PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. — Stop me if you’ve heard this before: that Craig Perks has won as many Players Championships as Tiger Woods. So has Jodie Mudd, before he switched from tee times to horses. So has Mark Hayes, and Mark McCumber, and Fred Funk, not a world challenger there.
Perks, a genial New Zealander, never won any other tournament and never came close afterward. He followed Woods in the winner’s circle in 2002, and there you’ll find his name, sandwiched between Tiger’s and Davis Love III’s. And this is the PGA Tour players’ own course, their home campus, so to speak.
Strange, when Woods shows up on the Sawgrass course, his game seems to have gone in another direction. The past six times he has played here, he has finished out of the top ten, quite uncharacteristic of the man generally considered to be the best player in the world. He sat it out last year for knee surgery. This year he’s back, but his game is in recovery.
It’s simply strange that on this stage, a sort of annual reunion of what several players like to call “the best field of the year,” Tiger is not a constant among the trophy chasers. The year Perks won, he finished 14th. He has finished as far back as 53rd, and in the past four years he competed, he has never been closer than 16th.
“I haven’t hit the ball well here,” he said. “Coming into this event, for some reason or another, I haven’t hit it well. The year I did, the last year I played, I did, but I couldn’t make a putt.
“It’s similar to a major championship” — of which Woods has won 14 — “you have to have all the pieces in order in order to win this tournament.”
The Players has opened doors for some aspiring players, but rarely have they followed through. Tommy Tolles, a University of Georgia alumnus, finished second in 1996, but has since drifted into oblivion. Scott Gump finished two strokes behind David Duval in 1999, has never ranked higher than 165th since, and went penniless last year.
The finish a year ago was a strange one. Paul Goydos, whose game had taken a sad decline for several years, along with his personal life, came out of the mist and tied Sergio Garcia, who won in a playoff. Goydos summarily returned to oblivion. Sergio, meanwhile, eventually returned to the list of puzzling stars who never quite live up to their potential. He has mainly aroused attention this year with his criticism of Augusta National after another Masters collapse.
Well, the old gang is all here again, from Brad Adamonis to Y.E. Yang. Ah, yes, Y.E. Yang, of the Korean Yangs. It may have slipped your mind, but remember the year Tiger Woods passed up the Tour Championship at East Lake to get some “R&R?” Then appeared the following week in the Shanghai Open — for a $3-million fee — and lost on the final day to this modest Korean, Y.E. Yang.
One and the same. Y.E. just won the Honda Classic a few weeks ago on our soil. He’ll be in the threesome right behind Woods, Justin Leonard and Ernie Els on Thursday. Check it out.