McIlroy Not So Sure about Championship Format

Rory McIlroy Has Serious Doubts about Tour Championship – But Then Again…

To question the structure of a certain event, scoring system, or rules issue is not so uncommon among players. It happens all the time. However, this week is a big deal for the PGA’s year-ending “golforma.” It’s the final and largest moment of the fireworks display, the exclamation point on an incredible season. Considering Rory McIlroy’s comments in the past few days, I had to wonder, “Haven’t we known about this for a long time now, and why bring it up less than a week before the event?”

McIlroy is taking issue with the same thing that hangs many of us up. The top thirty golfers in the ratings system are beginning a weekly tournament with different guaranteed starting scores, a handicapped scoring system that puts good past performances at the head of the class. He gets it that the whole season’s body of work influences the placement of players in the final week. This includes four majors, and a hefty bit of support from the next to last tournament, the BMW, won by Justin Thomas last week.

All of our lives as golf fans and players have been predicated on the sanctity of the weekly tournament, where a winner emerges on Sunday, and the slate is wiped clean for the following Thursday. Everyone starts at the same starting line. This, however, is a different animal, what I call an “entangled” tournament meant to laud a single winner with a title suggesting that he is the year’s best overall. The point is emphasized by presenting him with an unthinkable amount of money, even by PGA standards. What this year’s field of thirty is chasing? Only one check of 15 million. Last place gets $83,000. Rory asks if such a thing is ‘relatable’ to fans. I don’t know. Perhaps not being relatable is part of the jolt, the sizzle, the wow factor. We look at the screen while someone wins the entire budget of some federal or state agencies.
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The entangled tournament. That’s what we have to get through our heads. Yes, the winner each week is the winner of that tournament, but we’re crowning a long-term winner as well, a long body of work winner. The Tour Championship is a natural outgrowth of where you were at the season’s beginning, how you did in the majors, and how you did last week at the BMW. It’s like having the pole position at the Indy 500, earned from qualifying.

McIlroy is still unconvinced. He could beat lat week’s champion by four strokes, and still lose. How does that work? It works because you and the champion have been playing this championship for the past two weeks. This is BMW, Chapter 2 – or one might think of it as the Epilogue and Appendix for 2019. For this championship, all the tournaments are attached. If one runs the risk of winning by four only to lose to someone who was placed ahead of you, you should have played better against him last week as well. You should have edged out on the leaderboard for the last major.

McIlroy’s objections aren’t expressed in a belligerent way – he’s just asking. One reason for his moderation is that at the bottom of it, he’s just a good guy. In addition to that, look at Thursday’s scoreboard, the first day of the final week. He has moved to minus 9, only one stroke behind the leaders. And who are they? Justin Thomas, of course, who only shot a 70 today to remain at 10 under, the score which he was assigned at the start, do with it what he may. Also at minus 10 is Brooks Keopka. He was in relative contention last week, and played well enough to stay within striking distance. Now he’s striking. Koepka is a scary presence during big events such as majors, and others with big checks.  Xander Schauffele, another contender from last week, has caught up, and is tied for the lead.

In short, McIlroy, who has an excellent chance to run away with this gargantuan check, relatable or not, needs to see that he is still playing last week’s tournament, and that the Tour Championship offers him an extension with which to catch up, and possibly win. He is certainly making good use of it

Big money will always be ‘relatable.’ What we must install in our golf brains is the concept of a multi-week tournament in which the score is not wiped clean on Monday morning.

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