuart Appleby and Matt Kuchar (again) are likely candidates to be near the top of the leaderboard.  Matt Every and Bill Horschel have the regional knowledge to contend.  I’d say Camillo Villegas but he’s been nowhere for so long.  Harris English has played well here as well.  And while Phil Mickelson said he played “two great rounds and two pathetic rounds” at Charlotte, he likes it here and of course is a former champion.

In other words, it’s wide open!


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