Thursday, January 20, 2011

Westwood Sends A Message

Lee Westwood's announcement this week that he will not play in the Players Championship in May also means the current world No. 1 won't play in the Wells Fargo Championship either.

It's not that Westwood doesn't want to play here but new PGA Tour rules limit him to 10 starts and he's chosen not to make the Players one of them.

If you get a whiff of politics in there, you should.

Westwood's announcement in Abu Dhabi didn’t come as a shock. It had been hinted at for weeks. But it’s a shot at the PGA Tour which desperately wants the Players Championship to be considered the equal of the game’s four major championships.

When No. 1 chooses to skip the event, it stings.

“I’d go over for the Players if I could play in the tournament the week before (the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow), but I don’t want to pitch up at the Players cold, having not played for four weeks since Augusta. So, I’ll play a couple of tournaments on the European Tour instead,” Westwood told reporters in Abu Dhabi.

Because Westwood surrendered his PGA Tour membership in 2008 which required him to play 15 events annually, he’s now limited to 11 events. It was originally 10 events but tour officials offered some wiggle room when it became apparent Westwood may skip the Players.

Westwood plans to play the four major championships, the three World Golf Championship events, Houston the week before the Masters, Honda in Florida between two WGC events and Memphis where he’s the defending champion.

That’s 10.

Allowing an 11th spot for the Players wasn’t enough, not without making Quail Hollow available also.

Though he hasn’t said so officially, Rory McIlroy has indicated he may pass on the Players, as well.

McIlroy is expected to play here as defending champion but he’s not a fan of the TPC Stadium course and, with his starts also limited after choosing not to keep his PGA Tour card this year, McIlroy could be absent from the tour’s sparkly event.

The European Tour also raised its minimum number of appearances to 13 this year.

At a time when professional golf is fighting to maintain its audience, making rules to keep the best players out of top tournaments doesn’t make much sense.

Westwood’s announcement helps bring that into focus.