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Weekly Read: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson Conspicuous By Absence From Players Championship

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Woods, Mickelson both not playing at TPC Sawgrass since 1994 for entirely different reasons.

For the first time since 1994, neither Phil Mickelson nor Tiger Woods is in the Players Championship field this week at TPC Sawgrass, a reality that was one day inevitable given the length of their careers but no one expected it to be this soon.

Both players are fully exempt due to their most recent major championship victories, with several more years of eligibility.

Woods, who is out due to the injuries suffered in a car crash more than a year ago, is exempt through the 2025 Players due to his 2019 Masters win. His return remains uncertain. Mickelson, who has a Players spot through 2026 due to his PGA Championship victory last year, is not entered due to the self-inflicted wounds that are still haunting him concerning his comments about the PGA Tour and a potential rival golf league.

The PGA Tour’s flagship event still boasts 47 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking and will have one of the strongest — if not strongest — fields of the year, an event that will be played for the 40th time at TPC Sawgrass.

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The venue has seen its share of drama over the years, some of it produced by Woods and Mickelson — but perhaps not nearly as much as one would think, given their resumes.

Mickelson, who won the Players in 2007 just weeks after switching to Woods’ old coach, Butch Harmon — the first year it was moved to May from March — has missed the event just twice since his first appearance in 1992 as an amateur. In 1994, it was due to a leg injury suffered while skiing. He also missed in 2003 as his wife, Amy, was about to give birth.

Aside from that victory, Mickelson has two other top-10 finishes. He’s missed the cut in six of his last eight appearances. At times, he’s threatened to skip due to his frustration with the layout. Since winning in 2007, Mickelson has not posted a top-20 finish at the Players.

Woods’ record is slightly better. He has two victories, including the 2013 win that was one of five that year. He also won in 2001 (weeks before completing the Tiger Slam by winning the Masters). He has just one other top-10. Although Woods had to withdraw twice (in 2010 and 2011) due to injury, he’s never missed a cut at the Players in 19 starts.

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What does all of this mean?

It’s interesting that two of the game’s all-time greats have mostly struggled around the famous (infamous?) home of the tournament. In 46 combined starts, they have just three victories and only seven top-10s between them.

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It perhaps says something about the longtime belief that the course suits no type of player. Adam Scott won in 2004; Fred Funk a year later, followed by Stephen Ames and then Mickelson. It doesn’t get much more diverse than that. Prolific winners such as Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, the defending champion, have won the Players. So did Craig Perks, 20 years ago, his only PGA Tour victory.

One thing that seems obvious: good luck picking a winner this week.

Brutal Bay Hill
TPC Sawgrass might actually seem a leisurely exercise after what players who competed in the Arnold Palmer Invitational faced at the Bay Hill Club, especially over the weekend,

Rory McIlroy’s opening-round 65 must have seemed as if it were on a different course.

“I feel punch drunk, to be honest,” said McIlroy, who shot 76-76 on the weekend and tied for 13th. “The weekend, it’s like crazy golf. You just don’t get rewarded for good shots. Like I’m venting here and I’m frustrated and whatever. I think, as well, the frustration is a carbon copy of what’s happened the last three years here. I started off really, really well with a 66 or 65. Friday afternoon conditions got a little tougher. Then over the weekend it’s sort of been the same stuff.

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“So three years in a row it’s sort of being start off, lead the golf tournament, then you just sort of regress and come back to the field each and every day. Yeah, it’s frustrating. It’s hard to keep your patience out there.’’

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McIlroy suggested the difficult conditions could cause some to skip the tournament in the future, especially with the Players Championship following.

“They need to do something about it,” he said. “It’s not rewarding good shots.”

Tyrell Hatton, who won in 2020, managed to bounce back from a third-round 78 to miss a playoff by one shot with a final-round 69.

“We know the weekends are pretty brutal here,” said Hatton, who tied for second with Billy Horschel and Viktor Hovland. “I think the greens get so quick sometimes, pin positions just seem brutal. You have to play defensively and try your best to get the ball as close as you can. When you’re putting, if you do miss, you don’t want it too far away on the next one. So, I guess I’ve done a good job of that.”

Only two players in the top 10 managed to break 70 on Sunday. Scheffler’s winning total of 283, 5 under par, tied for the second-highest score to win going back to the start of the 2014-15 season. Hatton shot 284 while winning at Bay Hill two years ago. And Scheffler’s winning total matched that of Danny Willett at the 2016 Masters. Scheffler’s 72 also was the highest by a winner since Phil Mickelson shot 72 in the final round of the PGA Championship.

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Captain Zach
Zach Johnson was officially named U.S. Ryder Cup team captain last week, an appointment that could be seen coming last year when Davis Love III became captain of the 2022 U.S. Presidents Cup team.

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Johnson ticks all the boxes as part of the U.S. Ryder Cup plan, having three times served as an assistant (two Ryder Cups, one Presidents Cup) with nine combined appearances as a player. A bonus: he’s got a winning record as a player in both competitions.

At the news conference, Johnson dodged questions about Mickelson and his future as an assistant captain. Mickelson was an assistant at Whistling Straits and has been long believed to be in line to be captain in 2025. Mickelson would be a natural to assist Johnson in Italy. He’d actually make sense for the Presidents Cup this year.

“Well, given basically where we are right now, I have no idea what lies ahead as far as my vice captains, and who is on this team,” said Johnson, who nonetheless said 2021 captain Steve Stricker would assist him. I know that the 2020 (actually 2021) was such, and 2023 will look vastly different. What that looks like, I don’t yet.”

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