ATLANTA, GEORGIA | Rory McIlroy has been the biggest champion of the PGA Tour all year long. It’s only fitting he should finish the season as the PGA Tour’s champion.
After three days of slipping and surging and chasing Scottie Scheffler around East Lake without gaining any ground, McIlroy needed just seven holes in Sunday’s final round of the Tour Championship to erase a six-shot deficit. At that point, did anyone really believe that either the world No. 1 or Sungjae Im were going to stop the tour’s brightest light from lifting the FedEx Cup trophy for an unprecedented third time?
McIlroy has done everything a player can do to try to safeguard the tour he loves from being cannibalized beyond recognition by LIV Golf. He’s turned his nose up at the guaranteed riches he could earn by cashing out, making the $18 million bonus as the season’s champ look like chump change.
Fittingly, in his crowning moment he lauded the peer he’d beaten to the tape.
“What a week, what a day,” McIlroy said as he stood in the bright Georgia sun. “I feel like Scottie deserves at least half of this today. He has had an unbelievable season. I feel sort of bad that I pipped him to the post. He’s a hell of a competitor and an even better guy. It was an honor and a privilege to battle with him today, and I’m sure we’ll have many more.
“I told him we’re one-all in Georgia this year. He got the Masters, and I got this.”
Final scorecard for a tumultuous and monumental PGA Tour season:
BIRDIE: Scottie Scheffler. His Sunday slip aside, he’s the player of the year. Remember last fall when he was questioned as a Ryder Cup captain’s pick without ever having won anything? That narrative changed in a torrid 57-day span when he won his first tour event in Phoenix, his first invitational at Bay Hill, his first WGC at Match Play and his first major at the Masters, securing No. 1 in the world along the way.
BIRDIE: Rory McIlroy. Say what you want about his inability to take advantage of strong opportunities to end his drought at every major this season, but McIlroy’s imprint on 2022 is indelible as the voice of the legacy golf tours. He may defer alpha status to Tiger, but Rory has been front and center on the battle lines.
EAGLE: Tiger Woods. His game comeback at three majors was poignant, but golf’s reigning O.G. stepped up to potentially save the PGA Tour with the weight of his support. That he reportedly turned down roughly three-quarters of a billion dollars to join LIV is the boss move of all time.
BOGEY: Cameron Smith. Winning the Tournament of Champions, Players Championship and 150th Open should have made the mullet-maned, short-game savant from Australia the toast of golf kingdom. Instead, he’s poorly dodged the open secret that he sold his services for LIV and a lifetime of exhibition matches between majors. He’ll be missed.
BOUNCEBACK PAR: Jay Monahan. Seems like only last year that everyone was lauding the commish for his leadership in getting golf back on track during the pandemic. Critics then blamed him for not reacting soon enough to stave off the threat of LIV tearing apart the golf ecosystem. His quick adoption of player suggestions to safeguard the future deserves its due. Life comes at you fast.
BIRDIE: Major championships. Not only did they all put on great shows and produce quality champions in heavyweight battles, but those four events have become even more valuable as the top of golf fractures. They may be the only sense of normalcy in the golf world in the future.
BOGEY: Villains. LIV has attracted a lot of talented misfits who always carried at least a bit of an edge to their personas. But defecting really seems to have exposed true colors of guys such as Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, et al.
QUAD: Patrick Reed. It’s hard to believe that the player once known as Captain America could dig himself any deeper of a public-relations hole than his laundry list of offenses to golf decorum already has. But his shambles of a defamation lawsuit proves there is no bottom for some people.
BIRDIE: Power Five. Other than point man McIlroy, the group of Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Scheffler and Jordan Spieth has been an unwavering vocal supporter for the legacy tours. Losing any of them could unravel the status quo. They’re keepers.
BIRDIE: Hideki Matsuyama. Japan’s biggest star confirmed to The Associated Press that he was sticking with the PGA Tour, declining a rumored $400 million offer from LIV Golf and denying the rogue league an important piece that could have locked up the Japan market. It speaks to how well the PGA Tour has responded with changes.
BOGEY: Presidents Cup. The presumed impending departures of automatic qualifiers Smith and Joaquin Niemann as well as veteran Marc Leishman will devastate Trevor Immelman’s International team (already without Louis Ousthuizen and Abraham Ancer) against a less-depleted U.S. side.
BIRDIE: Sam Burns. Beyond the established big-name stars, the young Burns has made the biggest leap into the marquee realm with three wins this season. He’s among a handful of guys who breathe life into golf’s meritocracy system.
