PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Decisions by world number one Lee Westwood and Briton Rory McIlroy to skip this week’s Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass have drawn stinging criticism from American sports commentators.
Westwood has cited schedule problems for not playing in a tournament widely considered the fifth major by players, while world number six McIlroy does not like the course.
“It’s an affront to the championship. It’s a statement,” NBC Sports’ leading analyst Johnny Miller said on Wednesday during a conference call. “I’m not sure what the statement is and it is a bit of a cloud why (they are not here).”
The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee said McIlroy, whose stunning final-round collapse at last month’s Masters cost him the win, and Westwood, who is playing in South Korea this week, made the wrong decision.
“They are making a mistake,” said Chamblee. “It’s ironic (sic) both players have the same manager. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence.”
Both players are managed by British agent Chubby Chandler, who told Reuters the criticism was ill-informed and misplaced.
“They have made all these comments without trying to find out what has gone on. It’s alright standing there, shooting your mouth off but try and find out what’s gone on,” he said.
Chandler said McIlroy does not like the TPC Sawgrass course and Westwood’s absence was a result of scheduling confusion.
Westwood is not a member of the PGA Tour and is limited in the total events he can play on the North American circuit.
“It’s been a whole bunch of cock-ups. The PGA Tour told us they could play 12 tournaments and then two months later said they could only play 10, whereas (last year) Lee played 11 and was going to play 12,” said Chandler.
There was also confusion about whether the Players, which begins here on Thursday, counted as one of the 10 events.
“They changed the rule but by then he had committed to play in Korea. It is one of those things, he’ll probably play next year,” said Chandler. “He has a schedule, he is trying to win majors and the TPC was not the most important tournament on his schedule.”
What may lay behind the different takes on the absence of two top ten players from the event is the differing status granted to the tournament by European and Americans.
“Definitely here (in America) it is more important than it is with Europeans - it’s not the fifth major by any stretch,” said Chandler. “Lee came here about three years ago and said ‘It’s not the fifth major, it’s maybe eight or nine on my list.’
“He’d rather win a World Golf Championship than the Players Championship, if that is his feeling, that’s his feeling and whether Johnny Miller or Brandel Chamblee or anyone else thinks differently, that’s fine. There is no vendetta or hidden agenda, we aren’t trying to prove a point.”
Editing by Frank Pingue