Players' opinions divided about event
When Bubba Watson pulled out of the Players Championship last week, he didn't get anything close to the amount of flack Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood endured when they took a pass on the so-called fifth major last year.
In what was perceived as a power play by agent Chubby Chandler against commissioner Tim Finchem of the PGA Tour, the two Europeans made lame excuses about how the tournament at TPC Sawgrass didn't fit into their schedules.
"It's an affront to the championship," NBC commentator Johnny Miller said. "It's a statement. I'm not sure what the statement is. It's a bit of a cloud why."
Said Phil Mickelson: "Everybody has got their own personal deal, but I disagree with their thought process."
Chandler, perhaps the most high-powered agent in the game — his clients also have included major champions Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen — said there was no slight intended.
But he also took a swipe at the tournament's stature.
"I would think when it was played at the end of the March it was getting to be the fifth major," Chandler. "Moving it to the middle of May has made it about the 10th most important tournament in the world.
"It isn't a priority for them, as they would rather win a major or a World Golf Championship event."
Whatever, McIlroy and Westwood are coming back to Pete Dye's Stadium Course this week as bona fide PGA Tour members.
To hear McIlroy tell it, the boycott wasn't his idea, anyway. He publicly admitted that skipping the Players and giving up his PGA Tour card in 2010 were mistakes.
"I felt like the path I was going down wasn't the path I wanted to go down," the reigning US Open champion said after he left Chandler's International Sports Management late last year.
"That's another example of being involved with Chubby and ISM and maybe being led down the wrong path, or a path that I didn't want to go down. It was something I sort of felt like I had to do.
"I think just spending a little bit of time around Chubby and Lee and hearing their view of the PGA Tour, obviously they're very pro-European Tour, while I've always been one who wanted to play on the PGA Tour."
McIlroy's record on the Stadium Course might have made it a little easier to persuade him to skip the tournament. He has missed the cut in his two appearances there.
In 2009, he shot 74-77—151 and missed the weekend by seven strokes. The following year he went 73-72—145 to miss by three shots.
"I don't like the course," McIlroy said in 2010. "It's a Pete Dye course. It creates angles, a bit like Whistling Straits. He designed that course, as well, where the tee boxes are sort of lining you up in the wrong direction.
"Visually, it's very tough off the tee. It makes you feel uncomfortable because it looks like you've only got a little bit of fairway to hit, but actually once you get up there, it's a little bit wider. It's just very demanding visually."
McIlroy turned 23 years old Friday while he was on his way to a tie for second in the Wells Fargo Championship, losing in a playoff to Rickie Fowler. It can be difficult growing up under the constant media glare at such a young age.
In talking about TPC Sawgrass more recently, his increasing maturity showed.
"I don't feel that comfortable on the golf course yet," McIlroy said. "Not to say the Players isn't a great event. It's very prestigious, and it would be great to win it one day. You know, it's a golf tournament I grew up watching on TV. It's a great place. You've seen a lot of great stories there over the years."
There's no question the Stadium Course is one of the most difficult — shall we say Dye-abolicial — tests the players face all year on the PGA Tour, even for Tiger Woods.
Woods has had his own struggles on the course, although he won the tournament in 2001, and he will be back this year after missing the Players last year because of left leg injuries and pulling out in the middle of his final round in 2010 because of a neck injury.
Westwood also will be back because he said he felt left out last year, the same reason he gave for rejoining the PGA Tour after watching the FedEx Cup playoffs from home last year.
"I missed the Players Championship last year, watching it on television," Westwood said.
Wonder if Bubba will feel the same this week?