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A wide-open tournament at Sawgrass, and a wide-open season on PGA Tour

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Imagine the odds that could have been offered on this at the start of the year. Going into the second weekend in May, Michelle Wie has made more money on her tour than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson combined have made on theirs.

"You probably could have gotten some action there," Pat Perez, no stranger to the Las Vegas casinos, said Tuesday once he digested the absurdity of it all.

Some of that speaks to Wie finding her form, having some fun and playing to her potential.

A large part, obviously, is due to Woods hardly playing at all because of a back injury that led to surgery. In just three PGA Tour starts, Woods missed a 54-hole cut in San Diego, withdrew in the middle of the final round at Honda and tied for 25th at Doral.

And then there's Mickelson. The PGA Tour record book shows that he has never gone this deep into the season as a pro without a single top 10. Of course, that would be overlooking that runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi against a strong field. Mickelson has coped with a pair of injuries that forced him to withdraw from two tournaments. He also has been more unpredictable than usual.

Skewed statistics aside, it provides a snapshot on what kind of fickle season this has been on the PGA Tour.

Through 25 tournaments in the wraparound season, seven winners were not among the top 100 in the world while only two winners were in the top 10. The average ranking of PGA Tour winners this year is 83.4.

What better place to celebrate — or bemoan — parity than at The Players Championship, the tournament that is said to be the most difficult to predict.

"There's no favourite. There's no style of golf here that has to win," Kevin Chappell said. "It's the ultimate test of making it yours. You create your game plan, and whoever establishes that game plan and sticks to it the best is going to win."

Woods last year became only fifth two-time winner of The Players since it moved to the former swamp known as the TPC Sawgrass in 1982. He also has had more finishes out of the top 20 than at any other tournament, including the majors.

Mickelson won in 2007. He hasn't finished in the top 10 at Sawgrass since. The list of winners is almost as impressive as the list of those who have never won — Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington.

"This golf course does not love anybody," NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller said. "You go to Firestone, you go to Torrey Pines, you go to Doral, you go to those courses ... Phil and Tiger, it loves those guys. But this course will chew you up and spit you out form year to year. You never know. You've got to hit it good, you've got to be lucky and you've got to miss it in the right spots. I just think it's a course that no one ever gets feeling really comfy out there."

Add that to a year of parity and this year could be more mysterious than ever.

Martin Flores might have summed up the season last week at Quail Hollow. He has never won on the PGA Tour. He has never spent an entire Sunday in contention. He was one shot out of the lead after 54 holes when he said on the eve of the final round, "Why not me?"

"There are so many guys who are so good," he said after his news conference. "Just because you haven't heard of them doesn't mean they aren't great players."

The next day, he held his own for four hours and still had a chance until a bogey on the final hole to finish two shots behind.

Like most players, Chappell was surprised and amused to hear that Wie trumps the Tiger-Phil duo in tour earnings for the year. Wie won in Hawaii, was second in a major and is No. 2 on the LPGA Tour money list at $738,693. Woods, who has completed only one tournament this year, is No. 188 on the money list with $86,919, barely ahead of Tim Petrovic. Mickelson, who squandered a chance to win last week, is at No. 80 with $649,562.

"One tour is growing, and our tour is treading water at the moment," Chappell said. "We're setting ourselves up down the road. The back of our field is moving to the front, and that's going to push the guys in front." And then he chuckled and added, "Or move them to retirement."

That day is coming when Woods and Mickelson no longer dominate golf's landscape. They won't be easy to replace, and it could be any number of players.

The Players Championship isn't likely to provide any clues.

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