The PGA Tour season continues and ‘elevated’ events begin at Kapalua
Golf rarely sleeps, and even then it is with one eye open. Just over two weeks from when we saw the PGA Tour players compete in the PNC Championship, they’ll be back this week for real at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
The official 2022-23 season began in September, then paused just before Thanksgiving, with nine events already scheduled.
Now begins the resumption of the FedEx Cup season schedule, 34 consecutive weeks of PGA Tour golf culminating with the Tour Championship and a FedEx Cup champion in late August.
The Tournament of Champions was once the start of the season, has become part of the wrap-up calendar and, from 2024, will again be the start of a new season.
It’s also the start of a new era for the PGA Tour, which has raised prize money for 13 events known as elevated or “designated” tournaments. It’s one of them. Here’s a look at the first PGA Tour event of 2023.
Tournament Introduction: Sentry Tournament of Champions
Where: Planting Yards, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii.
When: Thursday to Sunday
Field: 39 players who have either won a PGA Tour event in 2022 or reached the season-ending Tour championship. Click here for the full field.
Defending champion: Cam Smith. The Australian shot 34 under par a year ago to edge Jon Rahm one place and kick off an epic season that also saw him win the Players Championship and the British Open. But Smith is ineligible to defend his title due to his LIV Golf membership.
Speaking of LIV Golf: Directly or indirectly, the threat of LIV Golf has led to Designated Events, a series of tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule that have seen increased purses and must be played by those who have been named ( 23 players in 2022) as part of the Player Impact Program (PIP).
What are the designated events? : The main events are the Sentry, the Genesis Invitational, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Players Championship, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, the Memorial, the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.
The Tour has also named the WM Phoenix Open, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship and Travelers Championship as designated events for 2023. These events may rotate in future years. The Sentry has a purse of $15 million, the Players $25 million, and others, other than the Tour Championship, $20 million. (The Tour Championship is where the season bonus pool is paid out.)
Add the four major championships and three other events a player can choose from, and that’s 20 tournaments expected from those who received the PIP bonus.
So where are Rory and Shane? : Neither Rory McIlroy nor Shane Lowry are in the Sentry field, the only eligible players not participating. In the fine print of the PIP rules, it is stated that a player is allowed to withdraw from designated events for personal or professional reasons. That basically means McIlroy and Lowry are on board for the rest of the designated events this year.
Of course, there is fine print in the fine print. In order to receive the remainder of the PIP bonus (25% of it is paid out this week), a player must play in all designated events they are eligible for, minus an opt-out. If he doesn’t? In theory, he sacrifices the remaining 75% of the bonus. Concretely, it will be up to commissioner Jay Monahan, who has the discretionary power to override these rules and allocate all the money.
Unless a player skips multiple events or does something egregious, do you think Monahan is going to deny someone the money? Doubtful.
FedEx Cup: There’s still a long way to go, but Seamus Power leads the FedEx Cup standings with 749 points, after winning the Bermuda championship, as well as a third-place tie in Mayakoba and a tie for fifth place at the RSM Classic. That kind of performance in the fall will take him a long way, maybe even all the way to the Tour Championship, with any level of success over the next few months. Rounding out the top five are Keegan Bradley, Mackenzie Hughes, Tom Kim and Brian Harman. McIlroy, who won his only CJ Cup start and is the defending FedEx champion, is tied for ninth with Tony Finau.