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Rory McIlroy wants a more cutthroat PGA Tour

Rory McIlroy tops Tiger Woods on PGA Tour Player Impact Program list

On Friday evening, six men—five of them major champions—were tied for the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, so it must have been sobering for them to see their impressive performances generate less buzz than news that Tiger Woods will be taking another week off work.

That coverage gap can’t be attributed only to the click-thirsty herd mentality of golf media. It’s a reminder of Woods’ transcendent stature—he’s more newsworthy on his couch than most guys are on the leaderboard. But the current and future status of Woods also spotlights the PGA Tour’s unresolved identity crisis: is it a ruthlessly competitive sports league, or is it an entertainment product?

Rory McIlroy was asked Friday whether he has misgivings about there being just 69 players in the field at the API. He does not. “I’m all for making it more cutthroat, more competitive,” he said. “Probably won’t be very popular for saying this, but I’m all for less players and less Tour cards, and the best of the best.”

It’s a defensible argument. The Tour has long operated with the sole objective of creating playing opportunities for members, which in practice means too many tournaments paying too much money to too many journeymen for too little impact. But a desire for a more competitively focused and streamlined Tour—a view McIlroy is far from alone in holding among top players—is incompatible with eligibility carve-outs for sentimental favorites. Like Woods. But who is going to cut the GOAT’s throat? Who will tell fans and sponsors that Tiger hasn’t earned a spot?

API: Rory McIlroy cuts corner, drives 401-yard par-4 10th green at Bay Hill

This is Woods’ last year of eligibility for the Players Championship, which he is skipping. He has no eligibility for signature events, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he has won eight times. Had he signaled a desire to compete at Bay Hill, there’s no doubt he would have received one of the sponsor exemptions not already donated to Adam Scott (a Policy Board member who has had three straight free passes into lucrative events he wasn’t otherwise qualified for). And not a single player would have questioned that call, despite Woods being five years removed from his last victory, which was also his last top-10 finish.

So if the PGA Tour is to be cutthroat, to place more emphasis on competitive relevance, where is the line to be drawn by the blade? How long is the grace period before a struggling…


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