Wednesday 21 March 2018

Why Sawgrass is more than about being number golf’s one for McIlroy, Donald, Westwood and Woods

Rory Mcllroy. Photo: Reuters
Rory Mcllroy. Photo: Reuters

THE world number one spot could change for the sixth time in 11 weeks on Sunday - but the Players Championship at Sawgrass is about far more than just that.

It is about more than money as well, even though the £5.8million purse - well over £1million of it to the winner - is the biggest in golf.

What Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods all want to show is that their best is good enough to beat anybody on any course.

They have all won once this year, but that does not set them apart from the pack let alone each other - 19 stroke play tournaments on the PGA Tour this season have produced 19 different winners.

While Woods says he preferred the time when he was way out in front on his own at the top of the world rankings, Donald is enjoying the merry-go-round.

"I have no issues - I kind of enjoy the going back and forth," he said today. "And I think the fans enjoy it.

"The last couple of months I think it probably has not been as exciting because Rory and I really haven't been playing in the same events."

They were together for The Masters at Augusta, but neither had a week to remember - and Woods did not get into contention either.

"I think that will change a little bit and hopefully there will be some situations coming up in the next few months where we'll be playing in the same tournament and both having a chance to win.

"That's more exciting I think."

Two weeks ago McIlroy was on a week off when Donald grabbed the spot back off the 23-year-old Northern Irishman by coming third in New Orleans.

Then, with Donald resting, McIlroy returned to number one last Sunday by being in a play-off for the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

Now the position is that Donald could take over again with a top-four finish this weekend - depending on where McIlroy finishes, of course - and Westwood could leapfrog them both by winning if Donald is not runner-up and McIlroy is outside the top five.

The three Ryder Cup team-mates will also be in competition with each other at Wentworth in two weeks' time.

That is for the European Tour's flagship BMW PGA Championship, an event Donald believes more Americans should try.

There are 20 of them in the world's top 50 and they were all exempt - but not one is playing.

"I can see why there's reasons not to play it," he said. "You don't have to travel far to play in a US dollars six million event at a great course at Colonial.

"But I've always been a proponent of to get the most out of your game it's important to travel and to experience new places.

"I think at least go try it once and if you don't like it fair enough.

"It's a big event on our tour. It's considered our Players Championship of the European Tour and I would have thought that would incite some interest in some of the big Americans."

This week's field is always one of the strongest of the season, but not everybody is present.

Apart from a number of injury absentees, Masters champion Bubba Watson says he wants more time at home, Open champion Darren Clarke turned it down and so did former Open champion Paul Lawrie, who has also decided not to enter next month's US Open.

McIlroy is favourite despite Sawgrass being a lay-out where he has yet to make a halfway cut - this is his third attempt - and yet to break par in any round.

Donald came fourth last year and joint second in 2005, while Westwood - third, first and fifth on his last three starts around the world - was fourth on his last appearance at the venue two years ago.

Woods was the 2001 champion, but has pulled out injured on each of his last two visits.

Winning by five at Bay Hill in March appeared a breakthrough moment in his comeback and swing rebuild. He has followed it with 40th place at The Masters - the same as McIlroy - and a missed cut last week.

Nobody knows what to expect from him now.

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