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Golf world: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson Conspicuous By Absence From Players Championship

Woods, Mickelson both not playing at TPC Sawgrass since 1994 for entirely different reasons.

 

 

For the first time since 1994, neither Phil Mickelson nor Tiger Woods is in the Players Championship field this week at TPC Sawgrass, a reality that was one day inevitable given the length of their careers but no one expected it to be this soon.

Both players are fully exempt due to their most recent major championship victories, with several more years of eligibility.

Woods, who is out due to the injuries suffered in a car crash more than a year ago, is exempt through the 2025 Players due to his 2019 Masters win. His return remains uncertain. Mickelson, who has a Players spot through 2026 due to his PGA Championship victory last year, is not entered due to the self-inflicted wounds that are still haunting him concerning his comments about the PGA Tour and a potential rival golf league.

The PGA Tour’s flagship event still boasts 47 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking and will have one of the strongest — if not strongest — fields of the year, an event that will be played for the 40th time at TPC Sawgrass.

The venue has seen its share of drama over the years, some of it produced by Woods and Mickelson — but perhaps not nearly as much as one would think, given their resumes.

Mickelson, who won the Players in 2007 just weeks after switching to Woods’ old coach, Butch Harmon — the first year it was moved to May from March — has missed the event just twice since his first appearance in 1992 as an amateur. In 1994, it was due to a leg injury suffered while skiing. He also missed in 2003 as his wife, Amy, was about to give birth.

Aside from that victory, Mickelson has two other top-10 finishes. He’s missed the cut in six of his last eight appearances. At times, he’s threatened to skip due to his frustration with the layout. Since winning in 2007, Mickelson has not posted a top-20 finish at the Players.

Woods’ record is slightly better. He has two victories, including the 2013 win that was one of five that year. He also won in 2001 (weeks before completing the Tiger Slam by winning the Masters). He has just one other top-10. Although Woods had to withdraw twice (in 2010 and 2011) due to injury, he’s never missed a cut at the Players in 19 starts.

What does all of this mean?

It’s interesting that two of the game’s all-time greats have mostly struggled around the famous (infamous?) home of the tournament. In 46 combined starts, they have just three victories and only seven top-10s between them.

It perhaps says something about the longtime belief that the course suits no type of player. Adam Scott won in 2004; Fred Funk a year later, followed by Stephen Ames and then Mickelson. It doesn’t get much more diverse than that. Prolific winners such as Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, the defending champion, have won the Players. So did Craig Perks, 20 years ago, his only PGA Tour victory.

Brutal Bay Hill
TPC Sawgrass might actually seem a leisurely exercise after what players who competed in the Arnold Palmer Invitational faced at the Bay Hill Club, especially over the weekend, where Scottie Scheffler prevailed to win his second PGA Tour event after a final-round 72.

Rory McIlroy’s opening-round 65 must have seemed as if it were on a different course.

“I feel punch drunk, to be honest,” said McIlroy, who shot 76-76 on the weekend and tied for 13th. “The weekend, it’s like crazy golf. You just don’t get rewarded for good shots. Like I’m venting here and I’m frustrated and whatever. I think, as well, the frustration is a carbon copy of what’s happened the last three years here. I started off really, really well with a 66 or 65. Friday afternoon conditions got a little tougher. Then over the weekend it’s sort of been the same stuff.

“So three years in a row it’s sort of being start off, lead the golf tournament, then you just sort of regress and come back to the field each and every day. Yeah, it’s frustrating. It’s hard to keep your patience out there.’’

McIlroy suggested the difficult conditions could cause some to skip the tournament in the future, especially with the Players Championship following.

“They need to do something about it,” he said. “It’s not rewarding good shots.”

Tyrell Hatton, who won in 2020, managed to bounce back from a third-round 78 to miss a playoff by one shot with a final-round 69.

“We know the weekends are pretty brutal here,” said Hatton, who tied for second with Billy Horschel and Viktor Hovland. “I think the greens get so quick sometimes, pin positions just seem brutal. You have to play defensively and try your best to get the ball as close as you can. When you’re putting, if you do miss, you don’t want it too far away on the next one. So, I guess I’ve done a good job of that.”

Only two players in the top 10 managed to break 70 on Sunday. Scheffler’s winning total of 283, 5 under par, tied for the second-highest score to win going back to the start of the 2014-15 season. Hatton shot 284 while winning at Bay Hill two years ago. And Scheffler’s winning total matched that of Danny Willett at the 2016 Masters. Scheffler’s 72 also was the highest by a winner since Phil Mickelson shot 72 in the final round of the PGA Championship.

Captain Zach
Zach Johnson was officially named U.S. Ryder Cup team captain last week, an appointment that could be seen coming last year when Davis Love III became captain of the 2022 U.S. Presidents Cup team.

Johnson ticks all the boxes as part of the U.S. Ryder Cup plan, having three times served as an assistant (two Ryder Cups, one Presidents Cup) with nine combined appearances as a player. A bonus: he’s got a winning record as a player in both competitions.

