Oahu Musings: The debate over full fields and signature events. Cink can speak from experience

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Stewart Cink hits from the 11th tee during the second round of the Sony Open golf event, Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Matt York)

HONOLULU – Stewart Cink knows about change as well as anyone, a combination of good play and his birth certificate. At age 50, the former British Open champion is the only player at the Sony Open who will stay in Hawaii next week for the PGA Tour Champions opener.

Cink played at Firestone when it held the World Series of Golf. He missed it when it became a World Golf Championship for only Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup players. And then he won it in 2004 when it was for the top 50 in the world.

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So what to make of this new PGA Tour model of signature events and $20 million purses with small fields and most of them not having cuts?

“If I was in the top 50 I would really like it. But I'm not, so I don't like it," Cink said.

He is in the final year of his full exemption from two victories in the 2021 season, but he was well out of the top 50 (No. 153) in the FedEx Cup. That's what it takes to secure spots in the eight signature events this year.

The change was a reaction to the ongoing threat of Saudi-funded LIV Golf. The idea was to bring the best players on the PGA Tour together more often and reward them with $20 million prize funds, not to mention a new PGA Tour requirement to have flushable toilets on the course for player families.

“Unfortunately, I do think it's probably the right thing to do for golf fans,” Cink said. "If all the players play in those and we get great fields playing for a lot of money, then it's great. It's just I don't think it serves everybody. And the PGA Tour has been about doing the best for everybody, for all the pros and members.

“So I'm a little mixed on that.”

That's what the PGA Tour is facing this year. It's easy to find the players opposed to the new system. Just keep going further down the FedEx Cup standings.

There's a lot of unknowns with such a radical change, and the Sony Open began to reveal some of the questions.

This is the first of a three-tournament stretch that will determine the five players from the “swing” who get into the next $20 million event at Pebble Beach. The Sony Open was always a good starting point for newcomers. This year, there wasn't room for nearly half of the players who earned cards from the Korn Ferry Tour.

Those with conditional status — Nos. 126 through No. 150 — might expect to play even fewer events than normal for that category.

What also troubles Cink — and he's not alone — is the distribution of FedEx Cup points that weighs more for the signature events. It leads to what British Open champion Brian Harman (who is eligible for everything) describes as a “cut-throat” model.

The PGA Tour has crunched the numbers and believes the turnover rate — those who fall out of their elite status and whoever replaces them with good play — to be similar for the top 50. Still to be determined is what kind of advantage the top 50 have in getting to East Lake.

A spot in the FedEx Cup finale gets players into three of the four majors (likely all four) and a two-year exemption. Whoever thought Atlanta would be the promised land for the PGA Tour?

Cink thought back to the predecessor of “signature” events. That was all of one year ago, and they were called “elevated” events. The purse was $20 million, but the fields remained full.

The cream rose at most of those events. Jon Rahm held off Max Homa and Patrick Cantlay at Riviera. Bay Hill featured a Sunday afternoon of Cantlay, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler. The winner was Kurt Kitayama.

But the fields were full to their previous levels (120 at Bay Hill and Riviera, 156 at Quail Hollow) and there was a cut.

Now they are estimated to be from 70 to 80 players. Only the player-hosted tournaments (Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial and Genesis Invitation) have cuts.

“I played in the first year of the elevated tournaments. They were mostly full-field tournaments with cuts and all the top players played,” Cink said. “I thought they were just absolutely brilliant. It’s hard to convince me and a lot of the players that aren’t in those fields why being a small field matters.”


Some 20 players will be competing three weeks in a row to start the year, and three of them will be in the air more than the others. A lot more.

Harman and Tyrrell Hatton took the short hop over from Maui to play in the Sony Open. They leave Sunday night for a 9,000-mile trip to the Dubai Desert Classic.

Not to be forgotten is Tommy Fleetwood.

He left The Sentry on Maui for the Dubai Invitational and the Dubai Desert Classic. Fleetwood meant to begin his journey Sunday night from Kapalua, except he was booked on an Alaska Airlines flight to San Francisco, and it was the same plane that was grounded from the panel that blew off the flight from Portland, Oregon. He had to wait until the next morning.

Now he goes into the final round of the Dubai Invitational with a one-shot lead over McIlroy. What a performance.

Hatton left London for Maui. Next is a trip to Dubai and then back to Florida to prepare for a trip to the West Coast.

“The body is just feeling so amazing. Why not?” Hatton said. “Just another long-haul flight and feel even looser at the end of it.”


AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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