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THE LAST WORD Spectators watch the action on the par-3 17th hole during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship in 2018.

MARCH GLADNESS THE PLAYERS Championship returns to its former longtime slot on the calendar, a month when lots of drama took place

I

covered THE PLAYERS Championship for the first time in 1985, the distinctive smell of paper mills north of Jacksonville marking the final leg of my drive from North Carolina to Florida. The scent was much nicer after checking into a beachfront motel in Jax Beach. I wasn’t too far removed from college and, given the warm, clear weather 400 miles south of home, it felt like spring break with a salary. My week was great, but safe to say not as memorable as it was for Calvin Peete, who overcame a final-round leaderboard including both glittery (Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin) and aspiring (D.A. Weibring, Larry Rinker) names. The straight-driving Peete, wearing a flat cap like a certain other fairways-and-greens golfer, Ben Hogan, shot a final-round 66 on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course. It secured, by three strokes over Weibring, the biggest of 12 victories in Peete’s inspirational PGA TOUR career after growing up poor and playing golf for the first time at age 23. That PLAYERS concluded on the last day of March, the month the championship called home for three decades—starting at Sawgrass Country Club in 1977 and continuing at TPC Sawgrass from 1982 through 2006—prior to being held in May from 2007 through 2018 during the first dozen years of the FedExCup. THE PLAYERS Championship is returning to an earlier slot in 2019, March 14-17. Having THE PLAYERS finish on the second Sunday in May, on Mother’s Day, worked out well. Galleries were large and enthusiastic, with many golfers and spectators wearing pink to commemorate the occasion. 226

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Something about the new/old scheduling, though, seems like coming home, as comfortable as slippers, as natural as the swing of Sam Snead (who, by the way, teed it up in the first PLAYERS on the Stadium Course two months before his 70th birthday and 46 years since his maiden TOUR victory). One of golf’s pleasures is its history, and THE PLAYERS has had plenty of it in March. Star players won the coveted title then, from Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd to Fred Couples, Nick Price and Greg Norman, to Davis Love III, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott. Moments? March has seen them—Jerry Pate splashing into a celebration in 1982; local resident Mark McCumber rising to the occasion in 1988; Hal Sutton rooting on his approach shot in 2000; Woods snaking in an improbable putt on Saturday in 2001; Craig Perks finishing off his 2002 victory as if diagrammed in a dream. With THE PLAYERS reverting to March, it kicks off an exciting period, followed by the Masters (April), PGA Championship (in new May dates), U.S. Open (June), The Open (July) and TOUR Championship (in August, as the FedExCup Playoffs conclude before Labor Day). Now as before, a singular stage will set the stage for what follows. The TOUR will travel from The Honda Classic to the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard to THE PLAYERS. When it gets to Ponte Vedra Beach, may there be a little breeze and a lot of sun, and a new exciting chapter to go with the ones already written in March. 

IMAGES: US PGA TOUR

By Bill Fields

W W W.P GAT OUR.COM

11/12/2018 14:40

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