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Five reasons you need to watch the 2016 Players Championship, golf's '5th major'

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Jordan Spieth returns to golf, a course that divides the players from love to hate and other reasons why you need to watch golf's "fifth major."

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

What are we supposed to think of the Players Championship? Is it pretty-much-almost a major? Is it just a Tour event? Is it somewhere in between?

Right now, sure, it's closer to a major than anything else on the PGA Tour schedule. But it's OK to not worry about the tournament's place in history or how we should think of the winners. You can just enjoy the drama naturally provided at an event where PGA Tour players swing at an island green with the biggest checks of the year on the line.

Here's why you shouldn't miss the Players Championship this year.

1. Some guys hate this golf course. That means it's probably going to be fun for you to watch.

TPC Sawgrass is especially divisive among the players because they find it "gimmicky" or "unfair." Which, yes, sure, whatever. It is literally called the Stadium Course, built by Pete Dye specifically to host a compelling golf tournament every single year. You're not going to love every hole of every golf course every week. Fine. There's also no golf course that dumps as much money into the Tour's coffers -- and in turn, to the players' wallets -- each year as TPC Sawgrass does. Lots of things in sports aren't necessarily fair or provide the best champion. We have them anyway because sports are entertainment first and foremost, and they're super entertaining, and, thus, worth a ton of money for leagues and fans. The PGA Tour is no different.

The central complaint from players is that the course doesn't reward enough for the risk it demands, forces players to play conservatively, leads to pars in bunches and thus doesn't allow for much separation or movement in the field. The course is already short at 7,215 yards, so combine that with the layout's pick-your-spots nature and some bombers loathe this place. They'll point to the rope-hook needed to reach the par-5 9th in two, or the famous island-green 17th, or any number of tee shots as evidence of the imbalance that the course doesn't really do a good job of finding the field's best player over four days. It's fluky, they'll argue. Of course, you needn't look further than last year's final round to demonstrate that a well-executed risk can pay huge dividends. Oh, and here are the last eight Players' Champions, dating to 2007:

  • Rickie Fowler
  • Martin Kaymer
  • Tiger Woods
  • Matt Kuchar
  • K.J. Choi
  • Henrik Stenson
  • Sergio Garcia
  • Phil Mickelson
Uh, that's a pretty damn good list!

If you want a perfect course setup that exactly balances risk and reward, don't watch this tournament. Skip the U.S. Open at Oakmont and the British at Royal Troon, too. We'll see you at the PGA Championship.

But if you'd like drama, a big-name winner and the idea of Bubba Watson barking at Ted Scott while a late wind gust carries his ball out into the middle of a dang lake? Have it parked on NBC this weekend. We'll have fun.


"Who's the best player in the world right now?"

Ask this question among the gallery at Sawgrass this week and you're likely to get as many as four different answers. Jason Day sits atop the rankings. Rory McIlroy's sheer ability is unmatched. You'll probably even get a few Rickie Fowler stans -- the guy that's won four of golf's biggest non-majors dating back to last year's Players.

But there's no doubt that the biggest draw in the game at the moment is Spieth -- and it's his first start after his stumble at the 12th hole on Sunday at Augusta. It's an unusually long break for the Texan, one that's prompted baseless concern from some that he'll be forever bothered by his mistake on Amen Corner. Combine that with hand wringing about his Spring Break trip to Bakers Bay with Fowler, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman, and it's been open season for en fuego takes on Spieth.

Maybe it's not the Masters, but this isn't a regular tour event, either. Sticking one close on 17 en route to a win on Sunday would go a loooooooooooooooong way to shutting everyone up.

3. Can Rickie repeat?

He picked up the biggest win of his young career last year that signaled his long-awaited "arrival." Now he'll have the chance to make history.

No one's ever won back-to-back Players titles -- and Fowler's game looks to be in good shape despite fading down the stretch last Sunday in Charlotte. We'll all be forever unsure of exactly how to think of The Players -- but back-to-back titles would certainly be a big statement that would set him up well for the rest of 2016's majors.

4. You might learn a new name -- though he probably won't win

While the Players has often provided big-time winners, those winners have often been in down-the-stretch duels with unfamiliar faces. Kevin Kisner burst onto the scene last year in Ponte Vedra Beach despite losing in a playoff to Fowler, and he's now in contention for a Ryder Cup spot. Journeyman Paul Goydos famously dueled with Sergio Garcia in 2008. Could someone come from off the map this year and contend? I'm tying my cart to Jamie Lovemark for the week, so he'll probably miss the cut or something.

5. This is the closest thing you're getting to a major championship between now and mid-June.

With a host of journeymen-type winners and stars taking breaks, compelling golf has been a bit of a rarity since the Masters. The gap between the Masters & U.S. Open is a long one ahead of this year's busy summer, and the Tour's smartest move in recent years was moving the Players from the Florida Swing in March to fill the gap in a majorless May. You might not find the Players to be a perfect event. That's fine! It's also the best golf we've got until the Oakmont in June, so it's best to strap in, make do and get ready for some fun down the stretch on Sunday.