I don't know about you, but I am getting excited about the Players Championship!
Maybe the reason is defending champion Matt Kuchar. It has been nice seeing the American flag waving proudly above Champions Circle for the last year. After all, it had been five years since the last American win by Phil Mickelson in 2007.
Since Mickelson's win, there was the excitement of Sergio Garcia's playoff win, Henrik Stenson's Sunday 66 to win, little Timmy Clark winning the biggest event so far in his career and another playoff win, this one by K.J. Choi and his steely putting stroke.
What drama there will be on the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, with the world's best professional golfers playing in what amounts to their club championship, golf's unofficial Fifth Major.
After the thrilling victory of 2004 Players Champion Adam Scott at Augusta National in the Masters, somehow 2013 seems to be developing as a milestone year in the history of golf. Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters.
He also finished T15 last year in the Players and may be destined to join World Golf Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus (who has won three), 2013 Hall of Fame Inductee Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton and 2012 United States Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III as a multiple Players winner. Love was the last to repeat as a winner in 2003. Perhaps, instead of Scott, it will be Mickelson or Tiger Woods to notch their second Players victory.
Since Woods' victory in 2001, his best finish has been eighth in 2009. Disappointingly for the fans, the now 36-year-old World No. 1 has withdrawn twice and finished T40 in the last three years. Tiger credits another W/D at the WGC at Doral last year as the turning point where he stopped playing hurt and focused on getting healthy. He went on to win three times last season.
With another three Ws this season in six events, he is coming off a T4 at the Masters despite a mis-drop. The No. 1 ranked player in the world, Woods will be well-rested with three weeks off since the Masters and is the guy to beat, even at TPC Sawgrass, which is not one of his favorite courses like Torrey Pines, Bay Hill or Firestone CC.
Outside the competitive golf arena, this Players will be the best one ever from a fan and family-fun perspective. Entertainment is pretty much nonstop after the golf each day.
Dierks Bentley, fresh from his Locked & Reloaded Tour with Miranda Lambert, will be center stage on the lawn in the back of the Clubhouse on Wednesday. Extra-Curricular "Lot Parties" (additional ticket required) that benefit charity will feature Tishamingo, Moors & McCumber (not 1988 Players Champion Mark but his nephew Kort), Jo Dee Messina, Darryl Worley and Yacht Rock from Atlanta.
The 2012 Players set a new charitable record of $6.5 million.
The PGA Tour and the Players provide all active-duty, Reserve, military retirees and dependents with complimentary admission to the tournament all week. They offer significantly discounted admission to non-career military veterans. Youths 18 and younger are admitted free of charge when accompanied by a ticketed adult—there is no limit, and a soccer team with paid coach is allowed. Plus if you carpool there is a "Four for Free" parking incentive.
For 2013, fans can bring in their own food (no beverages) in clear plastic bags. In addition there are two new upgraded, permanent restroom facilities with a place to fill up water bottles and cups with chilled, filtered drinking water. The $89 Family Plan includes two adult grounds tickets, unlimited youth admission and two $10 concession vouchers. Now that is fan- and family-friendly!
After watching the practice round on Monday, but be sure to attend (or watch on Golf Channel) the Induction Ceremony of the World Golf Hall of Fame in the evening in nearby St. Augustine.
Fred Couples (two-time Players champion in 1984 and 1996), Colin Montgomerie (who won a record eight European Tour Order of Merit titles), Willie Park, Jr. (Scottish golfing legend who won the British Open twice, joins his father in the Hall of Fame, Willie Park, Sr., winner of four British Opens), Ken Schofield (Executive Director of the European Tour from 1975 to 2004) and Ken Venturi (1964 U.S. Open Champion and 35-year CBS Sports broadcast commentator and analyst) will join 141 other members enshrined with golf's highest honor.
Whether you experience it in person or watch the action on the Golf Channel and NBC Sports, the 40th edition of The Players is destined to be the best ever!
1. Check out the Taste of JAX and Club 1791 ( the year Jacksonville was founded) between the 11th green and 12th tee. It's an indoor, climate-controlled lounge with comfortable seating and large, flat-screen TVs. The best of Jacksonville's cuisine—Indochine (Thai and Southeast Asian), Metro Diner (Classic American) and Pele's Wood Fire (Modern Italian-American)—are featured.
2. The Women's Pavilion is making its national debut at The Players. Located next to the 16th tee, it is an engaging experience, especially for female spectators interested in learning more about their overall well-being. Men are welcomed, too.
