By DOUG FERGUSON
ATLANTA (AP) — Rory McIlroy set the tone for a contentious week at Wentworth for the BMW PGA Championship when he contemplated 18 players from Saudi-funded LIV Golf who have entered the European tour’s flagship event.
In his news conference Sunday after winning the FedEx Cup, McIlroy was talking about why he doesn’t mind when he is looked upon as the PGA Tour’s strongest supporter as it tries to cope with LIV Golf. And then he took aim at LIV players.
“I hate what it’s doing to the game of golf. I hate it. I really do,” McIlroy said. “Like it’s going to be hard for me to stomach going to Wentworth in a couple of weeks’ time and seeing 18 of them there. That just doesn’t sit right with me.”
The list includes Ryder Cup teammates Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Bernd Wiesberger and Martin Kaymer. Westwood made a strong and accurate defense of his desire to play a prestigious event like Wentworth. No other top European player has supported the home circuit as he has done over his career.
Most curious are the Americans in the field, who often talk about the desire to play less as a reason — along with the money — for joining Greg Norman’s league. That list includes Talor Gooch, Kevin Na and Patrick Reed.
Here’s the itinerary: Boston area this week. South of London next week. Back to the suburbs southwest of Chicago the following week. And that’s by choice.
Then again, the PGA BMW Championship is a chance to earn world ranking points because LIV Golf has not been approved for points by the world ranking board. Any decision could be nine months away, at which point players will have fallen greatly.
Gooch is No. 45, one spot ahead of new LIV player Harold Varner III. Patrick Reed, who once referred to himself as a top-5 player, is down to No. 50.
Four LIV players were allowed to play in the Scottish Open under an emergency stay from a British court. The European tour has fined them what amounts to the equivalent of last-place money from LIV events until a full hearing early next week.
Meanwhile, European tour CEO Keith Pelley sent a memo to players Tuesday about his own “strong opposition” to LIV players in the field at Wentworth. Pelley said in the memo, which was obtained by Golf Channel, that LIV players will not be required to play in the pro-am and will not be in any of the groups featured on streaming.
COMING AND GOING
LIV Golf signed up six more PGA Tour players, and with the fields capped at 48 players, some players are not in the Boston area for this week’s event.
Most notable is the absence of Japanese players.
Three players from Japan have been to all of LIV Golf Invitational events — Ryosuke Kinoshita, Jinichiro Kozuma and Hideto Tanihara. Now there is none. This comes after heavy courtship of former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, who said after the Tour Championship on Sunday he was not going to LIV.
Hennie Du Plessis of South Africa played in all three. He is No. 7 on the money list with just over $2.4 million and is not in the Boston-area event. Justin Harding and Travis Smyth also are not in the field, having played the previous three.
Some players are event to event, with a multiyear contract. That would seem to be the case with Adrian Otaegui and Sihwan Kim. They are back for Boston after missing the previous LIV event in New Jersey.
Chevron takes over as title sponsor for the LPGA Tour’s first major of the year, moving it from the California desert to Houston and raising the prize fund to $5.1 million.
Tournament officials also are revising eligibility criteria to create opportunities for amateurs from all over the world. Spots are being awarded to the winners of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Women’s British Amateur, Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific, Women’s Latin America Amateur, Augusta National Women’s Amateur and Chevron Silverado Showdown.
Also, Chevron is offering a $5,000 stipend to every player who misses the cut to help with travel costs.
The tournament is April 20-23 — away from its previous date one week before the Masters — and will be held at The Club at Carlton Woods.
Ten players are eligible to start next year at Kapalua on Maui for a Sentry Tournament of Champions that is no longer about current champions.
One of the changes involving the “elevated events” with big purses was to expand the Kapalua field to include anyone from the Tour Championship. The PGA Tour also had that criteria for January 2021 because of a shorter season brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those at East Lake who have not won on the PGA Tour this year: Sungjae Im, Aaron Wise, Viktor Hovland, Cameron Young, Brian Harman, Collin Morikawa, Adam Scott, Corey Conners, Sahith Theegala and Scott Stallings.
The tour still has nine tournaments the rest of the year. As of now, Young and Theegala will be in the Tournament of Champions without ever having won. Two years ago, that applied to Scottie Scheffler and Abraham Ancer.
The 50 players who earn PGA Tour cards from the Korn Ferry Tour — either the regular season or the three-event finals series — can expect a $500,000 deposit to start the year.
It’s one of the new programs Commissioner Jay Monahan announced last week. Everyone with a full card gets $500,000 that counts against their earnings so they don’t lose money.
That’s a benefit for the bottom. This season, the PGA Tour had 163 players who made $500,000 or more. That compares with 42 players who made under $500,000 while playing at least 15 tournaments.
For players who had 15 or more starts, Joshua Creel made only four cuts in 22 tournaments in his rookie season and earned $115,976.
Kyle Stanley was not a returning member (he was top 125 the previous year). Stanley made $188,048 in 18 tournaments. At the end of the season, the tour would have paid him $311,952 under this program.
Since the PGA Tour returned from the COVID-19 pandemic-caused shutdown in June 2020, Xander Schauffele has not had a final round over par in a regular PGA Tour event. … A big year is followed by a small break for Rory McIlroy. He is headed to England next week for the BMW PGA Championship, followed by the Italian Open to see the course that hosts the Ryder Cup next year. After a week off, he is playing the Dunhill Links in Scotland with his father. He would have two weeks off before the CJ Cup in South Carolina, which McIlroy won last year in Las Vegas. … Keita Nakajima and Rose Zhang are repeat winners of the Mark H. McCormack Medal for being the top-ranked amateurs for the most weeks this year.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The players who finished 1-2-3 at The Players Championship — Cameron Smith, Anirban Lahiri and Paul Casey — are now part of LIV Golf.
“I know that my best stuff is good enough to win any tournament against anybody on any golf course. That’s something I can take away from today.” — Rory McIlroy after rallying from six shots behind to win the Tour Championship.
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