Golf / The Players' Championship: European absences dilute field's quality

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The Independent Online
FOR THE first time since 1990, the year that every European but Sandy Lyle developed sudden scheduling problems, The Players' Championship has a field with obvious gaps. According to the Sony rankings it is still the best field of the year. However, four leading Europeans are missing: Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie and Lyle.

Although the organisers have done everything possible to make this a world class event - a purse of dollars 2.5m ( pounds 1.7m), an immaculate and ever-improving TPC course, and a convenient spot on the schedule two weeks before the Masters - other things are beyond their control. Ballesteros cannot compete because of back pain. Faldo, Montgomerie and Lyle are on paternity leave.

The leading American and Australian players are here, along with several highly ranked Japanese and Africans, but there are only four Europeans: Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer and Anders Forsbrand.

Woosnam and Forsbrand missed the cut last week at Bay Hill, and Woosnam was pessimistic about his play and the chances for its improvement, saying that things only got worse when he tried to work it out on the range. Langer, rusty after a two month lay-off in which his third child was born, finished equal sixth.

Olazabal said his game 'should be good enough to do well and score well.' It is improving, but it is nowhere near the peak he reached between 1989 and 1991. 'To be honest, I didn't expect to do so well in such a short period of time,' he said. 'Since I turned professional in 1985 I've had a solid career. I'm hitting the ball all right now. I'm pleased with it, but nothing special. No complaints.'