Missing Players

By Rex HoggardMay 5, 2011, 1:24 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – From the back of the room one could almost see PGA Tour chief of operations Andy Pazder lean into the answer. Almost, but then Pazder is too cool for that.

Besides, Pazder has heard Rory McIlroy answer all manner of Player Championship questions, but this one stood out. Maybe it’s because golf’s “fifth major” looms next week, or perhaps it’s because the golf gods are transforming what is often referred to as the strongest field in golf into, well, something south of that.

Whatever the reason, when the Northern Irish lad spoke of TPC Sawgrass all of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was listening.

“This year I'm playing here, taking next week (Players week) off, and then playing Spain, Wentworth, Memorial, week off, U.S. Open,” McIlroy said on Tuesday at Quail Hollow. “I mean, if I played The Players it would be my sixth week of seven, which is a lot of golf for me.”

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy is 0-for-2 in cuts made at The Players. (Getty Images)

That McIlroy regards TPC Sawgrass with all the affinity of a trip through a TSA line is also at play.

“I don't feel that comfortable on the golf course yet,” said McIlroy, who is 0-for-2 in cuts made at the Stadium Course, a statistic that either explains or exaggerates his decision to skip this year’s event depending on what side of the aisle one sits.

McIlroy’s miss, however justifiable, is hardly isolated. In order The Players could be void of the world’s top ranked, the game’s top draw and last year’s top dog.

Like McIlroy, current world No. 1 Lee Westwood is out. As 2010 members who let their cards lapse, the European two-ball are limited to 10 Tour starts this season and The Players, an 11th-hour move by the circuit to woo Westwood and McIlroy to TPC that failed.

The politics of a global game aside, McIlroy and Westwood based their decisions not to travel to north Florida next week based on what’s best for their games, a competitive litmus test that should be applied more often if truth be told.

But that reality won’t make next week’s tee sheet any stronger.

The tournament may also be missing Tiger Woods, who by all accounts is back home at Isleworth nursing an ailing knee and Achilles and hadn’t hit golf balls since Augusta National as of last Tuesday. Not that Woods needs much of a reason to pass on the 2-hour drive north to TPC Sawgrass.

Woods hasn’t won the Tour’s flagship event in a decade, has just one top-10 since that 2001 victory and withdrew last year with a bad neck. They don’t hold majors on TPC courses and Woods knows that.

This is the same man who played the 2008 U.S. Open against doctor’s orders but doesn’t seem to have the same machismo when it comes to next week’s Players. It wasn’t Jack Nicklaus’ three Players’ tilts hanging on the wall back home in California.

The last Players domino seemed to begin its tumble on Monday when defending champion Tim Clark withdrew from the Wells Fargo Championship.

Clark, slowed this season by an elbow injury, is hardly a marquee stopper, nor can the Ponte Vedra Beach powers control who ends up on the DL, but it doesn’t help a tournament already embattled by circumstance and serious injury.

The European rise in the world ranking and The Players’ field troubles are not mutually exclusive. Simply put, players from the Continent are conditioned to think of the Players as a regular Tour event with a slightly hipper rap. It’s a truth complicated by the expanding importance of the World Golf Championships.

Asked on Tuesday whether he would rather win The Players Championship or a WGC, world No. 2 Martin Kaymer didn’t hesitate: “The World Golf Championships, and preferably the one at Firestone because it's a fantastic golf course and a beautiful place. Yeah, obviously to play well at the others would be nice, but I think I would prefer the World Golf Championship event.”

Chubby Chandler, the president of International Sports Management which represents Westwood and McIlroy, once referred to The Players as the “10th major” for players from the Continent, and if Kaymer’s math is any indication, Chandler has it about right.

There will be a worthy champion crowned next Sunday at TPC Sawgrass, a sprawling crowd amassed around the famed 17th hole and a solid field with an estimated seven of the top 10 players in the world – by comparison this week’s Wells Fargo Championship features five of the top 10 – just not three or four of the most important names in golf. And maybe three out of four isn’t bad.

But the vacancies in the Sawgrass players’ lot will echo what many have figured for years, it will not be the media or the Tour or even the fans that will decide if The Players is ever anointed true “fifth major” status – it will be the players. Given the current climate, the frat brothers have not reached a consensus just yet.

Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggardGC

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McIlroy 'committed to everything ... ran out of holes'

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 7:08 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy summed it up: “I don’t really feel like it’s a defeat. I feel like it’s a good week.”

McIlroy, in search of his fifth major, tied for the lead at The Open late on Sunday at Carnoustie when he made eagle on the par-5 14th hole. An hour later, he had made five consecutive pars to close out a 1-under 70 and tie for second place with Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele.

That group ended two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. McIlroy thought it was realistic to squeeze one more shot out of his round, but he never though it was possible to squeeze out two.

“I committed to everything,” he said. “I hit the shots when I needed to. I made good swings on 17 and on 18. I just ran out of holes.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy hasn’t played poorly this year, but this hasn't been a year that would rank as a total success. He took the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and collected a second-place finish at the BMW PGA Championship. He had a legitimate chance to win the Masters before a terrible Sunday round, and then missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills.

Sunday at Carnoustie, McIlroy bogeyed two of his first five holes and quickly became an afterthought. When others faltered, McIlroy birdies Nos. 9 and 11, then eagled 14 to vault back into the picture.

“I’m happy with how I played,” he said. “I didn’t get off to a great start, but I hung in there, and I battled back.

“So I’ll look back at this week and be very encouraged about what I’ve done and the golf that I played. I feel like that will stand me in good stead for what’s coming up.”

McIlroy is scheduled to play the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks, followed by the PGA Championship and the FedExCup Playoffs.

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Edoardo, other pros congratulate Francesco on Twitter

By Grill Room TeamJuly 22, 2018, 6:54 pm

Francesco Molinari played a bogey-free weekend at Carnoustie to claim Italy's first claret jug.

His rock-solid performance in the final round earned him his share of social media plaudits.

Here's a collection of Twitter hat-tips, and we start off with Frankie's brother, Dodo.

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Woods: Fan who yelled had 'tipped back a few'

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 6:37 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods stood on the 18th tee and thought he needed birdie to have a chance to win The Open. He pulled driver out of his bag, a sign he wanted to boot the ball as far down the fairway as possible.

Woods took a mighty swat and - right in the middle of his downswing - someone yelled. Woods flinched.

Luckily his ball still found a decent spot just off the right of the fairway.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I’ve had things like that happen a lot in my career with people who just tried to time it,” Woods said Sunday at Carnoustie after shooting 71 to tie for sixth place. “They tipped back a few, and it’s late in the day.

“Unfortunately, that’s part of what we have to deal with in today’s game. People are trying to yell out things to try to be on TV or be in social media or whatever it may be. That was too close to the game of play.”

Woods hit his approach to 6 feet and missed the birdie putt. He tapped in for par to shoot even par and finish 5 under for the week, in a tie for sixth.

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Pros melt down on Twitter as they watch Tiger

By Grill Room TeamJuly 22, 2018, 6:30 pm

Tiger Woods mounted a final-round charge and, for a little while, took the outright lead at Carnoustie on Sunday.

His fellow pros were watching and tweeting like your average fans.

We compiled some of their missives below:

Woods would go on to finish in a tie for sixth at 5 under par for the week.