AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy was one of the strongest voices in private player meetings that led to a season in which top players agreed to play in 17 designated events. A later update allowed them to miss one of those events.
McIlroy now has missed two and risks losing $3 million of his $12 million Player Impact Program bonus.
McIlroy was a favorite at the Masters and then shot 77 in the second round to miss the cut. Three days later, he withdrew from this week's RBC Heritage with its $20 million purse. He already withdrew from another designated event, the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, at the start of the year.
In announcing the PIP results in November — McIlroy was No. 2 behind Tiger Woods — the tour originally said 25% of the bonus would be paid after Kapalua. A memo sent to players in December said 75% would be paid after Kapalua, and the rest paid when a player met the rest of his obligations, which included playing in 16 of 17 designated events.
So now what?
McIlroy has not said what led to his withdrawal from Hilton Head, whether it was an injury, family emergency or some other reason that would excuse him. And then there's the footnote at the bottom of the PIP:
“The Commissioner, in his sole discretion, may modify, waive, or adjust eligibility requirements, program commitments and/or program metrics based on extraordinary circumstances.”
As strong a voice as McIlroy has been against the threat of Saudi-funded LIV Golf, the tour has to weigh whether to enforce its policy or give McIlroy a $3 million way out for his leadership during such radical change and division in golf.
McIlroy never spoke at the Masters after missing the cut. Storms rolled in as he finished, the second round was suspended and Augusta National ordered the course evacuated.
Jason Day and Alex Noren also withdrew from the RBC Heritage. Day finished 18th in the PIP while Noren was not among the top 23 players and has no obligations.
The final round of the Masters took nearly five hours in twosomes, and Brooks Koepka was not the least bit happy. Koepka and Masters champion Jon Rahm are known to not dawdle when it comes to golf.
“The group in front of us was brutally slow,” Koepka said. “Jon went to the bathroom like seven times during the round, and we were still waiting.”
Patrick Cantlay and Viktor Hovland were in the group in front. Cantlay on Tuesday said Koepka and Rahm weren't the only ones waiting.
“We finished the first hole, and the group in front of us was on the second tee when we walked up to the second tee, and we waited all day on pretty much every shot,” Cantlay said at the RBC Heritage. “We waited in 15 fairway, we waited in 18 fairway. I imagine it was slow for everyone.”
Anecdotally, the pace of play is becoming a leading topic again. There was one stretch where the PGA Tour did not make the 36-hole cut until Saturday (except for events with multiple courses) from November at Mayakoba until the middle of March.
“When you play a golf course like Augusta National where all the hole locations are on lots of slope and the greens are really fast, it’s just going to take longer and longer to hole out,” Cantlay said. “I think that may have been what attributed to some of the slow play on Sunday, and then also when the wind is gusting and the wind is blowing maybe inconsistently, that’s when guys will take a long time, too.”
The long final day at the Masters pulled in big numbers for CBS Sports, which reports just over 16.2 million viewers combined across all platforms for the conclusion of the rain-delayed third round and the final round.
Jon Rahm overcame a two-shot deficit against Brooks Koepka, with 52-year-old Phil Mickelson making a late run with a 65. Rahm beat both by four shots in the end.
CBS said the final round alone averaged just over 12 million viewers, up 19% from last year and the high number for a golf telecast on any network since just over 13 million viewers for the 2018 Masters.
About the time Augusta National was clearing away three pine trees that fell during Friday's second round of the Masters, a federal judge in California had little choice but to delay any potential trial date in LIV Golf's antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.
U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman vacated the Jan. 8, 2024, trial date. She has set Jan. 11, 2024 for a hearing on summary judgement, indicating the earliest the trial could be would be four months later.
Part of the delay is because Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, are appealing Freeman's ruling that they cannot claim sovereign immunity under the Foreign Services Immunity Act because of their commercial activity.
The case management hearing got testy toward the end. Freeman was setting a trial date for May when the attorney for the PIF argued about the judge limiting pages to 25 per side for a motion. Freeman said the PIF and LIV would have to share the page limit.
“I’m not setting a summary judgement schedule, it’s vacated. I’m not setting a trial, it’s vacated and I will now look at my schedule when I can hear all of your motions,” Freeman said. “It may be two years from now.”
She eventually stuck with the Jan. 11 hearing without setting a trial date.
Freeman also was leaning against a Saudi request to hear the cases separately — the antitrust case against the PGA Tour and the tour's countersuit claiming LIV interfered.
LIV Golf would be in its third season at the earliest when the case goes to trial.
ASIAN TOUR TO THE UK
The Asian Tour is expanding in the U.K.
The Asian Tour's International Series was held in the London area last year — one week before the debut of LIV Golf.
The London area event this year will be Aug. 17-20, followed a week later by the Asian Tour's first tournament in Scotland, the St. Andrews Bay Championship on the Torrance course at the Fairmont St. Andrews resort.
LIV Golf has pumped some $300 million into the Asian Tour, particularly its International Series events that allow for promotion to the LIV Golf league. Several LIV Golf players have competed in International Series events on the Asian Tour.
The series this year goes to Oman, Qatar, Thailand, Vietnam (this week) and the U.K.
“This is testament to the global vision of The International Series," said Cho Minn Thant, the commissioner and CEO of the Asian Tour.
Phil Mickelson earned $1,584,000 from his tie for second in the Masters. That’s roughly the same as he has made in his seven LIV Golf events combined. Mickelson now has 10 finishes in the top three at the Masters, second only to the 12 by Jack Nicklaus. ... The Kevin and Brittany Kisner Foundation has given $1.2 million to Children’s Hospital of Georgia. The gift is part of the foundation’s $5.3 million pledge to create the Kisner Foundation & Friends Center for Pediatric Development, Behavioral Health and Well-being at the hospital. ... Patrick Reed and U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick were the only players with every round at par or better in the Masters this year.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The last four Masters champions had at least a four-shot lead when they stood on the 15th tee Sunday.
“I love these weeks so much that I hate having to wait another year for this to come around.” — Shane Lowry after the Masters.