Ewen Murray reflect on amazing moments at Sawgrass and defends Rory McIlroy
Last Updated: 09/05/16 11:21am
Ewen Murray reflects on 20 years of memorable moments at The Players Championship and discusses Rory McIlroy's decision to opt out of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
The 2016 season is gathering momentum and with the first major of the year behind us, the focus is now on The Players Championship. Like the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship, The Players is played at the same venue each year and no doubt Sawgrass will be in fine shape for this year's edition.
For those who have not had the fortune to play at Ponte Vedra, it's a course that has kept pace with modern technology in its 30 odd years, despite the fact it's just over 7,000 yards.
There have been some amazing finishes down the years. My colleague, Craig Perks' victory stands out. The New Zealander required just two putts over the closing three holes en route to victory in 2002. Two years earlier, I can still hear Hal Sutton having struck a six-iron to 18 saying, "be the right club today" and it was. His playing partner that round, Tiger Woods, gave Hal the thumbs up.
There have been many dramatic moments with Sergio Garcia and KJ Choi having to go beyond the 72 holes before celebrating victory. Sergio's win took him to No 2 in the world, his highest position so far, while Choi became the first Korean to hold the title.
Adam Scott was a young man when he found the water at the last, yet held his nerve to win. Fred Funk was in the autumn of his career when his moment came. Fred had been a Ponte Vedra resident for several years and no doubt, his success was more than popular within the local community.
Our own Sandy Lyle won in the eighties, as did Aussie, Steve Elkington, who will be remembered for one of the most sweetly struck long-irons ever seen. A majestic two-iron to the 18th green finished just a few feet from the cup.
Yet of all the Players I have attended and I shiver when I say 20, last year's edition of the PGA Tour's flagship event was the most memorable. Perhaps a rain delay added to the drama as the heavens opened so close to the end. Maybe it was Kevin Kisner trying to make The Players his first win, having come so close on several occasions. But more than likely, it was the truly brilliant play down the stretch from young American star, Rickie Fowler.
Great as this game is, there are few moments each season of that quality. It was golf at its best and the way Fowler closed out the 2015 Championship will live long in the memory. Six under for the last six holes, five under for the last four, that had never been done since PGA Tour records began and he birdied the notorious 17th three times on that final Sunday. Any Hollywood script writer would find it hard to come up with these closing lines in the last act.
So who's turn will it be this year? It's eyes shut I think with a pin in your fingers! Historically, this tournament has the strongest field, perhaps rivalled by the PGA championship of America, which incidentally, will be played at the end of July this year to accommodate the return of golf to the Olympic Games.
Will Jordan Spieth be over his disappointment at Augusta? Will Jason Day add to his recent impressive haul? Will Rory McIlroy find the consistency that has eluded him lately? His final round at Quail Hollow suggest only minor tweaks are necessary. I may add, will Danny Willett go on from where he left off in Georgia? All of course, are more than capable.
Never has the game been in better shape. Young players have little fear and plenty of belief. For our young guns, it's Ryder Cup year and our captain Darren Clarke will be there to cast his experienced eye over them. What a chance to impress on American soil and in doing so, capture Clarke's attention and join in the bid to retain the Cup in Minnesota.
This event has been called golf's fifth major. It's not that and never will be, but it's just below the four elite events in our sport and to have The Players on your CV is more than desirable.
In little more than a week after the conclusion of Sawgrass, the BMW PGA Championship gets under way at Wentworth and many fans will be disappointed to hear the event will go ahead without Rory McIlroy in the field. My Twitter account went red-hot when the news was broken, most saying everyone who is eligible should be at the historic Surrey venue.
Having been a member of the European Tour since its inception in 1971, I believe everyone should play in this iconic event, albeit not the flagship event on our Tour. The fact is, the top players cannot compete every week.
Like you, I would like Rory to be there, but let's not forget, he hosts the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and he has forgone the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational so as he can grace the French Open, which celebrates 100 years of playing at the beginning of July. He will also represent his nation in the Rio Olympics and that is the main reason he will not be at Wentworth. In doing what he is doing, I believe he is supporting his home Tour.
Some of you may not know that the world's top 50 are exempt for the BMW PGA. So many of our home-grown players have supported The Players Championship in the past. It would be correct if some PGA Tour players made the effort to support BMW who have been superb sponsors both at home and in the USA.
If I was the PGA Tour commissioner, I would advocate that his top 50 players play a minimum of two events worldwide on other Tours during the course of a season, rather than them having to gain release clauses to do so. If the Tours work together, the professional game can only get stronger. We have seen that with the European Tour and the Asian Tour and, because of their alliance, both have benefitted.
Perhaps, there are too many tournaments. Greg Norman stated over 20 years ago that we should ease towards a world Tour. I thought he was correct then and nothing has changed for me to believe otherwise. Both the PGA and European Tours would still remain strong, as they have to, to accommodate all members.
The four majors, four WGC events and selected others could form a 20-week season which is about as many tournaments the top players play. Many other issues would have to be assessed; world rankings, qualifying systems, promotion and relegation etc. Maybe the task is too big, too hard, too difficult. It is however, food for thought and I'm sure you have many opinions on the subject.
In between Sawgrass and Wentworth, The Irish Open is to be played out at the K Club. The County Kildare course is relatively young, yet has many historical images. Rory has invited 13-year-old Irish starlet, Tom McKibben to partner him in the pre-tournament pro-am. Rory says he is the future and I wish Tom well alongside his idol.
That's your next three weeks on Sky Sports golf, so enjoy it all from the USA, Ireland and England. You will notice I have given no tips. I keep getting invited to the turf accountants' cocktail parties as my awful predictions make then fortunes.
I hope you make good choices and, along with the rest of the team, we look forward to your company. In the meantime, keep bashing them down the middle.