LIV means The PLAYERS is no longer fit for ‘Fifth Major’ tag

Ronan MacNamara

Scottie Scheffler Players Champion (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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It’s the 50th anniversary of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass this week and it might as well be celebrated by a couple on the brink of divorce, it means about as much. Cheap service station flowers and be done with it.

The tag of ‘fifth major’ has been the topic of debate for as long as I can remember but there is no doubt that this year of all years, it is not deserving of the unofficial ‘fifth major’ term.

Sawgrass is usually where most, if not all, of the top-50 players in the world flock, where the heavyweights look to clash and get some sparring in before heading to Augusta National.

47 of the top-50 are pencilled in this week, but it doesn’t feel the same.

Can a championship without Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Cameron Smith, Tyrrell Hatton and arguably the world’s in-form player, Joaquin Niemann, really be worthy of fabled major status? Do me a favour.

It’s the irony of ironies that at the PGA Tour’s flagship event, the chasm in the game of golf has never been deeper.

LIV Golf fields have become stronger and stronger and it’s sad to see this tournament without the likes of Rahm and Koepka who aren’t playing anywhere this week.

This week’s showpiece in Sawgrass boasts a $25 million prize purse which matches the funds of LIV Golf and is bigger than all of last year’s majors.

Scottie Scheffler’s win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was a sigh of relief for the PGA Tour last week. Finally, the world number one showed he was the best player in the world again.

Jay Monahan will be hoping that it might kick the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Max Homa, Viktor Hovland and Jordan Spieth into gear.

Perhaps, Scheffler can become the first player to successfully defend the PLAYERS Championship.

While LIV has had star winners, the PGA Tour has yet to get going this term.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan addressed the issue in his pre-tournament press conference, claiming that the PGA Tour has delivered stronger fields and improved on last season already.

“Early returns for 2024 show that field strength, player participation, and access for full-field and signature events are strong and delivering on our expectations based on the modelled projections,” Monahan said.

“Using data comparing participation from the top 50 and top 125 in the FedExCup standings in versus 2023, the strength of field at full-field events has improved by nearly 30 per cent. Better yet, the reimagined schedule is delivering the essence of the PGA Tour’s ethos: Pure competition which shows just how hard winning is.”

The diminished field this week is another stark reminder that golf is about the four big tournaments, a year, the majors. It should also be a warning light that golf is starting to become like tennis, or the athletics. Played all year round but irrelevant outside of four of the fifty-two weeks.

The men’s majors have benefited from golf’s split. Not that they needed it, but there has been an extra edge and a sense of novelty, seeing the likes of Rahm, Koepka, Bryson, Smith and DJ again.

The PLAYERS is still the best tournament on the PGA Tour but the LIV effect has seen it fall closer to the pack of normal PGA Tour events or ‘signature events’ rather than as a worthy rival to the four major championships.

Better than most? Don’t think so.

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