2006 Players Championship Tidbits

There are a lot of things to talk about after watching The Players Championship this past weekend.

Thrash TalkThe 2006 Players Championship is behind us, and it’s time to get focused on The Masters. However, there are a lot of things to talk about after watching the crazy action at Sawgrass this past weekend. I watched every second of the television coverage on Saturday and Sunday, and it made me realize once again why The Players Championship is my favorite golf tournament in the world.

There were some feel-good stories, a great performance by a certain par-three, and a large amount of untimely bad shots played in the process. I want to talk about some of the positives and negatives I witnessed this past weekend. Therefore, I’m going to break down some of the key topics in The Players Championship aftermath, so hold on tight.

9&8 No Longer
Tiger Woods’ domination of Stephen Ames in the Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year couldn’t be farther in the rear-view mirror right now. I figured that would be Stephen Ames’ moment in the spotlight in 2006, but I was very wrong in that assumption. I would definitely take a 9&8 loss in the Match Play Championship followed by a win in the largest non-major event in golf. That’s a fair trade and then some.

In all seriousness, Stephen Ames’ final round at Sawgrass was one of the best I’ve witnessed. With the exception of last year’s final round, the golf course was playing as tough as I can remember. That being said, the weather for last year’s final round was awful, and that definitely contributed to the high scores. This year, the weather was better than it usually is, and the good scores were still very tough to come by.

All in all, it was a career victory for Stephen Ames. He played great golf in 2004, but it was nothing compared to this win alone. Winning The Players Championship also earned Ames a spot in The Masters in two weeks, and I will not be surprised if he finishes in the top-10 there. I’m not saying Ames will win anymore tournaments in 2006, but he sure played like a top golfer this past weekend. That counts for something.

The 17th Hole Lived up to the Hype
The 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass is my favorite hole in all of golf. I know that’s probably a broken record because a lot of golf fans love the famous par-three. The little hole played extra tough this week and earned even more of my respect. The wind wasn’t very high most of the time, but it was swirling just enough to put doubt into the minds of the tour pros.

17th at Sawgrass
The 17th at Sawgrass: perhaps the most famous par three in the game of golf?

I don’t know off the top of my head how many birdies there were at the 17th hole in the final round, but there weren’t many. On top of that, I believe there were only two or three the entire third round. That is amazing for such a short hole. Usually the front-left pin placement yields birdie after birdie, but the field couldn’t figure it out this year. When all was said and done, the little 17th hole at Sawgrass did more than live up to the hype this past weekend.

Why, Sergio, Why?
Sergio Garcia has choked down the stretch at more events than any other top golfer in recent memory. It’s no secret Garcia is one of the best ball strikers in the world, but his putting has always let him down on the weekend. After watching Sergio play Saturday, I thought the putting woes may finally be over. Garcia looked like a champion just waiting to be crowned. Then came Sunday.

Sergio looked like the Sergio we have unfortunately seen so many times on Sundays in the past. Television viewers only saw Garcia the first four holes or so because of his terrible play, but that was more than enough for me to witness. Not only was Sergio’s putting shaky, his decision-making was equally as bad. His approach shot out of the rough on the fourth hole was questionable at best. The round had already started going downhill, but that threw Garcia the rest of the way down the hill.

I’m not saying Sergio could have won The Players Championship with a good round on Sunday because the tournament obviously belonged to Stephen Ames. I’m just saying it would have been nice to see Sergio play well on the big stage for once instead of choking yet again. The last time Sergio played well down the stretch in a big tournament was the 1999 PGA Championship. Yeah, that is a long-distant memory.

Although Sergio’s final-round play was shaky, it wasn’t as bad as some of the other things I witnessed this past weekend. I don’t remember watching a tournament where there were so many unbelievable occurrences. I found myself shaking my head and saying the word “unbelievable” on more than one occasion.

Davis Love III played beautifully in Thursday’s opening round, but that solid play quickly disappeared on Friday. I’ve never seen such a second-round collapse by such a top-tier golfer. DL3 has owned The Players Championship in the past, but the TPC at Sawgrass owned Love on Friday. Love followed his first-round 65 with a second-round 83. Some of the shots he hit looked like some of the shots I’ve hit on a bad day. It was heartbreaking to say the least, and I felt awful for the guy. Here’s hoping DL3 bounces back and continues to have a solid 2006.

Adam ScottThat wasn’t the only “unbelievable” thing during The Players Championship unfortunately. Adam Scott found himself in a tie for second after round two, but that quickly disappeared as well after an 82 on Saturday. These aren’t just any regular golfers shooting in the 80s. Scott won the tournament just two years ago, but he looked like an amateur in the third round. That just goes to show you how tough the golf course played this past weekend. I can’t imagine what would have happened if the wind would have picked up like it did in last year’s final round.

Finally, you have to feel for Aaron Oberholser. That was the biggest “unbelievable” of the week. Oberholser hit a putt on the 16th hole that bounced backwards out of the cup. I’ve never seen that happen. Nonetheless, he still stood on the 17th tee at -8 with a one-shot lead. After carding a triple bogey at the 17th and a double bogey at the 18th, Oberholser’s championship hopes were over. Even though I wasn’t cheering for Oberholser, I wouldn’t ever wish his bad luck on any golfer. That was truly unbelievable.

Tough Luck for Camilo
Camilo Villegas has played awesome early in 2006. Villegas has quickly moved his way up the world rankings and money list. The Colombian had two runner-up finishes before The Players Championship, but that was nothing compared to his tie for third this past weekend. Villegas needed to finish in third place alone or a tie for second to earn a spot in this year’s Masters, but he came up just short.

Camilo Villegas has given fans a lot of great memories in 2006, and it’s truly unfortunate he won’t be playing at The Masters in two weeks. Villegas is playing as well as anyone in the world right now, and he deserves to play in the year’s first major championship. However, rules are rules, and there is no arguing that fact when it comes right down to it. It’s just something a lot of fans would have enjoyed, and I’m sure Villegas would have played great in his first major. There is always next year.

The Final Say
The 2006 Players Championship was a great tournament, but it could have been even better in the end. What looked so promising on Friday and Saturday turned into a pretty ho-hum win for Stephen Ames on Sunday. Ames pretty much ran away with the tournament, much to the chagrin of many golf fans. I would have greatly enjoyed it if Sergio Garcia brought his A-game on Sunday and picked up his first career-defining win on the PGA Tour.

It would have also been nice to see one of the top-five golfers in the world put a little more heat on Ames on Sunday. I have to give credit to Retief Goosen for carding his first top-10 finish in his Players Championship career, but a win would have suited me a lot better. Nonetheless, Goosen is well on his way to moving into second place in the Official World Golf Rankings like I said he would a couple weeks ago.

That’s all I have to say this week, and now it’s your turn to tell me what you think. Did you enjoy The Players Championship this past weekend? Also, is Sergio quickly becoming the biggest “choker” of all-time? Finally, what was your most “unbelievable” moment from this past weekend? There were certainly many things to choose from. If you have anything to add, feel free to comment below or discuss it in the Tour Talk forum. Thanks for reading Thrash Talk this week.

Photo Credits: © Stephen Szurlej, GolfWorld, © Amy Sancetta, AP.

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