For years the PGA Tour has boasted that its flagship event, The Players Championship, attracts the best field in golf.
Tour commissioners, from Deane Beamen to Tim Finchem to Jay Monahan, have routinely argued that the tournament should be regarded as the sport’s fifth major.
Any suggestion of the tournament taking on such status goes out the window this week when the field arrives at TPC Sawgrass.
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Not only is the defending champion, Australia’s Cameron Smith, banned, but so are the players who finished second and third in 2022, Anirban Lahiri and Paul Casey.
The reason? They’ve signed with LIV Golf.
Smith’s decision to join Greg Norman’s tour came with a sign-on cheque in the region of $140 million. It also meant his membership of the PGA Tour was cancelled.
So, while many of the game’s best are competing for the $37 million on offer this week, the world No.5 won’t be there.
Neither will Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Marc Leishman.
Smith’s absence means he’s just the fourth champion in the tournament’s 49-year history who’ll miss the opportunity to defend his title, the most recent being Tiger Woods, who couldn’t play in 2014 due to a back injury.
“He’s one of our champions and history speaks for itself,” said Players Championship boss Jared Rice.
“The play of all of our past champions speaks for itself. But 2023 is about the players who will be here. We have our eyes forward on the product, which is the best field in golf again.”
That statement seems slightly delusional when you take into account that recent major champions in Smith, Johnson, DeChambeau and Koepka are missing, but Austin Smotherman (currently ranked No.366), Kelly Kraft (No.485) and Robert Streb (No.328) get a start.
With all due respect to Smotherman, Kraft and Streb, even the keenest golf fans would struggle to pick them in a line-up.
Within days of Smith announcing he’d signed with the Saudi-backed league, the PGA Tour moved to strip the Australian of his playing privileges at the course, which included the priority parking spot that was reserved for the defending champion.
The four major tournaments – The Masters, PGA Championship, US Open and Open Championship – have placed themselves above the feud, and will continue to invite all eligible players, regardless of which tour they play on.
As Wide World of Sports explained in 2022, the PGA Tour does not run the sport, much as it might like to think it does.
From that point of view, it’s fair to argue the PGA Tour is perfectly entitled to do everything possible to protect its own interests, and ban players who’ve signed with a rival tour.
But it’s also forfeited any right to claim The Players Championship deserves “fifth major” status.
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