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The Players a major for many

Although the long-running debate over the status of the Players Championship is likely to continue for years, the bottom line is how the tournament is perceived on the PGA Tour.

Almost to a man, the game's leading professionals regard the event as the unofficial fifth major and victory on the Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass is a career-defining achievement.

The par-72 layout has traditionally provided a stern but fair challenge and the $8 million tournament always attracts the strongest field in golf.

End of argument, most PGA Tour members would say.

"We all look at the field each and every year and it's probably the best one," world number one Tiger Woods told reporters on Tuesday. "As everyone says, it's the fifth major, so it's certainly up there, yes."

Second-ranked Jim Furyk did not mince his words.

"It's the strongest field in golf, period," the 2003 U.S. Open champion said. "I don't care if it's a major or it isn't. I've gotten so tired of that question: 'Is this a major, is it not a major?'

"My answer was simply: 'Does it matter?' It's a good, strong field and I would say it's, bar none, by far the strongest field in golf, year-in and year-out."

Like Furyk, three-times major winner Phil Mickelson has not won the Players. And just like Furyk, he gives the tournament major endorsement.

"I don't think there's any magic in four majors," the left-hander said. "There are four tournaments that tend to stand out with history, challenge and strength of field and this is becoming one of those.

"The way the marketing for the tournament has been, the way the purse has been and the way the clubhouse and the ambience now feels around here, it has that special feel that only majors seem to have."

There is nothing sacred about the four majors being the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship.

When American Bobby Jones completed an unprecedented grand slam of the majors in 1930, the quartet comprised the U.S. Open, the British Open, the U.S. amateur and the British amateur.

"I don't know why the number of majors has to be four," 1992 U.S. Open champion Tom Kite said. "There's no reason why it can't be five.

"Some way we've got to get off this number four. If we do, we all know which tournament would become a major," he added, referring to the Players Championship which he won in 1989.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington, runner-up at Sawgrass in 2003 and 2004, agreed.

"It's not far off," the world number 11 said. "I'm sure one day we'll be sitting here saying the fifth major.

"No question it's as close to being the best tournament in the world as could be, except for the fact obviously it doesn't have the heritage of the four majors.

"It's definitely the number one field and the number one test and the most exciting. And the fact that we go back makes it a little bit like Augusta, you're going back continually."

Augusta National, venue for the Masters, is the only permanent home for any of the majors.

The Masters, the youngest of the four professional majors, was first played in 1934. The British Open, the oldest, was launched in 1860.

The Players is much younger. First held in 1974, it has been staged at the TPC at Sawgrass since 1982, enabling the fans to identify the tournament with one course just as they do at Augusta National.

In time, the Players Championship may become the fifth member of a new major quintet. Whether or not that happens, whoever wins the 26th edition on Sunday will certainly feel on top of the world, in a major way.


May 9, 2007

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