3. Don’t forget the past proven popular venues headlined by the Stadium Village and PwC First Tee Challenge. Located behind the 18th green close to the Clubhouse, the Stadium Village is a 16,000-square-foot, air conditioned public fan zone, complete with a 1/3-scale replica of the 17th hole. Tee one up and see if you can hit the island green!
4. Other past proven popular venues to visit: Wine & Dine on 9 (it is on the ninth fairway, golfer's left towards the fifth green), The Oasis between the ninth and 18th tee boxes, The Patio (adjacent to the 10th tee near the Women's Pavilion), and The Grove (behind the 16th green and 17th tee). Confused? It's simple: When hot, hungry or tired, look in the trees for shade and you will find one of these cool, satiating and refreshing places open to the public. For more hospitality, there is The Turn, The Benefactor and Patriots' Outpost with the proper credentials.
5. Check out the McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation Kid Zone near the Nicklaus Gate way behind the 17th tee near The Grove. It features a "Game Truck" with eight HDTVs (six inside, two outside) with four controllers, so 32 kids (or adults) can play Xbox360, Wii & PS3 as they like. Patented, reliable fun; you will likely be renting this truck for your or your kid's next birthday party. There is also a putt-putt course, arts and crafts and the loving memory of McKenzie, a vibrant and vivacious 15-year-old who passed away from a rare and sudden illness on August 17, 2010.
6. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, parking is free in the general lot and no parking pass is required.
7. The backdoor via CR210/Nocatee Parkway is the fastest, least congested path to the tournament. The A1A route from the Butler Expressway will be greatly improved with unprecedented cooperation amongst area officials. They went to the Masters and picked up any and all tips from observing the I-20 and Washington Road operation. Sorry, no pimento cheese sandwiches will be sold at The Players.
8. There are shuttles from downtown Jacksonville from Wednesday through Sunday. There is a designated cab service and a bike valet (not motorcycles, this is not Daytona Beach Bike Week).
9. If you can't make it to the World Golf Hall of Fame Induction, visit their pavilion within the Stadium Village. There you will see memorabilia from seven Players Champions and Hall of Fame members, along with that of course designer Pete Dye and former PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman.
10. Engage in social media and join the excitement at the 17th hole by tweeting or texting closest-to-the pin guesses for each group. Votes will be displayed on the massive video board along with your creative tweets. See your name up in lights.
11. If you're a local resident or just in town early, run the back nine of the Stadium Course in The Players 5K with Donna on Saturday morning, and then demo (if you still have the energy) the industry's newest equipment on the driving range afterwards until 5 p.m.
12. My favorite: Come see the latest version of the PGA TOUR Wives Golf Classic, where the wives play golf and the husband professional golfers caddy for them. The event takes place on the Dye's Valley Course at 1 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. I wonder if Angie Watson can work the ball as much as Bubba did to win last year's Masters?
13. Another favorite occurs on Wednesday on the 17th hole with a caddy competition honoring the memory of Bruce Edwards, Tom Watson's longtime caddy and friend who passed away in 2004 from ALS. The players and caddies switch roles and the caddies get an opportunity to play the famous island green hole.
14. Wear pink on Sunday in honor of Mother's Day. There will be a "Pink Out" in celebration of mothers and in support of breast cancer research. Tree Island on the 17th hole will be "pinked out" with 3,500 pink vinca flowers and 200 Hawaiian Ti plants. Even the Sawgrass Splash, The Players' signature cocktail and the golf balls at the PwC 17th Hole Challenge will be pink on Sunday.
15. Last but not least: Come back for the Web.com Tour Championship in September on Dye's Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass. That is the grand finale of the four-event Web.com Tour Finals. With no more direct passes from the Qualifying Tournament (which now feeds the Web.com Tour), the only way to get to the 2014 PGA TOUR is to be one of the Top 25 on the Web.com Tour Money List after the 21 Regular Season events, or be one of the Top 25 cumulative money-earners for the four final events.
Two winners of a regular-season Web.com event held on Dye's Valley the last three years, David Mathis and Russell Henley, will be competing in the 2013 Players Championship, and may be the first professional to win on both golf courses. Caddy Michael Carrick has won on both—in 2011 with Gavin Coles (won the Web.com event in 2011), and with Tom Kite when he won the 1989 PLAYERS.