At the news conference, Johnson dodged questions about Mickelson and his future as an assistant captain. Mickelson was an assistant at Whistling Straits and has been long believed to be in line to be captain in 2025. Mickelson would be a natural to assist Johnson in Italy. He’d actually make sense for the Presidents Cup this year.

“Well, given basically where we are right now, I have no idea what lies ahead as far as my vice captains, and who is on this team,” said Johnson, who nonetheless said 2021 captain Steve Stricker would assist him. I know that the 2020 (actually 2021) was such, and 2023 will look vastly different. What that looks like, I don’t yet.”

2022 Arnold Palmer Invitational: Purse, Prize Money, Payouts, Field
In a later interview with Sky Sports, Johnson was asked specifically about Mickelson, and he simply answered by saying that Mickelson was a friend, but did not know how the situation would unfold.

U.S. players can begin earning points this week at the Players Championship, one of just seven tournaments offering points this year along with the four majors, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and the WGC-HSBC Champions.

Starting in January 2023, points will be distributed at all tournaments, with more weight on the majors. The cutoff for making the team will be after next year’s BMW Championship.

Like 2021, Johnson will have six at-large picks, with six players automatically make the team.

“I think it’s pretty simple,” Johnson said. “Steve pursued six because of the climate back then, the COVID and uncertainties and things of that nature. And then rather than changing it from there to something different, we thought, yeah, it seemed to work.

“But more than that, because now we’re going across the pond to a golf course that we’re unfamiliar with, I haven’t seen yet. .. I don’t want to say horses for courses, but if I have a little bit more freedom involved once I understand what the course demands, certainly fully knowing that the European Ryder Cup team has a little bit of say in how they set the course up, I think it allows me to really pinpoint some key attributes that could be an asset on this golf course.’’

Fore! Things
1. Chris Kirk and Talor Gooch earned spots in the British Open by finishing among the top 10 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The Open was offering spots to three players who finished in the top 10 who were not otherwise exempt. Keegan Bradley, who tied for 11th, missed an Open invite by one shot.

2. It’s not getting much attention, but Woods will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame Wednesday night at PGA Tour headquarters. The rules for induction have changed, which is why he had to wait (the age minimum was raised from 40 to 45; Mickelson was inducted at age 41 in 2012). Woods was named to the Hall of Fame two years ago, on the eve of the Players Championship, which was canceled due to the pandemic. The Hall of Fame ceremony was also postponed. Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, LPGA legend Susie Maxwell Berning and pioneering amateur Marion Hollins will also be inducted.

3. Why is the Player Impact Program (PIP) money broken down in the manner we learned last week? We knew it was $40 million (going to $50 million this year). We knew it was $8 million to the winner. And so we figured there would be some corresponding decrease the farther you went down the 10-player list. But after Tiger Woods ($8 million) and Phil Mickelson ($6 million), the next four players each got $3.5 million and the final four received $3 million. So no difference between third and sixth? Or between seventh and 10th?

4. The Puerto Rico Open was the final event on a minor medical extension for Ryan Brehm, who needed a win or a solo finish in order to earn enough FedEx points to continue getting starts this season. In his 68th start on the PGA Tour, Brehm won, which means full status the rest of this year and a two-year exemption. He will also get a spot in this week’s Players Championship.

Wine tasting … while preparing for the Masters
Rory McIlroy has often ventured to Augusta National in the weeks preceding the Masters to get an early look at the course, work out some strategy, enjoy time playing with his father, Gerry. There is also another reason.

“I used to go on scouting missions and go for prep, and now I I usually just go for the wine,” he said. “They’ve got a nice wine cellar there.”

McIlroy’s quest for the career Grand Slam will continue next month. How he goes about getting ready is typically the subject of plenty of fodder. This year, he’s playing the week prior at the Valero Texas Open. And it appears he will be skipping the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

At first, McIlroy suggested he might not go for a pre-Masters visit, then changed course as he realized he would have two weeks free between the Players and the Valero.

“I might find my way up there at some point,’’ he said. “There have been a couple of changes on (Nos.) 11 and 15 that I’ve heard about that I would like to see, and especially not getting in playing the week before and probably not getting in there until the Monday. I might go up there for a night or two and have a little look around, but I haven’t made any plans yet.’’

If he does make the trip, McIlroy said he enjoys the visit as much as he does preparing for the Masters.

“They’ve always been my favorite times at Augusta,’’ he said. “Going up with members and playing with my and dad and putting the jacket and tie on and going for dinner in the clubhouse at night. Those are great experiences. With probably a few other clubs, they’re the best experiences in golf to share with friends or family.

“I enjoy going up there, and I can definitely separate the two. I can enjoy my time there and just play the golf course and have a good time and separate that from what I try to do one week every April.’’

Masters Countdown
The Masters is now 31 days away, and the field remains at 90 players following the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The tournament begins on April 7. Tiger Woods and Ian Woosnam remain part of the field, although neither past champion is expected to play.

There are now just four more PGA Tour events through the Valero Texas Open that provide an opportunity to get in by winning, including this week’s Players Championship. There is also the top 50 in the Official World Ranking as of March 28 who will also get invitations if not otherwise in the field.

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