Two of world's top six skipping TPC Sawgrass
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Who is missing is typically the subject of conjecture at tournaments across the country, but not at The Players Championship.
Whether you believe it is majorlike in its stature or just one of a number of good events, you can't deny The Players Championship -- now in its 30th year at TPC Sawgrass -- has drawing power.
With a purse of $9.5 million -- the biggest in the game -- and a world-famous golf course, the Players has had no trouble attracting the best players.
It is perfectly within their rights to do so, and the fact that neither is a member of the PGA Tour probably makes the decision all the more reasonable. These two are not eligible for the FedEx Cup, and some big European Tour events are in the immediate future. The Players was not schedule friendly.
"They should be here," said NBC analyst Johnny Miller. "It's a statement I'm not sure what the statement is." Miller went on to call it "an affront" to the tournament that they are not playing.
In truth, the tournament will do just fine without these players. But their absence has been the subject of considerable conjecture all year as the top of the world rankings has shifted to Europe.
Because of the PGA Tour rules that limit the number of starts for nonmembers, Westwood and McIlroy chose to sit this one out. Because both players rescinded membership, they are limited to 10 starts plus the Players. That includes the four majors and three domestic World Golf Championship events. That leaves them just three more, and, in Westwood's case, he did not want to come to America for just this tournament.
Still, it is difficult to argue against the stature of this tournament, with its huge purse and plenty of ranking points available. The World Golf Championship events have inadvertently, perhaps, taken away some of the appeal for the Players.
"You expect the world's best players to be here," said U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. "[But] I completely understand that guys choose not to play it. The top players in the world play against each other many times in a season nowadays, with the majors and the WGCs and the many great events around the world.
"It's disappointing [but] guys go do what's best for them."
Chubby Chandler, Westwood's agent, said the Englishman would be taking his son to see Manchester City play the FA Cup soccer final in London. McIlroy has been tweeting that he's working on his golf game at home in Northern Ireland.
Again, given that neither player is a PGA Tour member, it is hard to blame them. Yet it says something about all the riches and opportunities in today's golf world that anyone eligible would skip this tournament.
Ernie Els' record is absolutely first-ballot Hall of Fame worthy. He was honored on Monday with his induction at the World Golf of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., for having won three major championships, 18 PGA Tour titles and more than 50 victories around the world.
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So there is no question that the South African should be in the Hall.
But should he be in now?
Els is just 41, with plenty of golf still left. Although he is playing poorly at the moment, Els is looking forward to returning to Congressional for the U.S. Open -- where he won it in 1997 -- and the British Open at Royal St. George's -- where he shot four rounds in the 60s in 1993 when Greg Norman won.
The point is that Els' career is far from over. Same for Vijay Singh when he was inducted several years ago.
Nobody is disputing that these guys should be in the Hall of Fame. Their credentials are a slam dunk, and they ought to go in as soon as they are eligible.
But should they be eligible at age 40? What's the rush?
Why not wait until they are 50. Given that golfers typically do not retire, it seems like the right age to make them eligible. If they are playing senior golf, it becomes a nice boost for the Champions Tour.
For what it's worth, Jack Nicklaus went into the previous version of the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 at age 34. He obviously accomplished quite a bit after that.
But when you compare golf's Hall to those in other sports, it just seems strange that active players are being inducted. If Els wins The Players Championship this week, the plaque will need to be changed.
To say that Pat Perez can be a bit hard on himself is sort of like saying it can be warm in Florida.
The one-time PGA Tour winner who is known for his temper was in contention Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship. He had made 18 birdies through the first two rounds and was in the final group Sunday along with eventual runner-up Jonathan Byrd.
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A double-bogey 7 at the par-5 seventh very much hurt Perez's chances, and although he briefly climbed back into contention, Perez settled for a 75 and a tie for sixth -- his third top-10 in his past four tournaments after working on a series of swing changes.
Still, Perez was not happy with his finish, and even after a brief cooling-off period Sunday, he was still a bit bothered.
Perez declined interviews but did give a few comments to a PGA Tour media official who had the unenviable task of asking the questions.
When it was suggested to Perez that overall he had a good week, he replied: "Well, it just proves that I can't close, so I'm pretty confident on that," he said.
Perez was that asked what was his biggest problem, and he said: "I just hit too many bad shots. You're never going to win if you're hitting it like that. You're never going to win if you play like I did today. That's just terrible. Embarrassing."
if the Rory Sabbatini saga is made worse by the fact that the PGA Tour will not allow him to talk about the situation.
Sabbatini has been embroiled in controversy because of recent dustups with a tournament volunteer and with PGA Tour player Sean O'Hair. The incidents have been serious enough that he faces a possible suspension, although the tour never acknowledges such penalties.
It is bad enough that the tour keeps these things confidential, which does nothing to help deter the behavior. But what if Sabbatini has a side to tell?
There is no excuse for his alleged behavior, but Sabbatini has been known to have his heart -- if not his head -- in the right place when it comes to slow play. The incident at the Booz Allen Classic years ago with Ben Crane highlights this. Although Sabbatini handled it poorly, there is no denying that Crane was -- and remains -- a slow player.
Sabbatini is a fast player and is continually frustrated by slow play. O'Hair is not known to be speedy. That doesn't mean he needs to be verbally dressed down during a tournament, although their issues apparently go beyond that. But Sabbatini might have a message worth listening to if he could calm down -- and if the tour would let him talk.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Players Championship Picks
Birdies And Bogeys
2. Jonathan Byrd. He didn't win, but he made a clutch birdie at 18 to send it to a playoff, narrowly missing a third victory since October.
3. Rory Sabbatini. Give the man credit, his closing 65 at Quail Hollow made things interesting among a backdrop of issues.
1. Rory Sabbatini. According to numerous accounts, the South African embarrassed himself with his actions earlier this year at Riviera and again in New Orleans, which could lead to a suspension.
2. PGA Tour's punishment policy. Of course, we'll never know whether Sabbatini is officially suspended because the tour refuses to acknowledge any discipline of its players.
3. Armchair rulings. Padraig Harrington nearly got dinged again Sunday at Quail Hollow because a fan thought he saw something. The charade was comical. Let the players, caddies and officials enforce the rules.
• When Lucas Glover won the Wells Fargo Championship, he became the first player in the nine-year history of the tournament to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.
• A possible trend to look for: Three of the past six winners have led or co-led the field in both greens in regulation and driving accuracy: Fred Funk (2005), Stephen Ames (2006), Sergio Garcia (2008).
• Tiger Woods' record at The Players Championship is among the most ordinary of his career at any tournament he has played with regularity. He has had 13 starts with just one victory and only four top-10s. Since winning in 2001, he has posted just one top-10, and that was a ninth in 2009 despite playing in the final group. Last year, he withdrew in the final round with a neck injury.
"Season so far got off to a decent start early in the year, took about four weeks off, and haven't found the middle of the club since pretty much." -- U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, when asked for some thoughts on his season to date.
Catching up with '10 champ
Tim Clark shot a final-round 64 at the Sony Open in Hawaii earlier this year to finish tied for fourth and earn $484,000. He has not made a dollar since.
Clark, the defending Players Championship winner from South Africa, has a mysterious elbow injury that has prevented him from playing or practicing. He teed it up at the Masters, but missed the cut and didn't begin practicing again until Saturday.
A diagnosis cannot be pinpointed, but Clark knows it hurts. Things feel healthy enough for him to give it a try this week at the TPC Sawgrass, but he bemoans his lack of practice time and the reduced strength in his right arm because of the inactivity.
"I'm worried about just one shot setting me off again, so that's probably the biggest hurdle," Clark said.