Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Halfway at The Players

It looks more like a law firm than a PGA Tour leader board: Mallinger, Crane and Johnson sounds like somebody you’d hire rather than go to watch make birdies. But they’re among the players contenting for The Players title in 2009.

Does that mean Tiger, Phil and company are out of the picture? Not necessarily but it does show the depth of the field and the “on any given Sunday” aspect of the Tour.

But is that any good for the Tour? Probably not.

We know that television ratings go up 40% when Tiger is on television on Sunday. And they’re desperate for a Sunday pairing of Phil and Tiger in the final group of a significant tournament to jump-start the “rivalry.” When the two played together on Sunday at the Masters the focus was on that two some instead of the leaders. Because that’s where all the buzz was on the golf course.

Nobody cared about Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry until after it was apparent that neither Tiger nor Phil was going to win. But we followed their every shot until the final hole before the focus went back to who actually might win the tournament.

Sure, Jody Mudd won here in 1990 and Craig Perks in ’02 proving that anybody can win this thing if they get hot on Sunday. After he made birdie on his final hole of the day (#9) to finish at even par and potentially make the cut, I asked Phil Mickelson if the TPC Stadium course would allow him to get into contention even though he was 11 shots off the lead.

“Absolutely,” Phil said before I could even finish. “I’ve played late in the day on Sunday here and seen guys make birdies and march right up the leader board. If I make the weekend I’m planning on trying to shoot a low number tomorrow and move into the top 10 or so. If you’re there Sunday, you have a chance to win.”

Mickelson said he’s hitting the ball just like he wants to but isn’t making any putts. “I made three birdies today and all three were two putts,” Phil added.

There are two things that constantly go on at Players. First it’s the golf tournament that counts. It’s the best-run tournament and perhaps the best run sporting event in the world. Very positive, very efficient and as a professional tournament, it clearly identifies the best player of the week, all through his bag.

On the other hand, it’s a massive social event with the Tour and many other corporations using it to entertain clients and get their message across. And it’s part of the social fabric of North Florida. I’ll bet half of the people who are at the tournament, as “spectators” don’t see a single shot struck during the week. Well maybe they see Tiger take one swing but other than that it’s a huge outdoor cocktail party rivaling Florida/Georgia.

Which is perfectly fine.

No it’s not the Masters, nor the US or British Opens, but it’s something special all by itself. I hope it keeps up this weekend.