Rory McIlroy entertained. And he was entertained.
Over the next weeks, months and quite possibly years, you’re going to hear a lot about “entertained.” But wait, you say. Don’t you know the show you’re watching when you flip the golf, or pass through the gate? That’s true. You’re not going to see a dunk or a touchdown, though now you can sometimes see Charles Barkley and Tom Brady. Still, that doesn’t mean you should sit on your birdies and eagles, and that’s the message that will be spun from this crowd that hopes to turn golf on its head, the LIV Golf Invitational Series. On Saturday, they completed their first-ever tournament and, along the way, trotted out shotgun starts and neon-colored leaderboards that let out video game game, and big cash prizes.
Say what you may, but all that is different and makes you curious. But a few things are also in play here. One is that last item, the money, which you have undoubtedly heard about by now, though we will repeat it. LIV’s funding is Saudi-based, and LIV’s biggest name explained what Phil Mickelson told biographer Alan Shipnuck his backers were “scary MF’ers.” Still, thousands watched LIV play this weekend, so here we are.
Which brings us then to the actual golf. Over in London, LIV crowned Charl Schwartzel its first-ever champion. And CBS ‘Jim Nantz described his recent resume as such on Saturday: “Charl Schwartzel with his first win of any kind in six years, ranked 126th in the world, he was the victor of this 54-hole event of the tour that’s Saudi backed . ” It’s here where we note that the lower-ranked players do often win behind Schwartzel were Hennie Du Plessis (No. 133 in the world), Branden Grace (No. 123) and Peter Uihlein (No. 327 ).
And the competition? At the Canadian Open, the PGA Tour’s stop this week, the third-round leaderboard on Saturday read as follows: 1, Tony Finau; 1, Rory McIlroy; 3, Justin Thomas; 3, Sam Burns. The first three will be in the same final grouping on Sunday. You don’t have to scroll where to find their rankings: Finau is the lowest. At 18.
And the Tour’s de facto spokesman did the math during this exchange:
Reporter to McIlroy: “With everything going on in the golf world this week, is there anything that could make a win tomorrow feel sweeter or maybe more significant?”
McIlroy to reporter: “Not necessarily. Every win is sweet, and every win’s significant. I don’t even think personally, for me, but I think what a success this tournament is anyway. You look at it out there today. I mean it’s definitely the best atmosphere of any golf tournament going on this week.
“Yeah, the crowd support is incredible, and yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s going to be more entertaining than what else golf played this week anywhere else.”
Ouch. That last sentence hits where it hurts. If you’re a LIV fan, he’s got you there. If you’re a PGA Tour stan, you’re happy you got McIlroy. And Thomas. And Finau. And Burns. And a cool hockey-themed viewing area this week on the 16th tee at St. George’s. (They’re playing in Canada, remember.)
LIV play will get better. US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau is signed up and will play in the next event. On Saturday, Masters winner Patrick Reed and fan favorite Pat Perez confirmed their services. Should more lesser-known players cash in, the argument is more big names could follow.
On the Tour side, it won’t have a world-class leaderboard every week. And its warts are well known. But on this Saturday, where, if you believe that it was McIlroy who was entertained – by his group at its finest.
And had Thomas feeling… cheesy. A reporter asked him this: “At one point today, I think there were seven players in the top 25 in the world ranking in the top of the leaderboard; it’s moving a little bit. What does it say about the PGA Tour, what does it deliver in terms of entertainment? ”
“Yeah, it’s really cool,” Thomas said. “Obviously with everything going on – this week was going to be very special regardless – but I think it does, I mean, without sounding cheesy, it makes me pretty happy inside seeing this. There’s no other place I would want to play, and it’s just, obviously with a tournament like this and the history that it’s been played, had a lot of great past champions and venues and drama.
“And it looks like it has potential tomorrow to produce a little more of that and create some more history.”
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