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SI CONVENED A PANEL OF GOLF EXPERTS— SENIOR WRITERS MICHAEL BAMBERGER, DAMON HACK, ALAN SHIPNUCK AND GARY VAN SICKLE AS WELL AS SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR JOHN GARRITY—AND A PGA TOUR PRO (WHO PARTICIPATED ON THE CONDITION OF ANONYMITY) TO ADDRESS THESE AND OTHER QUESTIONS
Van Sickle: Last we heard, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood were planning to skip the Players. Should the PGA Tour be concerned about their absences?
Garrity: Yes, losing Westwood and McIlroy definitely hurts the Tour. The two big U.S. tournaments with inferiority complexes—the Players and the PGA Championship—boosted their status in recent years by saying they had the best fields in tournament golf. The Players can't do that now. Heck, even the World Match Play probably has a stronger field than the Players.
Hack: It's a dangerous precedent for the Tour, that's for sure. If Rory is the Number 1 player in the world two years from now and he never plays in the PGA Tour's flagship event, that's a problem.
Shipnuck: You could argue that Rory may be the most compelling figure in golf right now. I was watching Malaysia way more carefully the week after the Masters because of his presence. Westwood may be back to Number 1, but he's never really connected with the U.S. golf audience. Losing Rory hurts more. People really want to see Rory now.
Bamberger: They saw him in Malaysia. Malaysia's gain was our loss. There's a lot of that going around.
Shipnuck: Especially in the customer-service area.
Hack: After Tiger, Rory is probably the one person people are curious about. They want to know how he's going to respond to his Masters hangover.
Shipnuck: If Lee and Rory are missing, that's going to add a little tension to the Players narrative. It kind of explodes the Tour's mythmaking. How great can the tournament be if two of the world's best players don't bother to show up? It'll be fun to listen to commissioner Finchem and his lieutenants try to finesse that one.