It was quite the eventful week on the PGA Tour, certainly more than usual before the FedExCup Playoffs begin.
Even when Lucas Glover won the Wyndham Championship by two strokes, his fifth victory on the PGA Tour, punching his FedExCup Playoff ticket where he projects 49th, it was a mere blip in the golfing news cycle.
Certainly, Justin Thomas’s unsuccessful final run at the playoffs is what most avid golf fans were following and that will be brought up shortly, but the moving pieces and how significant they are should show just how much of an impact this week provided.
TIGER WOODS TO THE BOARDROOM
George Martin was often referred to as “the fifth Beatle” but after this week, Tiger Woods is making the news as the sixth golfer to represent the player policy board as talks advance between the PGA Tour and Player Investment Fund.
Woods has been rather silent through this entire ordeal save for a stray tweet in which he seemed to be unaware of the changes and it established a clear communication gap.
From a golfing perspective, Woods’ impact on today’s game is unrivaled and frankly it is hard to say no to him.
Having sponsors and commissioner Jay Monahan agree to his insertion comes at a time where the commissioner is trying to establish clear goodwill after doing a lot of bargaining and meeting without so much as consulting any of his membership.
The negative feedback Monahan received in Canada was followed by a lengthy illness and in his time off, it was clear that notes were taken on how to turn this ship more favorably.
Sure, there will be golfers who are wary or completely untrusting of Monahan after he went back on his own words in less than a year’s time, but much of the game’s top talent are at least willing to envision a future with him leading their tour.
Woods publicly releasing a statement expressing public support of Monahan is big for both parties.
For Woods, it displays a clear opinion of wanting to move forward. He values his legacy, and it is important for him to make the proper choices of course for professional golf as a whole, but for himself as well. Woods has always been a smart businessman and will be able to advocate not only for top golfers, but for those who are trying to earn more starts.
Regardless of whether he was forced to join or not, having Woods present is an extra measure to ensure that the transparency has been lost will improve, not to mention running multiple PGA Tour events only helps him understand planning logistics and details that are unmatched amongst active golfers, which can only further benefit everyone.
Monahan having Woods publicly backing him up will be able to turn the tide towards finding a resolution, while also earning some of the lost trust back. Again, it may be hard for him to have all of that trust back, and he understands that, but that will legitimize his validity and credibility at the bargaining table, especially when he stated that it was the player’s tour, perhaps a sign that if there is a deadlock he will side with his players.
Rory McIlroy will also benefit from this in a major way. Before, a lot of the burden was placed on him and maybe now that will not be the case as much.
McIlroy was the biggest voice for more than a year now on the topics and it dominated a lot of his media opportunities, and it still may, but with Tiger Woods not currently competing and any potential comeback being with a massively reduced schedule, the Northern Irishmen will not feel the weight of the world on his shoulders and maybe now, he can be able to play his game more consistently at the golf course, without the worry of exhaustion and expectation.
It remains to be seen what Woods will do to make this impact, but if anything is clear, the next topic may just provide a hint.
REPORTED PGA TOUR SCHEDULE RELEASED
Earlier in the week Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch released an article which potentially displayed the upcoming PGA Tour schedule, one which was slated for public release at some point this week.
There are plenty of date shifts, most notably the Memorial Tournament moving back one week, and now being held just prior to the U.S. Open and 12 designated events, with the addition of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
The biggest change and where Woods certainly played a factor, is four of the designated events still featuring a 36-hole cut. These are the Players Championship and the three legacy events in the Genesis Invitational, the Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The PGA Tour treats the Players Championship as its major and will be the only designated event to contain a full field, which certainly explains having a 36-hole cut.
These other three events are considered legacy events because Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are associated. Those will have a lesser cut as the maximum field size of 80 will be cut to 50.
With the designated events being added to this year’s schedule, players were only able to skip one before being fined, something McIlroy learned the hard way.
Now players are not having mandatory orders to play the designated events.
Lynch’s report adds that the Houston Open will move to March and have Texas Children’s (a hospital) as a sponsor, while South Korean group CJ takes over sponsoring the Byron Nelson event. The tournament formerly known as the Honda Classic and a July event opposite the Scottish Open both are awaiting sponsors.
2024 also marks a summer Olympics year, meaning the Wyndham Championship and FedExCup playoffs each will be pushed back a week.
There is discussion that a lot of these designated events will be lumped together or have a non-designated event in between with the top five finishers from those tournaments having the opportunity to compete in the limited-event fields.
