Not since Greg Norman stood on the 12th tee in the final round of the 1996 Masters has there been such a cringe-inducing, close-your-eyes, hide-the-women-and-children, sense-of-impending-doom moment like the one right before Sergio Garcia hit to the island 17th on Sunday in the 2013 Players Championship. Jean Van de Velde’s collapse may have been more stunning but that was hard to see coming. But not Norman’s in 1996 and certainly not here.
Tied for the lead with none other than his arch-nemesis, the current-and-again world #1, the great Tiger Woods, was there ever a doubt that Garcia would find the water? Pete Dye designed the 17th hole for THIS specific moment. Not just any final round moment of the Players, which has seen more than its share of Inspector Clouseau performances on 17 and 18 over the years. With Woods and Garcia tied for the lead, with both golfers coming out of their own versions of golfing darkness, with Woods’ history as a closer, with Sergio’s long history of mental demons and losing battles with the “golfing gods,” with their personal antagonistic history (Garcia “thanked” Woods for being out with an injury when he won in 2008), and with yet another incident between them marring (or making???) round 3, it was a confluence of perfect circumstances that made Garcia’s quadruple-double finish seem preordained (quadruple-double in this case is definitely NOT ten points, rebounds, steals, and assists).
And it re-elevated The Players to its rightful position as the 5th Major. 7 years ago when the initials TPC were still official shorthand for the event and it was played opposite the NCAA Tournament two weeks prior to the Masters, the TPC was a tournament with buzz. Yes the weather was often on the iffy side but it was also sometimes spectacular and there was something about its position as the unofficial first “big event” of the year that had the atmosphere hopping. But with the move to May, a certain flatness had befallen The Players, as it was rechristened. Maybe because of the May heat, maybe because of the higher afternoon sun dulling the video, maybe because you just can’t turn on the switch in the middle of a traditional lull on the golfing calendar. But whatever the reason The Players just hasn’t felt as “major” competing with Mothers Day as the TPC did competing with the Sweet Sixteen.
On a day though that was reminiscent of the best March TPC weather with the fans in full NCAA tournament-type throat, Woods’ victory brought The Players full circle and now Mothers Day weekend is also officially Players weekend. When the world’s greatest brings that kind of effort and intensity, overcomes the adversity of his horrible tee shot on 14, plays the weekend with his Major face on, lets loose like he did when it all finally becomes official, while his old foil goes down in flames in a way so public, so painful, and so cruel as to match designer Pete’s most Dyeabolical dreams, you can be sure that The Players is back. And Welcome Back indeed.