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Top 10: The Tour’s must-see tournaments
This is the time of year when I sneak out of my hole, see my shadow, and get a serious case of Spring Fever. As a viewer, I simply can’t wait to see the calendar flip from winter to spring; from March to April; from the Puerto Rico Open to the Masters. I am sure that I am not the only one to go on “Masters Watch” as we enter the Florida Swing phase of the PGA Tour calendar. Although I enjoy many of the Texas tournaments — heck with Fantasy Golf I love all tournaments! — there isn’t really a “can’t-miss” tournament coming up until April rolls around.
This anticipation for the first major of the year got me thinking: what tournaments do I plan my calendar around? Do I have to see every swing in, say, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship? The Players Championship? The Playoffs for the FedExCup? Come to think of it, what is my favorite, must-watch, can’t miss tournament every year? Well, that’s easy…but what is second? It’s not as obvious as you think. With all of that said, I present to you my “Top-10 list of Must Watch Golf Tournaments.” This list is the order I would set if I were prioritizing my DVR list on January 1st. I encourage your feedback to say where I’m crazy, what I got right and what you would switch around. So, without further adieu, here we go.
(Writer’s note: I would typically go No. 10 down to No. 1 to build the suspense. But, since there can simply be no drama about what is No. 1, I would rather front load the list. The drama appears right after No. 1. Let the debate begin!)
1. The Masters
Come on? What else could possibly be here? I believe that what makes a tournament like the Masters a “must-see” is a combination of elements: First, it has a familiarity where the conditions, sights and sounds are consistent year after year. I would go so far as to say that I know the back nine at Augusta National as well as I know my home course here in Southern California. This is true despite the fact that I have never stepped foot in the state of Georgia, let alone the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. I don’t just watch the telecast, I study it. One more thing: yes, I know there are courses that are deemed “more exclusive” than Augusta National, an example being Cypress Point. But, if you gave me a choice of playing any course anywhere in the world, there is no doubt whatsoever that Augusta National is my choice. And no, there’s not even a close second.
2. The Ryder Cup
Every two years we are treated with what always seems to be simply riveting television. There is nothing like seeing the cheering, screaming, fist-pumping, high-fiving, crowd chanting ole! ole! ole!, and all of the craziness (like Cigar Guy) that comes along with the Ryder Cup. Every other year, we see some poor, unsuspecting pro get put into a position of turning into an unlikely goat, while others suddenly rise to hero status. This is a place where legends are made — and all for no purse. No moohlah; just pride of country and the chance to have their name associated on a teeny, tiny little trophy; which just may be the most recognizable cup in all of golf. As a side-note: I am sometimes struck at how important it seems to be for Europe to beat the U.S. and show that they are just as good, if not better than the Americans. It has the feeling of one of those “one-way” rivalries where one side thinks there is a rivalry while the other side is unaware that it even exists (see: Trailblazers vs. Lakers or Devil Rays vs. Yankees or Cardinals vs. Cowboys). Up to now, I do not believe the Americans have shown the same level of reciprocal intensity towards Europe. But, after watching the European surge and subsequent collapse by the U.S. in 2012, I suspect that will change for good next time ’round.
3. The U.S. Open
Arguably the toughest conditions combined with what I believe is year-in, year-out the best field in all of golf, the U.S. Open has it all. There have been times where the conditions have almost cruelly brutal, but you know what? “The rain falls on the just and unjust,” so fair or unfair, it is the same for everyone out there. It’s refreshing to watch the pros struggle to break par. My feeling is that at the highest level of tournament golf, the winner should be the one who breaks par. How cool is it when 2-under wins a major? Whoever enters the weekend with the most fortitude takes the whole shebang. It’s also great to see guys begin to carve out there legacies by competing on the toughest stage in golf. And it’s only getting better as over just the past three years we have seen some of the new breed of dominant players — Rory McIlroy , Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson have all captured the title of U.S. Open Champion with more majors likely to come between them.
