Golf rarely sleeps, and even then, it is with one eye open. Just more than two weeks from the time we saw PGA Tour players competing in the PNC Championship, they will be back at it this week for real at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
The official 2022-23 season began in September, then took a break just before Thanksgiving, with nine events already in the books.
Now begins the resumption of the FedEx Cup season-long 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 to the season, became part of the wraparound schedule and—starting in 2024—will again be the start of a new season.
This is also the beginning of a new era for the PGA Tour, which has increased prize money at 13 events known as elevated or “designated” tournaments. This is one of them. Here’s a look at the first PGA Tour event of 2023.
Tournament Primer: Sentry Tournament of Champions
Where: Plantation Course, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii.
Field: 39 players who either won a PGA Tour event in 2022 or made it to the season-ending Tour Championship. Click here for the full field.
Defending Champion: Cam Smith. The Aussie shot 34 under par a year ago to edge Jon Rahm by a spot 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 joining LIV Golf.
Speaking of LIV Golf: Either directly or indirectly, the LIV Golf threat led to designated events, a series of tournaments within the PGA Tour schedule that has seen increased purses and are required to be played by those who were named (23 players in 2022) as part of the Player Impact Program (PIP).
What are the designated events?: The core events are the Sentry, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, the Memorial, the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.
The Tour also named the WM Phoenix Open, the RBC Heritage, the Wells Fargo Championship and the Travelers Championship as designated events for 2023. Those events could rotate in future years. The Sentry has a $15 million purse, the Players $25 million and the others—other than the Tour Championship—$20 million. (The Tour Championship is where the season-long bonus pool is paid out.)
Throw in the four major championships and three other events a player can choose, and it is 20 tournaments expected of those who have received the PIP bonus money.
So where’s Rory and Shane?: Neither Rory McIlroy nor Shane Lowry are in the Sentry field, the only players eligible who are not participating. In the fine print of the PIP rules it says that a player is allowed one opt-out of designated events for personal or professional reasons. That basically means that McIlroy and Lowry are on board for the rest of the designated events this year.
Of course, there is fine print within the fine print. In order to receive the remainder of the PIP bonus (25 percent of it is being paid out this week), a player has to play in all the designated events for which he is eligible—minus one opt out. If he doesn’t? In theory, he sacrifices the remaining 75 percent of the bonus. In practical terms, it’ll be up to commissioner Jay Monahan, who has sole discretion to waive those rules and award all of 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 a long, long way to go, but Seamus Power leads the FedEx Cup standings with 749 points, having won the Bermuda Championship, along with a tie for third at Mayakoba and a tie for fifth at the RSM Classic. That kind of performance in the fall will carry him a long way, perhaps even as far as the Tour Championship, with any level of success over the coming months. Keegan Bradley, Mackenzie Hughes, Tom Kim and Brian Harman round out the top five. McIlroy, who won his only start at the CJ Cup and is the reigning FedEx champion, is tied for ninth with Tony Finau.