Jason Day explains why LIV Golf star Cameron Smith will be missed at the Players Championship

Cameron Smith defected to LIV Golf last year  (Getty Images)
Cameron Smith defected to LIV Golf last year (Getty Images)

Cameron Smith’s absence from the Players Championship is a “little bit sad”, says former winner Jason Day, as the event prepares to get under way next week without its defending champion.

While there will plenty of star power at TPC Sawgrass, including Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and the new world No1 Jon Rahm, one glaring absence will be the Open champion and world No 5 Smith, who has been banned indefinitely from playing in PGA Tour events after switching to LIV Golf.

Australian Smith is one of five players who finished inside the top-10 last year at TPC Sawgrass who have since fled to LIV Golf, a group that also includes runner-up Anirban Lahiri, Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and Harold Varner III.

“He lives five minutes down the road,” Day told Sky Sports. “I miss Cammy. I miss a lot of the guys that have gone over to the LIV Tour.

“Obviously I don’t blame them for going over there. They had the opportunity to pick up whatever they wanted to, money-wise. They made a decision. [But] it is a little bit sad Cammy’s not here this week. The decision has been made, and he’s over there.”

Rahm is the first player since Johnny Miller in 1975 to win three times in a calendar year before March and will headline a loaded field at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, which includes 44 of the top 50 players in the world.

The Spaniard, who opened the season with six consecutive top-10 finishes before settling for a share of 39th last week at Bay Hill, has never missed the cut in five starts at The Players and had his best result in 2021 when he finished ninth.

World number one Rahm counts the 2021 U.S. Open among his 10 wins on the PGA Tour, but the Spaniard is very eager to add a Players Championship title to his resume.

"I mean, winning this event is a big step forward to a Hall of Fame career," Rahm told reporters. "You are The Players Champion. Arguably as close as you can get to being a major champion without officially being one."

Among the other contenders at TPC Sawgrass, where the winner will get $4.5 million from a purse of $25 million, are reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year Scottie Scheffler and four-times major winner Rory McIlroy.

For Scheffler and McIlroy, who have both spent time atop the world rankings this year, a win this week is one of the many scenarios in which they can return to top spot in the rankings.

McIlroy arrives full of confidence after finishing runner-up at Bay Hill where during the final round the Northern Irishman carded successive bogeys from the 14th before a two-putt birdie at the par-five 16th kept his hopes alive.

"As much as I was disappointed that I didn't play the final five holes the way I wanted to, it was still a good week, and I feel like getting into contention last week and sort of having those feelings sets me up well for this week," said McIlroy.

First-round action begins on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Reuters