Tiger's playoff push, Koepka vs. McIlroy for POY, and a return to one of the world's best courses: What golf still has in store for 2019
Shane Lowry's march up Royal Portrush's 18th hole, with a united Ireland following suit, proved a poignant scene. And, to some, one of melancholy, for the lifting of the claret jug signaled the year had concluded. Yes, the FedEx Cup playoffs haven't even begun, and golf's season is perpetual. But for many fans, casual or otherwise, it's a schedule distilled to four weeks, and when that fourth week falls off the calendar, so does the sport's relevance.
Though the majors are irrefutably the pinnacle of every season, what follows is far from a series of lows. From a potentially heated Player of the Year race to the Presidents Cup, here are seven things golf still has on the schedule for the rest of 2019.
To be clear, Big Cat could shut it down for the summer, retreating to days of soccer carpool and Call of Duty marathons, and we'd be content. After all, (clears throat) HE WON THE MASTERS.
Still, a low-energy performance at Portrush—coupled with a quick exit at Bethpage and so-so display at Pebble Beach—don't instill much confidence heading into the PGA Tour postseason, nor does the fact that he's played in just one non-major (a T-9 at the Memorial) since Augusta.
To his credit, Woods knows his game, and body, needed a recalibration of sorts after the Open, passing on this week's WGC-FedEx St. Jude (and the horde of guaranteed money and points that come with it) for rest. His next expected appearance is at the playoff-opening Northern Trust at Liberty National, followed by the BMW Championship at Medinah. Ranked 27th in the FedEx Cup standings, Woods will need respectable finishes at both to return to East Lake and defend his title at the Tour Championship. Looking hobbled at times in Ireland, three straight weeks might seem like a daunting task for the 43-year-old. But as we saw this spring, betting against the 15-time major winner is foolish.
Brooks Koepka vs. Rory McIlroy
Through the prism of the majors, this isn't much of a contest: Brooks boat-raced Rory, and the rest of golf, by defending the Wanamaker, grabbing silver medals at the Masters and U.S. Open, and finishing T-4 at the Open. For his part, Rory finished T-8 at the PGA (but nine shots back of Brooks), T-9 at the U.S. Open, T-21 at the Masters and missed the cut at Portrush.
However, McIlroy did win the Players Championship, along with the RBC Canadian Open. The 30-year-old also has 11 top 10s in 15 starts and is on pace to have the best non-Tiger stroke-gained total in PGA Tour history. A McIlroy win at the Northern Trust or BMW, along with taking the Tour Championship/FedEx Cup (remember, they are one in the same this year), would make this a debate with substance. Our (theoretical) stance: The majors should weigh heavily in, but not be the entirety of, the argument, least you render the other 42 weeks of the season bupkis, a point we will not oblige.
Of course, if someone hypnotizes Brooks that the Tour Championship is a major, this will all be moot. Speaking of …
The new Tour Championship format
For a refresher, rather than a points reset at the season finale, the tour will implement a descending strokes-based system calibrated off the playoff standings. Meaning, the player with the most points after the BMW Championship will start the Tour Championship at 10 under par. The next four in rankings will begin at eight under through five under; the next five start at four under, regressing by one stroke for every five players. Those ranked No. 26 through 30 will tee off at even par.
The structure has been decried by some as gimmicky, and the prospect of the 29th-ranked player in the standings beating the first by nine strokes at East Lake, only to lose the event, and the cup, by one, will be a siren song for hot takes. Conversely, the Tour Championship has been desperately seeking sustainable pop, and indelible as last year's was, it was a once-in-a-lifetime gift. Kudos to tour officials for attempting to inject vitality into their postseason, and should it prove misguided, there's always the option of returning to the whiteboard.
Just not the video board, for Steve Sands and his beautiful "hole-by-hole FedEx Cup calculations" screen have gone with the old format. Some stars shine so bright they pass before their time.
The Walker and Solheim Cups
Yes, not PGA Tour related, but for those jonesing for a U.S.-Euro spat before next year's Ryder Cup, the Walker (Sept. 7-8 at Royal Liverpool) and Solheim (Sept. 13-15 at Gleneagles) will more than suffice. By the way, check out the future sites for the Walker Cup:
2021 – Seminole Golf Club
2023 – Old Course at St Andrews
2025 – Cypress Point Club
Good gravy, that's a hulking itinerary. Ball is in your court to bring this bad boy to North Berwick or Royal Dornoch in 2027, R&A.
The new fall schedule
West Virginia in the fall > West Virginia in the summer. Moving The Greenbrier out of July will let it breathe, both for the fans (literally; that Midwestern humidity is something fierce) and for the event, which was often overlooked because of its proximity to the Fourth of July and its spot between the U.S. Open and Open Championship. Also getting improvements: the Sanderson Farms Championship, which has been promoted from its alternate-event status, and the Houston Open, moved from its pre-Masters slot. Granted, fighting viewers for football is not ideal, yet these tournaments should get the love they've often lacked in their previous dates.
There are two new events in the fall: the Zozo Championship, which will be the first PGA Tour event in Japan (and already boasts Tiger in its field) and the Bermuda Championship. In total, there are 11 tournaments this fall, which constitutes a quarter of the PGA Tour season. That percentage makes the idea of skipping this entire schedule—which premier players have done in the past, choosing this time as their de facto offseason—a risky proposition for their FedEx Cup standing. Though this places the contingent that play both the PGA and European circuits in a tough spot (the Old World Circuit has its Race to Dubai in this stretch), it should boost the presence of top attractions in the autumn events.
Coupled with the arrival of some highly touted Korn Ferry Tour graduates—Scottie Scheffler is a young talent who merits your attention—there should be plenty of action come fall.
A lot of Euro Tour attractions
Just like the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship has detractors because of its celebrity element. We are certainly sympathetic to those who have to endure the sight of Piers Morgan hitting a 10-foot putt eight feet past, yet the Dunhill Links scenery more than makes up for this shortcoming, as the tournament is played at Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and the Old Course at St. Andrews. Don't care if the competition at hand is a Little Tykes' opposite-hand whiffle-ball jamboree; that's a links lineup we're not going to pass.
Elsewhere, the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour's Players equivalent, will have a better-than-usual field with its move to September (it has historically been played in late May), and the DP World Tour Championship, serving as the Race to Dubai climax, is never short on big names.
Presidents Cup returns to Royal Melbourne
We know, we know: in terms of spirited competition, the "other" biennial event has the flair of a five-pack of bratwursts against Joey Chestnut. Given the firepower the red, white and blue will bring to the 2019 squad (and Tiger, too!), we don't envision this being year that seesaw swings in the other direction.
However, it's still a congregation of America's top attractions—in itself a reason to watch—and it's not like the Internationals are the Little Sisters of the Poor. Better yet, the event returns to Royal Melbourne. Ranked No. 3 in our World's 100 Greatest Courses, this Alister MacKenzie course fits snuggly into the contours of the rolling sandbelt land, and doglegs put a priority on shot-making, an attribute that's becoming increasingly rare at the professional level. It's a throwback in every sense,
Because it's in Australia, the event has been moved to mid-December, giving fans one final golf celebration before the holidays. And, for what it's worth, Royal Melbourne was the site of the lone International victory. Sprinkle in some rowdy Aussie fans, and who knows, maybe this will be the year …
(Remembers Americans have Brooks, DJ, JT, Cantlay and Schauffele)
… well, at least the crowd will be lively.