Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are saving the day…for now | Golf News and Tour Information
ATLANTA — Wednesday morning at the Tour Championship, Jay Monahan and Rory McIlroy hit the press room in back-to-back trumpet appearances some of the most sweeping changes in modern PGA Tour history. One of them showed galvanizing courage and leadership, putting the game on his shoulders. The other is the commissioner of the PGA Tour.
In this tense and busy time for the sport, the little boy from Northern Ireland has become an imposing figure. But McIlroy didn’t go it alone. To be fair to Monahan, he showed impressive agility in retaking the Tour just eight days after a closed session, gamers meeting gave him the mandate to change, and he brought the right resolute tone to his presser. However, his rightful title should now be co-commissioner, alongside McIlroy and another figure who loomed large in absentia: Tiger Woods.
In those eight days that rocked professional golf, Rory and Tiger continued to emerge as the faces and voices of the Tour, evoking the activism of Jack and Arnie when the Tour was born out of rebellion in 1968 as the players broke with the rigid bureaucracy. of the PGA of America. There’s more than a passing resemblance between these linked legend pairs. Nicklaus and Palmer were born a decade apart, while Woods is 13 years older than McIlroy. On the golf course, Jack was tactical and Arnie daring, just as Tiger is a hard-working strategist compared to the coasting Rory. The likeable Palmer connected intensely with fans in the same way McIlroy did, while Nicklaus and Woods were always more distant characters. But this battle for the soul of golf stirred something deep within Tiger.
A week ago, he traveled to the first FedEx Cup playoff event, which he was not attending, to call a meeting with 22 of the biggest names on the circuit. Treading on the tarmac in Wilmington, Del., Woods looked like a disappointed dad cutting lunch with friends short to go home and scold his bickering children. Once in the room, the other players felt the weight of his presence. “Every time I see Tiger, I feel a bit of electricity,” says Max Homa. “It’s always weird being in a room with Tiger Woods. I don’t think I’ll get over it.
McIlroy dusted off Woods at the 2012 Honda Classic to reach world No. 1 for the first time, aged 22, and they’ve surrounded each other ever since. Rory is now Tiger’s peer in every way, but even he isn’t immune to the personality cult. “It’s funny, I never thought in a million years that I would be in this position in particular, and in this position doing this stuff with Tiger Woods,” McIlroy said during his conference at press on the state of the Tour. “I told him the other day, I remember the first golf shot I saw him hit live. It was the 5th hole at [the World Golf Championship at] Mount Juliet with my dad, and I watched him hit a drive from the 5th tee and a long iron to the middle of the green, a par-5. Tiger was my idol since I saw him play the US Amateur in 1996. He’s been an idol of mine and one of my heroes over the years, and I feel rather lucky to have known him more intimately than some. And he’s so passionate about what we do. He realizes that the PGA Tour has given him a platform to build his brand and let him be who he is, and he has tremendous respect for the people who have come before us. Having his influence and guidance, not just myself but all the players on the PGA Tour, he’s a great defender to have, and it’s great to do those things with him. I have to pinch myself pretty much every day I’m in this position.
Still, Woods needs McIlroy, and he knows it. Tiger is rarely on the Tour these days, and young players hardly know him. Rory is more approachable to his peers and friendlier. (There’s also a subset of fans who will never forgive Woods for his scandals and transgressions; meanwhile, the spotless McIlroy is universally loved and respected.) Tiger recruited Rory to be a partner in a new venture that was announced Wednesday, TGL (Tech-infused Golf Leagues), which will bring together teams of Tour players for Monday exhibitions played on indoor simulators in front of a live audience. It sounds crazy, sure, but its greater significance is that it signals a friendly alliance between Woods and McIlroy in a way Tiger could never forge with his prickly contemporary Phil Mickelson. (Anyone remember their now short-lived manó-y-manó game franchise?) Tiger and Rory have spent the past two years putting TGL together. Co-founder Mike McCarley has watched them closely and says this about the dynamic: “There’s a mutual respect there. Tiger likes Rory and he listens. He certainly doesn’t treat him like a little brother. Maybe a nephew.
Woods and McIlroy’s mind-meldness took to another level in recent weeks as they had a series of exploratory conversations with The Raine Group, a venue capitalist company that has been involved in various blockbuster sports deals, including the $4 billion sale of the Ultimate Fighting Championship League. Tiger and Rory investigated the benefits of renouncing the Tour’s nonprofit status and privatizing it, which would result in an eight-figure tax bill but allow billions of dollars in outside investment. It’s the kind of big, bold thinking that may be needed to fend off LIV Golf’s continued encroachment. The Tour is paying for its newly announced mega-tournament slate with cash reserves – Phil was right! — and squeezing existing sponsors for millions more. None of these sources is inexhaustible. On Wednesday, Monahan said he wanted the Tour to retain its 501(c)6 status, but signaled an openness to creative workarounds, saying, “Can you set up for-profit affiliates? Are there other things you can do to create value as you move forward for members? Yes.”
The contest between these rival circuits is far from over. Next week, more PGA Tour members will jump ship, and LIV’s potentially groundbreaking antitrust lawsuit continues to play out in the court system. But the Tour, which has been on the defensive since LIV launched in the spring, has finally taken big, bold steps. Of course, McIlroy was front and center, even as he hailed Woods’ work from the shadows. “One of the greatest feelings in the world is when your idol becomes your friend,” says Tony Finau, “and I know Rory feels that now. I think it’s a cool relationship that benefits us all.
Homa took that sentiment one step further, saying, “It’s very, very, very powerful to have them both in mind. I think that’s a huge testimonial from Rory. What is he, 35 years old? [Actually, 33.] He has a young boy. He probably has a lot better things to do with his time, but he fights so hard to make the PGA Tour as good as it can be. Watching guys you look up to, who aren’t much older than you, go to such great lengths is pretty impressive in my opinion. I think Tiger could pull it off on his own, but I’d say having Rory by his side isn’t exactly a bad thing. Everyone could use a Rory in their life.