In the headline grabbing battle between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour the PGA Tour’s strategy of getting the world’s best players competing together more often appears to be paying off.
The world’s top ranked players were in the field at last week’s Phoenix Open which created an intriguing scenario for fans. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler all had the chance to wake up on Monday morning as the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world. Better yet, they were all playing in Phoenix, which is one of the 10 events newly classified as “designated events” by the PGA tour. Each of these events offers prize money of at least $15 million and nine of them have purses of at least $20 million. The idea is to have more of the top-ranked players competing in the same events and are part of the PGA Tour’s response to the threat posed by the LIV Golf Tour.
They couldn’t have drawn it up any better in Phoenix, where 18 of the World’s top-20 ranked players were in the field (the two players who were not are part of LIV). That the No. 1 ranking was at stake too was the icing on the cake.
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It was at the Phoenix Open last year that Scheffler began his torrid run of four victories that culminated in a Masters victory and the No.1 ranking. But Scheffler did not win again in 2022 and has struggled to even get into contention since then. He loves playing in Phoenix though – this was the third straight year in which he played in the final group.
Joining him in the final group this year was Rahm, which gave fans the rare chance to see them go head-to-head with the No. 1 ranking on the line. McIlroy, who held the No. 1 ranking going into the week, struggled in Phoenix, leaving the door open for one of the two to walk through and claim his spot.
Despite struggling somewhat of the tee, Scheffler held off Rahm, and a number of other players in the chasing pack, to pick up his fifth victory and return to No. 1 in the world. He made big putts when he needed to, including a 21-footer on the 13th for eagle to retake the lead, and a 15-footer for par on the 16th to keep it. Nick Taylor finished second while Rahm had to settle for third (McIlroy finished in a tie for 32nd).
“There were a lot of guys up there, ”Scheffler said. “I knew it was going to take a great round. Nobody was going to give this golf tournament to me. I had to go out and earn it.
“I hit some wild shots off the tee that were pretty uncharacteristic for how I usually shape the ball. I was just able to grind it out, make a lot of putts. I think I only had two bogeys this week, which is really, really good around this golf course.”
Scheffler earned $3.6 million for his win and became only the seventh golfer to defend his title in Phoenix, joining the likes of legends Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Johnny Miller. That’s pretty good company to be in.
Better still is that they get a chance to do this all over again next week. The Genesis Invitationalin Los Angeles is also one of the PGA Tour’s “designated events”, and Scheffler, McIlroy and Rahm will all be there. What’s more, Tiger Woods has announced he will return to the tour as well at the Genesis, making it a must watch event.
Though it is still early in the season, the PGA Tour might well have found a winning formula in their battle with LIV. Golf fans everywhere can be excited for what’s to come.
Photo – PGA TOUR