While I’m not sure whether PGA Tour players have enjoyed the first two weeks of the Florida swing, as a consumer and a fan of golf, I’m not sure the events could have been any better. Nasty conditions and fast, firm courses have led to ball-striking bonanzas to jump-start the four-tournament Florida dance heading into the Masters in a month.
This style isn’t for everyone, so you’re forgiven if you haven’t loved 6 under and 4 under winning on this tour in back-to-back weeks at the Honda Classic (Palm Beach) and Arnold Palmer Invitational (Orlando). However, the difficult conditions and lead-in to this week have been a reminder to me of just how ideal it is that The Players Championship (Jacksonville) has returned to March from its stint in May. It’s the perfect event in the perfect location at this time of year.
It was always a little awkward to have the May version of the event jammed between tournaments like the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina and AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas. It’s smoother and makes more sense both logistically and aesthetically for it to be the crown jewel of the four Florida tournaments leading into the Masters.
Speaking of the Masters, it always felt like we had to wait too long from the beginning of the year to the first big event at Augusta National. Call The Players a major or don’t call it a major; I don’t care because it’s a big deal. The PGA Tour’s preeminent tournament falling a month before Augusta National’s preeminent event provides greater balance to the entire year. This is the most obvious improvement from the schedule flip and the one that has been talked about the most.
TPC Sawgrass fits so neatly into this collection of courses on the PGA Tour, it’s almost difficult to now imagine it anywhere else. After the annual birdie-making festivals held at places like the Phoenix Open and WGC-Mexico Championship, this Florida jaunt has been a revelation. Consider this: The Players — not exactly known for its generosity in scoring and kindness in shot-making — might end up being the easiest event (read: lowest-scoring) for the entirety of the month in Florida!
Here’s Rory McIlroy, who finished T5 last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“Hopefully, the course next week’s a little more benign, a few more chances, and sort of play the style of golf that I want to play,” he said. “I was very defensive out there, and that’s sort of what you had to do this week and hopefully next week we get a chance to be a little more aggressive.”
It’s crazy that TPC Sawgrass could go down as the most gettable of the four Florida courses, and it means that the entire Florida swing is working, at least this year, in a way that is very compelling for the PGA Tour.
Moving this tournament took the compliance of multiple large, invested organizations that may or may not have wanted to acquiesce to the schedule change. The PGA Tour was probably not one of the organizations that had to be strong-armed because now their year-end playoffs end before football starts. That’s beneficial.
But the Players thriving in March ahead of the Masters — with the PGA Championship taking its spot in May — has been an unintended benefit, one they may have seen coming but not at this level. Because no matter who wins this week and no matter how it plays out — whether it’s 2 under or 20 under that hoists the trophy — The Players in March in the middle of this gauntlet of Florida tournaments has been a tremendous boon for the PGA Tour and for golf as a whole.