The Players Championship: Absence of reigning champion Cameron Smith ‘inconvenient’ for ‘fifth major’



CNN

A star-studded field will compete for a record $25 million prize pool at The Players Championship on Thursday.

The field features a trio of world No. 1 stars in 2023 — Rory McIlroy, Scotty Scheffler and John Rahm — who currently lead the rankings but may not make a single appearance at TPC Sawgrass for the PGA Tour flagship. event.

No player has successfully defended the title in the championship’s 49-year history, and defending champion Cameron Smith has been banned from competing in the LIV Golf Series, a run that spans half a century.

“Yeah, it’s uncomfortable,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told reporters Tuesday when questioned about the Australian’s absence from the world No. 5.

“He was a worthy champion … but ultimately it was his decision, and we have a great field this week and the history and tradition that one of these 144s is looking for.”

Smith named a number of big names who will not be attending the Saudi-backed tour in Florida.

Last year’s five of the event – Smith, Anirban Lahiri, Paul Casey, Harold Varner III and Dustin Johnson – join LIV Golf.

Securing a field full of top golfers has been central to The Players Championship’s claim that it is golf’s “fifth major,” but six of the world’s top 50 players will be absent, including Chilean duo Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira. Smith et al. reasons like

LIV golfers Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson were eligible to perform as major champions in the previous five years.

As a result, the series of questions asked of players before the tournament focused on who was not playing, rather than who was playing.

“Is it good to have the reigning champion here this week? Absolutely,” McIlroy, the 2019 champion, told reporters.

“But he made a decision that he thought was the best thing for him, and he knew that there would be consequences, and one of those consequences is not being able to play on the PGA Tour right now.”

McIlroy talks to his manager Sean O'Flaherty during a pre-tournament training session.

Rahm’s response to Smith’s exclusion was echoed by McIlroy’s, with the Spaniard saying that “various circumstances” undermined his belief that “defending champions should always be there”.

“Some players chose to go to another golf league knowing they weren’t allowed to play here,” Rahm said.

“Yes, it is a big event. It’s very close to a major quality event, but it’s still a PGA Tour event.”

Smith is watching, but exactly where to look. In a shared interview Twitter Golf.com said the Australian, who lives in Florida, will tune in on TV before adding that he “loves to go out” to TPC Sawgrass for the event.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be received,” Smith said.

“But it can be pretty funny to get out there and watch, walk through the crowd.”

The main topic of the pre-tournament press conferences was, of course, the announcement of the PGA Tour’s updated 2024 calendar last week.

Under the new schedule, eight “marked events” will offer increased prize purses, smaller fields and all the features of the LIV Golf Series – without the cuts.

Limited field sizes – between 70 and 78 players – combined with eligibility criteria to reward “top performers” on the PGA Tour have raised concerns that the updated schedule could lead to a “closed shop” and leave out lower-ranked golfers. in the cold.

A meeting of players was held Tuesday morning to discuss the changes, McIlroy said. The Northern Irishman, who last week joined Scheffler in backing the new schedule, believes the talks have been positive.

“When they were presented with more information and data, I think people came away with reservations about it, or at least became more informed about their opinions,” McIlroy said.

“It was good for them to see that and see what’s behind what we’re really trying to do here. I don’t think the temperature in the room was as hot as I expected after the information was released.”

Rahm, who said he did not attend the players’ meeting because he was spending time with his children, said that while he understood some of the frustration, he believed the changes were “best for everyone” in the long run.

Rahm addresses the media before the event.

McIlroy has been an outspoken critic of the LIV Golf Series since its arrival last year.

However, with the changes on the PGA Tour, the four-time winner believes the streak has been good for golf.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie — I think the emergence of LIV or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour has been beneficial to everyone who plays elite professional golf,” McIlroy said.

“When you’ve been the biggest golf league in the biggest market in the world for the last 60 years, there’s not a lot of incentive to innovate.

“It’s created a lot of innovation on the PGA Tour and I would say the old system has been updated to try to reflect where we are in the world in the 21st century with the media landscape.

“PGA TOUR LIV is not just about competing in golf or other sports. It’s competing with Instagram and TikTok and everything else that’s trying to get eyeballs from the PGA TOUR as a product.”

The 17th green at TPC Sawgrass.

Rahm again agreed with McIlroy, saying that such changes would “never” happen without LIV Golf.

“So, as I’ve said before, we should be grateful that this threat has pushed the PGA TOUR to change,” Rahm said.

“I wish the PGA TOUR didn’t come under fire for someone else to make these changes and make things better for the players, but I think that’s what we need. It’s thanks to LIV Golf, otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing any of this.”

Play begins with the first trios kicking off at 6:50 a.m. Thursday, as the glittering arena brings out a host of big name lineups.

7:34 – Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Tom Kim

7:45 – Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott

7:56 – Scotty Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, John Rahm

12:34 – Matt Fitzpatrick, Victor Hovland, Shane Lowry

12:45 – Kurt Kitayama, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele

12:56 – Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Max Homa

Golf Channel will air the first two rounds of the event on Thursday and Friday from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM ET before switching to NBC for the final two rounds of the weekend from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM ET.

Viewers in the UK and Ireland can watch on Sky Sports from 11.30am on Thursday.

More information on the viewing route can be found on the PGA Tour website.

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