Miceli: Players Championship losing its luster
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory McIlroy, by his own admission, made a mistake not coming to TPC Sawgrass last year.
At the same time, his reasoning was sound: There are so many good tournaments, and he can’t play them all.
Fair enough, but McIlroy, ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, was among the top 10 at the time.
So why would international stars Charl Schwartzel (No. 14), Thomas Bjorn (34), Paul Lawrie (44), Andres Hansen (46) and Darren Clarke (71) not make the trip?
”Looking back on it, it wasn't one of my brightest moments,” said McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion from Northern Ireland. “I mean, I'm glad to be back."
American Bubba Watson, the recent Masters champion, answered the question of how important the Players is to him by skipping it this week - under circumstances that many don’t understand - but why would the international audience bail?
It is possible that the Players no longer holds the same appeal for Europeans and other international players as it did in the past.
This year, 44 of the top 50 in the world are entered in the Players, which begins Thursday at TPC Sawgrass' Stadium Course. In scanning the list of entrants, one fact is apparent: the field clearly is top heavy and does not have the depth of past Players.
Only 67 of the top 100 are in the field, 50 are ranked 150th or higher and 31 are ranked 200 and above.
If you’re the PGA Tour, you may be even more concerned that only 18 players from Europe are in the field this week, and most are members of both tours. With more than 36 Europeans in the top 100 in the world, the Euros are seemingly expressing their desire to play other places even when the purse this week is bigger than any on the European Tour by a wide margin.
“It just seems that it comes now in the season where there's a lot of big tournaments, and it sort of just – I think before the Masters, it sort of stood out,” McIlroy said in analyzing the Players. “And now in the place where it is, it's just one of a number of big tournaments coming up.”
Diplomatically, the Ulsterman did say that the Players might be the biggest event in May. Of course, the BMW PGA Championship in three weeks is a must-play event on the Europeans' schedule.
At the end of the day, the Players possibly has evolved from a big event to one of the many important events in May as the growth of golf has drawn the upper-echelon players around the globe.
Just two weeks ago, the field in South Korea for the Ballantine’s Championship was impressive, and the BMW will have a stellar field as well.
This isn’t NASCAR, and the golfers don’t play every week, which means the Players may have finally lost its moniker as the unofficial fifth major and just become another very good golf tournament.