4. The British Open
What do you get when you combine soccer chants, the Road Hole, backward shots hit off of stone walls, bunkers so deep that you have to hit backwards to get out and wind-blown conditions that don’t even look fun on the best of days? My biggest gripe with this event is that the coverage, due to restrictions created by the physics of the Earth, happens just too early for me to actually watch. As a DVR guy, I try to record my shows, black out the news, and then watch when I get home. The problem with the Open Championship is that the event is so big, blocking out the news is nearly impossible! But, nothing diminishes the drama of the event and it’s clear that this is the title coveted by probably the most golfers in the world.
5. Pebble Beach Pro-Am
As mentioned above in the Masters, I am a firm believer that what makes for great golf viewing is familiarity with famous holes on famous courses. There is no course that features more familiar holes to the avid golf viewer than Pebble Beach, with the lone exception of Augusta National. Who among us is not familiar with the 18th at Pebble? Or the par-3 17th? Heck, I would go so far as to say that we know the FRONT of Pebble Beach better than we know the front of Augusta National simply because many of us raised on golf viewing ever even saw the front nine at Augusta until about a decade ago when the coverage expanded. In 2012, I finally got the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing Pebble Beach for the first time: it actually felt like I was playing it again.
6. The Players Championship
You have no idea how close I came to putting this one spot behind. I’m not saying that The Players Championship is ahead of the PGA Championship in importance. But ask yourself, “Which event is simply more fun to watch?” With the sheer drama of watching the pros deposit ball after ball into the water that surrounds the Island Green, The Players is must-see TV at its best. Then, just to twist the knife, Pete Dye created No. 18, and we get to see our heroes face two of the most intimidating shots in golf; a true test of fire.
7. PGA Championship
Come on, admit it: you are with me on this. There is something about the 4th major that just doesn’t feel as “major” as the majors, you know what I mean? It is a great event for stat-filling and when counting career majors for the pros. Yes, it still gets a spot on this top 10 list by virtue of being a major, but I have always felt that this one just seems to lack the personality and character that each of the other majors inherently possess.
8. Northern Trust (LA) Open
Hogan’s Alley — The Northern Trust Open has one of the longest-standing tour event on the PGA schedule. This is another famed track where many of the holes have a personality all their own, like the par-3 6th featuring the signature bunker square in the middle of a severely-sloped green and the drivable par-4 tenth hole. Who among us is not familiar with the sweeping vistas showing the famed clubhouse sitting high on the hill visible from every hole on the course. This course is a true test; so true that Tiger here won there and gave up trying. It took John Merrick’s gritty performance to pull off the victory this year.
9. The Presidents Cup
This is the poor man’s version of the Ryder Cup occurring in the every-other year format on the year when the Ryder Cup is NOT taking place. The difference is that this time it’s the U.S. versus the World, umm, minus Europe. Okay. The format is similar to the Ryder Cup and always fun to watch. It lacks the same must-win atmosphere but it’s certainly worth watching anytime you get the world’s best going head-to-head purely for pride of country (or in this case pride of country vs. pride against the other guys’ country!). How can you not tune in?
10. WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
Okay, there is a chance, albeit slight, that this tournament makes the list simply because it just wrapped up as I type. But, in it’s defense: it is a break from tradition. As I was watching the Accenture Match Play get snowed out on day 1, it got me to thinking how I love this quirky tournament! Match play is flat-out fun to watch simply because it always seems to break away from what I am used to seeing as “normal golf.” I find that I can settle into the drama of each match while watching how pros respond to pressure-filled situations. If it’s not the rash of wild upsets that occur every year, like seeing Rory and Tiger get knocked out by guys I couldn’t find with a hard-copy of Wikipedia, then it’s just the sight of seeing things I never see like snow-covered cacti. Whatever it is, I love the Accenture Match Play and am always sure to set my DVR to watch every stroke they show.
Like the list? Disagree with Chris’ choices? Let us know in the comments section below.