PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. Up for a quick trivia session?
What do Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Ian Poulter, Jordan Spieth, Graeme McDowell and Tiger Woods have in common?
Let me ask it another way:
What do Matt Every, Russell Henley, Chesson Hadley, Scott Stallings and Matt Jones have that no one in the first group has?
The answer is a PGA Tour victory this season.
Woods has an excuse. He’s just now starting to hit bump and run shots since back surgery six weeks ago and he’s evidently getting stir crazy since he posted an update on his website this week that was long enough to qualify as a novella.
The other guys, the game’s stars, haven’t gotten it done. They’ve been there on Sunday. Rory was there at Honda. Scott was there at Bay Hill. Mickelson was there at the Wells Fargo Championship last week.
And, of course, someone else won.
That’s why this PGA Tour season, which began way back last October, has been as flat as west Texas.
It’s had its moments, most notably Bubba Watson winning the Masters again, but it’s just sort of floated along otherwise.
J.B. Holmes winning at Quail Hollow last week was a good story as was Matt Kuchar holing a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to win the RBC Heritage after a month of near misses. Patrick Reed pronounced himself one of the five best players in the game and, since then, has missed two cuts in four starts, failed to to finish inside the top 45 in the other two events and broken par three times in 12 rounds.
Sizzle has been missing.
Maybe it returns at The Players Championship, which begins Thursday at the TPC Stadium course, which can be to tournament golf what Talladega is to NASCAR.
Maybe, like so many things, it goes back to Tiger. Or, more accurately, no Tiger.
“It’s obvious when he’s not around,” Adam Scott said.
Scott, it should be noted, can supplant Woods as the No. 1 player in the world if he finishes 16th or better this week. In a quirk that is too complicated to explain, Scott would ascend to No. 1 if he didn’t play this week. Strange but true.
Like cicadas and white pants, the Tour goes in cycles. Right now, it’s in a different player every week mode. Even when Jimmy Walker won three times in four months, it came during football season, which even the PGA Tour acknowledges dominates the sports landscape like the summer sun in Scottsdale.
The Players Championship can go a long way defining this season and not just because television will keep replaying shots that splashdown at the famous par-3 17th hole. It’s one of the handful of events that brings all the best players together, it has a history that’s familiar to golf fans and it’s a cool event on a fun course.
When the Players Championship moved to May in 2007, it was, in part, to escape the shadow of the NCAA tournament and provide better agronomic conditions for the golfers. This year, it’s being dwarfed by the NFL draft (the local Jacksonville Jaguars have the third pick and Johnny Manziel is in play) and a handful of greens have more dirt than grass.
Commissioner Tim Finchem said the greens will be completely redone after next year’s event, some trees will be removed and raised the possibility – a remote one – that the Tour might reconsider the May date if weather-related grass problems persist.
None of that will matter, though, when Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson head out at 8:39 a.m. Thursday and Fowler, Scott and Steve Stricker tee it up after lunch.
The PGA Tour, like every other major sport, is star driven. Dynasties and dominant players are good things, whether it’s the Miami Heat, Jimmie Johnson or Peyton Manning. Until Woods returns – he says he’s hopeful that will be sometime this summer but that may be wishful thinking – the PGA Tour keeps rolling along.
It’s been a relatively quiet ride so far.