JOHN KELLEY IN PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND
EVERY year they want to call it the “Fifth Major”.
And those sentiments will no doubt emerge again among American tournament golfers on Thursday when the 2023 Players Championship gets under way at Sawgrass, Florida, with 43 of the world’s top 50 competing. But they will surely be whistling into the wind.
Its addition would dilute the present four majors’ status. And of course it could not include last year’s championship winner Australian Cameron Smith, nor Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Sergio Garcia for example who have joined the Saudi Arabia LIV tour, thus forfeiting their PGA membership.
However, the imminent 49th Players Championship this week nevertheless has its own very high rating among players, spectators and TV viewers alike.
The bookmakers’ favourite is Rory McIlroy at 9-1, with Scottie Scheffler, John Rahm and Patrick Cantlay also fancied at 12-1. Max Homa, Jason Day and Justin Thomas are among the top-class field at the course which boasts one of the most famous holes in golf.
This is the spectacular 17th green-or-water, triumph-or-disaster “island” hole with vast crowds waiting to acclaim or groan after each shot. The course is quite long at 7 256 yards and there are 16 other holes where water comes into play.
Tiger Woods, twice a winner here, will not be playing. He had not entered by the deadline date.
Delving into the tournament’s past we can find the time in 1992 when Nick Price, then of Zimbabwe, won with a record low score of 270, three shots ahead of Bernhard Langer, a performance that confirmed him at the time as the world’s number one. Then at the peak of his considerable capabilities, one of Zimbabwe’s greatest sports stars of all time won with scores of 64, 68, 72 and 67 to leave the others gasping with admiration and envy.
This year the winner will be paid US$4.5 million, almost double Cameron Smith’s US$2.5 million last year. Total prize fund has been set at US$25 000 000. The winning caddie will even get US$450 000, enough to buy a house. Not bad for a week’s work.
As to the aforementioned “LIV” Saudi Tour, Cameron Smith has recently been paid a whopping and irresistible US$100 million to join. Others include Justin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Dean Burmester, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood and Zimbabwe’s Scott Vincent with a US$1.5 million pay day.
About the writer: Veteran author and journalist John Kelley is himself a keen golfer. He is the author of a book on the history of Zimbabwean golf, titled Staying the Course.