Says Mark Townsend, who says Rory had his priorities spot on

NAME the last five winners of the Open or the Masters. Now name the last five winners of the Players Championship. Not quite as easy is it.

While The Players has the field, growing prestige, bundles of cash, lots of world ranking points and the thrill of 17 it is not a Major and, likely, never will be.

Much was made of Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood giving it a swerve last year.

The media made out there was some sort of power struggle going on with the PGA Tour, but the players’ management company, International Sports Management, insisted it was purely down to scheduling.

This time last year McIlroy, not then a PGA Tour member, said: “If I had played The Players it would be five in a row. It’s just too much golf for me.

“I feel as if I just get a little lethargic and a little lazy after three events and it would just be best for my preparation for the US Open if I didn’t play one of those events.

“Sawgrass was the one – I don’t feel that comfortable on the golf course yet.”

And so McIlroy, having failed to make the weekend on both previous Sawgrass visits, missed it. And then, of course, went on to shatter all manner of records en route to one of the most US Open victories of all time and a first Major in the bag.  
Fairly sound judgment it would seem, to say the least.

Westwood’s manager Chubby Chandler – McIlroy has since moved stables to Horizon Sports – said that while plenty label the Players as the ‘Unofficial Fifth Major’ the players might not see it in quite the same light.

“I would think when it was played at the end of the March it was getting to be the fifth Major.

“Moving it to the middle of May has made it about the 10th most important tournament in the world. It feels like a very big PGA Tour event now but it doesn’t feel as special as it used to be.

“It isn’t a priority for them as they would rather win a Major or a World Golf Championship event. They cannot play every week.”

All of us would like nothing more than to see McIlroy, Westwood, Woods, Donald, Mickelson and every other big name go head to head every week but the reality is very different.

The reality is a wife and young family, six days at a tournament around 30 times a year, nine-hour flights, jet lag, hotels, car hire, endless interviews, corporate days, photo shoots and a huge amount of people who all want a little slice of you.

And all this over a career that could last as long as 30 years at the highest level.
The answer to the opening question, by the way, was KJ Choi, Tim Clark, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson. How many of those did you manage?
It offers prestige. More prestige than any other event outside the four Majors. That must count for something, mustn’t it?


Says Dan Murphy, who pitches its prestige just behind the Majors

IT’S got arguably the strongest field assembled all year, is the highlight in the PGA Tour calendar and has a prime slot in the middle of the season.

So, as a top pro lucky enough to be invited, why wouldn’t you make a point of being at TPC Sawgrass in the middle of May for the Players Championship?

At other times of the year, notably either side of Christmas, the golf calendar is a convoluted mess. There are events all over the world and players pop up in Asia one week, the USA the next and the Middle East the one after.

The result is that, with the possible exception of the HSBC Champions in China, the world’s best do not gather in the same place between August’s PGA and  February’s WGC Matchplay.

Yet starting with the Masters in April, there is a pretty clear highlight for each of the summer months. May has the Players, June the US Open, July the Open and August the PGA.

So in terms of scheduling, I can see no reason why you would not come to Sawgrass.

When neither Rory McIlroy nor Lee Westwood took up their 2011 invitations, the subtext was PGA Tour rules limiting non-members to a certain number of events.

It seemed their decision was a reaction to that; if you won’t let me pick and choose when I play then maybe I’m not that bothered about your flagship event.

What a shame for the players concerned, the tour, the event itself and the watching fans. It made no sense to any of them.

If I was a world top-50 player mapping out my schedule for the season ahead, I would first ink in the Majors and the Ryder Cup (presuming I was American or European).

The next priority would be the Players, then the three individual WGCs (Matchplay in February, CA Championship in March and Bridgestone in August).

After that, as things stand, it’s each to his own. The HSBC Champions is lucrative and prestigious. Many play the Desert Swing (or at least some of it).

Most European Tour members support the BMW PGA at Wentworth while PGA Tour stars are likely to pencil in the Fed-Ex Cup play-offs after August’s PGA.

All the top players have various sponsors’ obligations and many are lucky enough to be offered large amounts of cash in appearance fees for certain events.

But the Players is different. There are masses of world ranking points on offer, and most of the elite are very aware which events are worth most in these terms.

It offers the chance to test yourself against the very best. There is a suitably large prize fund.

And most of all, or at least you would like to think, it offers prestige. More prestige than any other event outside the four Majors. That must count for something, mustn’t it?