Better than most?

by Chuah Choo Chiang / Images: Getty Images

K.J. Choi won The Players

Championship 2011 in a

playoff over David Toms

to win the $1.71 million

winner's share of the purse

The Players Championship is the gold standard on the PGA TOUR, one that ranks “Better than Most” and continues to spark debates as to whether it should be inducted as one of men’s golf Majors.

Staged at an iconic venue designed by the legendary Pete Dye and boasting the strongest field in the game and a mind-blowing US$15 million prize pot, the 47th

staging of The Players Championship from March 13 to 16 returns with all the shine, gloss and prestige associated with the PGA Tour’s flagship tournament.

Irish superstar Rory McIlroy will defend the prized trophy with the sole aim of becoming the first man in history to repeat as Players Champion, remarkably a feat never achieved previously by so many other greats before him.

The Players has also become a symbol of inspiration for many golf stars from across Asia, with Korea’s K.J. Choi, who famously coined the phrase “To be the best, you’ve got to play with the best”, and Kim Si-Woo emerging victorious in 2011 and 2017, respectively.

Choi, arguably the most successful Asian golfer with eight PGA Tour victories under his belt, said: “The Players victory was one of the most significant and dramatic moments for me. A lot of Korean fans cried and cheered that day and I remember it perfectly.”

 

Nicknamed “The Tank” for his single-minded purpose in the game, Choi’s vast success in America continues to pave the way for other aspiring Koreans and Asians such as Kim to dream big. Three years ago, the 24 year-old stunned an elite field at The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass following a three-shot

win: “I feel a sense of pride any time I’m at Sawgrass. It’s a very special place for me,” said Kim.

Another strong assembly of Asian stars will join the world’s best this month including President Cup International Team members Sungjae Im, Byeong Hun An, both from Korea, Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan and Japanese ace Hideki Matsuyama who achieved two top-10s at The Players in 2017 and 2019 and

is strongly tipped as a potential Champion again this year.

Kim Si-Woo shot a final

round 69 to win the 2017

Players, three strokes

ahead of runners-up Louis

Oosthuizen and Ian Poulter

Tiger Woods nails a 60-foot

birdie putt at the 2001 Players

McIlroy’s views on the tournament’s stature is certainly noteworthy. “It means a lot because it is our tournament and I think your peers recognise you for that achievement. It’s an event that everyone wants to win. I’m very proud and honoured to call myself a Players Champion,” said the 30 year-old, whose victory

last year propelled him to a second FedExCup title.

Australia’s Jason Day, a former World No. 1 and 2016 Players Champion, believes that the event should take its rightful place alongside the Masters Tournament, the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. “I want it to have Major status; it would be good. When you come to an event like this and you’re playing in a tournament on a large scale, it feels like a Major.”

 

Retired NBC golf commentator Johnny Miller provides a slightly different twist. “There should only be maybe five championships in golf, The Players Championship, and then the Majors … and the rest of them can be tournaments.”

Even for the newcomers in the game, the stature of The Players is not lost on them. Thai rising star Jazz Janewattananond, who is poised to make his debut, chimes in: “Everyone says it’s the fifth Major; it’s a big event. I have heard

the golf course is really tough and I’m also excited to play that

17th hole.”

Jazz should be wary for what he wishes for as the iconic par-3 17th hole has delivered high drama and defining moments since The Players was first staged there in 1982. Countryman Kiradech Aphibarnrat suffered at the infamous hole, finding water twice en route to a quadruple bogey during the final day in 2018.

It was also on this very green that another TV pundit, Gary Koch, immortalised a moment of magic that would become “better than most” during the 2001 Players. Tiger Woods, who was then chasing leader Jerry Kelly, was faced with a monster 60-foot birdie putt in the third round which he needed to negotiate a triple break. As the ball left Woods’ putter and tracked towards the hole, Koch began his play-by-play commentary - “Johnny (Miller, his co-commentator) that is … better than most …”

As the ball reached a slope about 20 feet from the hole, it veered hard right and the massive crowds around the stadiumlike atmosphere began to buzz. Koch goes on to say “ ... better than most ... “ again and when the ball dramatically disappears into the cup, he lets out a third and final “… better than most!” shout-out as Woods broke into an unbridled uppercut celebration. The golf legend would go on to win his first Players title by one shot.

Whether The Players is “better than most” or should enjoy Major status, the views shared by Justin Thomas, the 2017 FedExCup champion, probably make the most sense. “I don’t care what it is, if I win it I’ll be pleased,” he said. “I mean it has all the characteristics, if you will, but to me The Players is The Players. Everybody knows it’s a huge event, everybody knows it’s a Major. Can you go wrong calling it one or not calling it one? There’s every person in this field who would be very, very content with holding the trophy at the end of the week.”

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