This would allow for the so-called “feel-good stories” such as Wyndham Clark and Nick Taylor to have those opportunities, though there will be less margin for those players to maintain playing privileges in these designated events.
None of this includes potential changes stemming from PGA TOUR and PIF discussions, though the limited timetable makes it unlikely for such changes to occur.
Even so Woods’ impact is already being felt before he has his seat in as Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda would say is the “room where it happens”.
That there are still limited no-cut events shows their listening to him and Nicklaus to an extent as well, allowing each legacy event to determine what is best for them.
THOMAS UNABLE TO HOLD ON, SEASON ENDS
Justin Thomas put himself in position to make the FedExCup Playoffs but as he walked off the 17th hole saw himself 70th and right on the bubble to earn his ninth consecutive berth in the playoffs. A figure which matches how long he has been on the PGA TOUR.
Thomas’ drive missed left, the improper miss, but he quickly turned the negative into a positive, seeing the pine straw as a way to control his ball towards the green. Thomas contorted his body and missed just short of the green.
There was a certain silence, understanding Thomas’ season could end with a bad result, but his birdie pitch collided with the flag and danced around the hole, ultimately just missing its mark as he collapsed to the floor over the heartbreak.
“In my head if I got it up and down hopefully, you’re good, but I knew if I made a birdie, I would definitely be good, so I wanted to give it a chance and I felt like I gave it a pretty good chance,” Thomas told CBS’s Amanda Renner during a rain delay. “I hope that it all works out because that’s going to haunt me a little bit if not.”
A haunt it will be as Thomas placed 71st, 8.32 points behind rookie Ben Griffin for the last spot in the FedEx St. Jude Championship. Griffin entered the week 79th in points.
Thomas saw his round go rather neutral, but an eagle came on the par-5 15th hole after hitting the fairway for the first time all tournament, taking on a full 7-iron and burying a tricky 15-footer, which he emphasized with a fist pump and point.
“I felt if I got it on the fall line it was going to go in and these greens are so fast, they almost don’t stop until it runs into something,” said Thomas. “This one went in and hopefully it’s good enough.”
Thomas gave one of those shots back on the very next hole as he felt that he was punished for taking a conservative shot as the wind began to pick up.
When Thomas tapped in for par on the 18th, several tour staffers had horns ready to suspend play as a rain and thunder cell approached Sedgefield Country Club, an even more suspenseful cliffhanger for a golfer who sat one player behind advancing to the FedExCup Playoffs.
Saturday Thomas expressed an understanding of what was on the line, though he also cited how making the Ryder Cup was more important to him.
It remains to be seen if making the playoffs by displaying this improved form and confidence was enough to merit a captain’s pick or if Johnson will find more suited options.
“I did everything I could, it’s completely out of my control,” Thomas concluded. “I fought as hard as I could and played as well as I could today and this week. I gave myself a chance which is pretty good. I want to keep playing because I’m really starting to play well and I’m excited about playing well, so I don’t want my season to be over.”
DECHAMBEAU BACK IN WINNER’S CIRCLE
Bryson DeChambeau admitted afterwards that he blacked out but when he did, he borrowed or stole, depending on who you ask, from Phil Mickelson repeatedly jumping up and down after recording the second 58 in men’s elite professional golf (Jim Furyk), winning the LIV Golf Greenbrier event by six shots over Mito Pereira.
It was DeChambeau’s first win in two years and nearly four additional months at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I’ve been working so hard for a long time, and I knew something special was going to come at some point, I just didn’t know when,” DeChambeau told reporters following his triumph.
DeChambeau has changed his driver and even he appeared surprised at how quickly his game has turned the corner.
He ended his round with a 40-foot bomb on the 72nd hole for birdie, a putt he conceded he was trying to get to three feet.
“I hit a 40-footer to start off every single day in practice, and I know exactly what a 40-footer feels like,” assessed DeChambeau. “I just made that feeling, and I stroked it, and it was perfectly on line. Three-fourths of the way there I’m like ‘oh my gosh, this is going to go in, isn’t it?’ Am I’m like ‘this is for 58, this is for 58, this is for 58’ and then I explode. That was fun.”
It appears to be a long shot that Zach Johnson will come calling for the Ryder Cup, but with the American team lacking in-form golfers, perhaps some consideration will be given to someone who has started to figure it out again and was undefeated in the last staging of the event.
“I’m playing really well,” DeChambeau stated. “I’ve got some equipment that’s performing quite nicely off the driver, and that’s a deadly combination with my putting. You couldn’t have written it up better than this, but if I do get a call, that would be awesome. If not, I’ll be rooting them on over in Rome.”