The iconic Players' Championship at TPC Sawgrass this weekend is defined by the absence of defending champion and LIV Golf defector Cameron Smith.
Smith claimed victory this time last year at what many have described as golf's unofficial "fifth major" but, after deciding to move to the contentious Saudi-backed LIV Golf series last summer, has not been welcomed back to defend his crown.
LIV's players have been indefinitely barred from the PGA Tour, with the Tour doubling down on the ban ahead of this weekend's Players' Championship.
Earlier this year, Smith - who also won the 2022 Open Championship - spoke about his disappointment at not being permitted to return to Sawgrass to defend his crown:
It stings a bit. But with my decision to come over to LIV, that was one of the things I had to give up, and I’m at ease with it. I’d love to be playing there, but there are a lot of other great tournaments and venues and countries that I’m looking forward to this year.
It doesn't seem as though those who have moved to LIV Golf will be welcome back on the PGA Tour any time soon, judging by remarks made by Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick at Sawgrass this week.
Matt Fitzpatrick thinks LIV Golf defectors should not be welcomed back
Fitzpatrick was a popular winner when he claimed his first Major title at the US Open last June. The Brit spoke to Sky Sports ahead of the first round at the Players' Championship, and said that he had no interest in seeing LIV Golfers return to the PGA Tour.
Speaking to Sky, Fitzpatrick said that he felt his views would be echoed by many of his compatriots, including Tiger Woods:
My personal view is that you can't have your cake and eat it. I would not let people come back if they've gone to LIV. I wouldn't - I think it's incredibly unfair of the PGA Tour to do that. I'd be staggered if they did allow them. I think if you spoke to Tiger Woods he'd probably have the same stance, I don't know about other guys.
You've left the tour, I'm talking about top players who have been here for so long and done so well. Now you've left for something you think is better - but perhaps [the grass] isn't always greener.
Don't get me wrong, they could turn around and say you can come and play LIV if you want, but I don't want to do that. I want to stay here and I want to play DP World Tour and PGA Tour.
🗣️ "I would not let people come back if they've gone to LIV!"
Matt Fitzpatrick believes players that left the PGA tour to join LIV Golf should not be allowed to return. pic.twitter.com/WCWfwmAo9Q
— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) March 9, 2023
Fitzpatrick went on to say that he would not have the same feelingabout LIV players being part of Team Europe at this September's Ryder Cup, saying that he felt the team tournament was an entirely different scenario:
For me, I would want the 12 best players on the team. Hopefully I am one of those, to try and win win. That is what the goal should be, to try and win, not to be nice about who should be playing in my opinion.
The LIV Golf saga continues to drag on, but it doesn't seem as though the PGA Tour's players are eager to welcome the defectors back any time soon.