The Players Championship: Absence of reigning champion Cameron Smith is 'awkward' for 'the fifth major'

    Cameron Smith tees off at the ISPS HANDA  Australian Open at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne on December 01, 2022.

    (CNN)A star-studded field will contest a record $25 million prize purse at The Players Championship on Thursday.

    The field includes a trio of stars who have already held the world No. 1 spot in 2023 -- Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm, who currently tops the rankings -- but there will be one glaring absence at TPC Sawgrass for the PGA Tour's flagship event.
    In the championship's 49-year history, no player has ever successfully defended the title and with reigning champion Cameron Smith barred from competing due to his involvement in the LIV Golf Series, that run is guaranteed to tick over to half a century.
      "Yes, it's awkward," PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan told reporters Tuesday when quizzed on the Australian world No.5's absence.
        "He was a deserved champion ... but ultimately that's a decision he made, and we've got an unbelievable field here this week and a history and tradition that one of these 144 is going to go seek to get."