|The Players Championship has an incredible field, but is it still considered the fifth major? (Getty Images)|
These days, picking a golf tournament that is as touted and respected as one of the four major championships is nearly impossible. Golf has become a seriously global game, with big events in China, Australia, England and the United States.
It is nearly impossible to keep up week to week with the world ranking leaders, as some might be gracing the PGA Tour with their presence while others are playing in Thailand or Dubai. So with all that said, is the Players Championship still golf's unofficial fifth major?
You could make arguments for both.
The "sure it is" argument actually benefits from all the marketing the PGA Tour does for this week's event at TPC Sawgrass. Last week at Quail Hollow, a tournament that featured Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to name a few, the Golf Channel and NBC did all they could to flash the Players on our screen, reminding us constantly that the best stadium in golf (besides 16 in Scottsdale?) is THIS week, even capitalizing PLAYERS to add emphasis on how important the event really is.
That might seem like a silly marketing campaign, but it actually does help to boast the event in golf fan's eyes.
Another pro argument rests simply with the field. Every year it seems nearly all of the best golfers show up, mostly for the purse, but also for the esteem of winning a high-profile PGA Tour event like the Players. Lets face it, while the PGA Tour has a ton of important non-majors each year, the luster of winning one that doesn't come with a five-year exemption has worn off. Ask a European Tour player if he'd rather win, say, the Memorial or the HSBC Champions in China and you'd most likely get as many answers for the latter as the former.
One of the interesting things about the Players, however, is how few repeat winners it produces. Since the move to the Stadium Course in 1982, this event has seen just four repeat winners, and all those came between 1983 and 2003. Tiger has won this event just once. So has Mickelson. David Duval was able to claim this title during his incredible run in 1999, and it was moments like Duval's win that actually brought to the fans that "major feel" people tend to chat about, but he was never able to replicate the win on these grounds.
But are those arguments good enough to make this the fifth biggest golf tournament in the world? Are players that excited for the Players?
That is where the argument gets dicey.
The Masters is won by navigating those huge, undulated greens. The U.S. Open is won by hitting fairways and greens, and being patient for 72 holes. The British is normally won by a feel player having "one of those weeks" or a guy that overpowers the golf course, and the PGA Championship is normally reserved for the guy not scared to fire at pins and make the necessary birdies that these milder conditions call for.
But the Players is different. There is no real recipe to Sawgrass. We've had short knockers triumph (Fred Funk and Tim Clark in '05 and '10), long knockers dominate the golf course (Tiger and Phil in '01 and '08) and average hitters sneak away with the title. We've had old guys and young guys win here, and absolute no-names sneak away a title or two (remember Craig Perks?!).
It's a golf tournament that has had "Be right today!" from Hal Sutton on the final hole and Adam Scott dump his second shot in the lake only to get up and down for the win.
It is easily the hardest golf tournament of the year to predict, with the list of winners the last 10 years being as random as they come (the last three winners of the Players have combined for zero PGA Tour wins).
The other argument is the recent trend of top names skipping out. This week alone, Masters champion Bubba Watson decided he'd rather stay home with his family, even though he's currently living in Florida, than go to the Players, something that would never happen if this was really a major-caliber golf tournament.
Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood skipped out on the Players a year ago, and even though both are in the field this year, who knows if in 2013 they have something conflicting in their schedule.
The bottom line is the Players is a big event, just like 8-10 other tournaments are in the professional golfing schedule these days. Pros get excited about this event because at the end of the day, it's about beating the best golfers in the world, and nearly all of them are at Sawgrass this week.
It's hard to find a fifth major anymore with all the other events golf has produced, but for pros, that is way more of a benefit than a burden.
The one thing I know about the Players? There are few golf courses, and tournaments, that would produce the amount of butterflies that would build in your stomach if you had to win a golf tournament on Nos. 17 and 18. There is no way closing that stretch wouldn't feel like a major.