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A look at this week's PGA Tour Players Championship

The Players Championship is called the unofficial fifth major on the PGA Tour schedule. It is held in Ponte Vedra Beach at TPC Sawgrass, one of the most fan-friendly courses on tour, between the Masters and the U.S. Open. And it has one of the most recognized holes in golf, the par-3 17th, which has an island green. But here's really why pros circle the Players Championship on their schedule: It has a $9.5 million purse, with $1.7 million going to the winner. Here is a breakdown of this year's tournament, which begins today and runs through Sunday.

Top five story lines

1. This could be a big week for Phil: As successful as he has been, Phil Mickelson, left, never has been ranked No. 1 in the world. He could claim that distinction Sunday if he wins and Tiger Woods finishes out of the top five. (Woods missed the cut last week at the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, N.C., and Mickelson finished second.) Mickelson won this event in 2007. Woods has been the No. 1 player in the world ranking for 258 straight weeks.

2. Can Rory McIlroy stay hot? He made the cut on the number last week at Quail Hollow and went 66-62 on the weekend to destroy the field to win. McIlroy, who turned all of 21 on Tuesday, is trying to become the fourth player to win the Players Championship the week after winning on the PGA Tour, following Ray Floyd, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods.

3. How will Tiger do? He missed the cut last week for the first time since the British Open last year. Last year, Woods answered his British Open performance with two straight wins and two second-place finishes.

4. Father and son: Jay Haas and his son, Bill, have played together in PGA tournaments before. But this is the first time in the 37 years of this tournament that a father and son are in the field. For Jay, 56, this is his record-setting 29th start at the Players Championship. Bill, 28, won the Bob Hope Classic this year for his first PGA Tour win.

5. Can Henrik Stenson (right) repeat as champion? History says no. Since the tournament moved to Sawgrass in 1988, it has not had a back-to-back winner. Davis Love is the only two-time winner since 1988.

Memorable moments

1. 2000: Hal Sutton was 41 years old and 17 years removed from his first Players Championship. In the final round, he was paired with Tiger Woods. Sutton was one shot up on the 18th hole when he nailed a 6-iron from 179 yards to 8 feet. That wrapped up the win.

2. 1999: Not only did David Duval win, he did it an hour after his father, Bob, won a Champions Tour event. Duval, who is from Jacksonville, won the tournament for the only time. "I'm just glad I won an hour before he did," Bob said, "because if I found out he won and I had a two-shot lead with three to play, I might've choked my brains out.''

3. 1994: Greg Norman shot a tournament-record 24 under to lap the field. Playing partner Fuzzy Zoeller famously waved a white towel of surrender when Norman birdied yet again on the back nine.

4. 2005: Fred Funk, a Jacksonville resident, won at age 48. He birdied the 16th hole and made clutch par putts on 17 and 18 to preserve the lead. He won by one shot over Tom Leh­man, Scott Verplank and Luke Donald, and became the oldest winner in tournament history. "It's the biggest win by far that I've ever had,'' Funk said.

5. 2002: Craig Perks, a grinder from New Zealand who had never won before the Players Championship, eagled the 16th hole with a chip-in, birdied the 17th and chipped in from the fringe on the 18th for par to win by two shots over Stephen Ames. "Those are the three greatest hole-outs I've ever seen,'' NBC commentator Johnny Miller said. Perks has not won a tournament since.

17th hole

The good: In 2001, Tiger Woods hit his tee shot on the front fringe and was left with a 50-footer downhill and over a ridge. He drained the putt and went on to win his only Players Championship to date.

The bad: Sean O'Hair was two shots back with two to play during the 2007 tournament. He hit a 9-iron from 135 yards, and it sailed over the green before making a splashdown. His hopes of a championship were done.

The ugly: In 2005, Bob Tway hit his first four tee shots into the water. His fifth attempt landed safely but then he three-putted for 12. He went from 7 under to 2 over and 13 shots behind the leader.

The strange: During the 1998 tournament, Steve Lowery's tee shot hit the green. As he walked off the tee box, a seagull swooped down to pick up the ball. After a few tries, the gull got the ball in its bill and began flying away. It lost control and dropped the ball over the water. The incident counted as a course hazard, and Lowery had to re-tee. He bogeyed the hole.

The quote: "The first time I won here (2007) was the first year that I stopped trying to make a 2 on that hole and just accepted 3 as being a good score, even though I've got a wedge in my hand." — Phil Mickelson

Bare conditions

Because of the colder-than-normal winter in Florida, the condition of the Players Stadium course is not as good as it has been. The fairways and greens are running well, though they have splotches of green. The island green at No. 17 has a patch of sod where the grass did not come in. That means the back-left hole location might not be used.

"A couple more chances for a hole-in-one, I guess," Jim Furyk said.

He was referring to the front of the green, where players can land the ball in a ridge and allow it to funnel back to the cup. The back-left location is considered the toughest, because players must make sure they hit beyond the ridge without going too far into the water.

The other area of concern is chipping from around the greens, where the lie can be bare. "It reminded me a lot of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2005 when there was a very bare area around the green and a lot of sand, and you weren't able to get a wedge underneath it," Phil Mickelson said. "I found myself putting a lot from off the green, which I expect to do here just because you just can't get a wedge underneath the ball."

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

FAST FACTS

Players Championship

When/where: Today - Sunday, TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach

Purse: $9.5 million (winner's share $1.7 million)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson, a four-stroke victory over Ian Poulter

TV: Today — 1-7 p.m., Golf Channel; Friday — 1-7 p.m., Golf Channel; Saturday — 2-7 p.m., Ch. 8; Sunday — 2-7 p.m., Ch. 8

17th hole: Live streaming of the 17th hole is 9 a.m.-7 p.m. at pgatour.com.

Weather today: 87 degrees, 20 percent chance of rain

A look at this week's PGA Tour Players Championship 05/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 1:46am]
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