BIRDIE: Rickie Fowler. If anything good at all came from LIV exodus it’s that the popular Fowler barely retained his top-125 tour card despite on-going struggles. Hopefully another year without having to spend a career-money exemption will help him back on track.
BOGEY: Talking points. On one side the hypocrisy was barely concealed behind a chorus of “grow the game,” “more time for family,” “here to play golf,” “force for good” and “not a politician” comments that covered up the unsaid truth: “it’s just about the money.” On the other, the “Saudi golf league,” “have cake and eat it, too” and “respect their decisions” grew similarly tedious.
BIRDIE: OWGR. The new system for ranking players based more faithfully on the actual strength and depth of fields is probably as close to accurate as the rankings have ever gotten. Said one of the game’s smartest players, Edoardo Molinari: “The new OWGR system is as fair of a system as professional golf will ever get.”
BOGEY: Limited fields. The OWGR took dead aim at limited fields, deeply diminishing the points value of events such as the Tournament of Champions, Tour Championship and Hero World Challenge. So hopefully Tiger and Co. won’t follow the LIV example by advocating for too many more no-cut fields? It’s anti-competitive.
BIRDIE: Korn Ferry Tour. The new OWGR is a boon to the top developmental tour, with events actually offering more points than many DP World Tour and even the strongest Asian Tour events. It has never been more valuable rankings-wise to be part of the PGA Tour family brand.
BOGEY: Fall series. With the pending abandonment of the wraparound season, there are going to be a lot of lower-tier event losers when the dust settles on future tour schedules. Events in Las Vegas, Napa, Houston, Mayakoba, Sea Island and Jackson may have bleak futures, if any future at all.
TBD: Rank and file. On one side, a new $500,000 earnings-assurance program (and $5,000 expense stipends for missed cuts) will provide security. On the other side, the two-tiered tour schedule might be harder to crack into the “enhanced realm.” Time will tell.
BIRDIE: Wake Forest. College teammates Will Zalatoris and Cameron Young have become leaderboard fixtures at majors and household names in short order. Young is likely to follow Zalatoris to earn the Deacons back-to-back PGA Tour rookies of the year.
BOGEY: TV voices. The retirement of Nick Faldo and the departure of David Feherty leave the commentary booth already absent Johnny Miller without two more of its most distinctive and candid voices. Immelman is pretty good, but that’s a big void for a noted nice guy to fill.
BIRDIE: Sahith Theegala. There has not been a more refreshing emergence than the rise of the rookie who won hearts in gut-wrenching near misses in Phoenix and Hartford yet played his way into East Lake to earn a trip to his first Masters next April. You can’t not like him.
BIRDIE: Tony Finau. Consecutive late-season wins helped shed his label as a poor closer and could boost one of the game’s nicest guys into the superstar role his fans have been hoping he’d finally assume.
BIRDIE: Matthew Fitzpatrick. His gutsy landing of the U.S. Open trophy on the same Brookline course where he won the U.S. Amateur made him a bonafide English star. His openly eschewing the lure of cashing in on the feat with the LIV vultures make him a hero.
BIRDIE: Netflix. What a season for them to be on the inside gathering footage for golf’s big Formula 1 docuseries exposure. Should be juicy.
BOGEY: Harry Higgs. Not only did he lose his shirt on the 16th hole in Phoenix, but he lost his card outside the top 125. That’s a pity for one of golf’s most interesting characters.
WD: Harris English. From a breakout season that took him as high as No. 10 in the world and to the Ryder Cup to missing 20 weeks with a hip injury, a best T19 finish and down to 43rd in the world is a pretty sharp retreat. At least he’s ranked higher than Reed.
BIRDIE: Joohyung “Tom” Kim. With a 61 in the final round in Greensboro, the 20-year-old Korean who picked his nickname from Thomas the Tank Engine became the second youngest PGA Tour winner since WWII. Only Jordan Spieth was younger. Welcome aboard the PGA Tour.
BOGEY: Talor Gooch and Hudson Swafford. Two early-season tour winners – one won at Sea Island and the other had tour resident privileges there – may not have realized what they were forfeiting when they listened to Greg Norman and became early LIV adopters. Losing that court case floored them.
BIRDIE: Eureka Earth. The unsung hero of the season has been the aerial surveillance of Augusta National by David Dobbins and his Cessna. The peeks at the new 13th tee and redesigned Par 3 Course have given Golf Twitter much needed respite from all things LIV.
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