2023 continues to deliver on the PGA Tour

Mark McGowan

Kurt Kitayama (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy may not have felt that the final hour or two of the Arnold Palmer Invitational made for great television viewing, but as one of said viewers glued to the action, I’ll beg to differ.

Speaking in the heat of the moment, and with doubtless bitter disappointment, we’ll give McIlroy a pass here, but the idea that birdies should be easily come by and thus increasing excitement is easily flawed. Nothing creates excitement on Sunday golf like a bunched leaderboard and volatility.

But add in some of the game’s biggest stars and things progress to whole new levels.


Would we have preferred Jon Rahm instead of Harris English? Of course, but McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland and Tyrrell Hatton aren’t a bad quartet, and Kurt Kitayama coming out on top may be a dampener for some, but that’s the beauty of the sport. None of the contenders birdied the 17th and many bogeyed 18. Kitayama played them in one-under and that was the difference.

For golf fans, 2023 on the PGA Tour has been incredible. Even the non-designated events – with the exception of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am – have delivered drama in spades in the closing stages, but it’s been the top-tier tournaments that have rightly led the way.

It’s rare that all the game’s stars bring their best – or even something close to it – to an event. Rahm didn’t have it Friday through Sunday this week, McIlroy was way off the pace in Phoenix, Jordan Spieth missed the cut at Riviera, but when there’s enough of them in the field, we’re virtually guaranteed a healthy presence at the top of the leaderboard.

In a way, we should all be thankful to LIV. As Spieth admitted last week, without the threat posed by Greg Norman and co., there would likely be no mandatory designated events.

Last year at Bay Hill, four of the top 10 and six of the top 20 in the world rankings teed it up. It still provided a strong leaderboard and in Scheffler, a top-class champion, but this year only LIV defectors Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann were absent with the entire top 25 otherwise present.

Nothing adds context to a victory like beating everybody. In fact, nothing adds context to any performance like comparing it to how the world’s best fared in the same event. McIlroy has been far from his top form this year, but would a tied-second finish behind Kitayama be viewed the same if there was no Rahm, Justin Thomas, or Patrick Cantlay in the field? Maybe it would, but really, it shouldn’t.

Coming into the Players Championship, and a month away from The Masters, fans and players alike have a much better idea of how the top players are performing because we know how they and their peers are performing in the same events. McIlroy may not have gotten the win at Bay Hill, but he beat Rahm and Scheffler for the first time this year and that means something. It’s not going to be the leading storyline anywhere, but it’s a storyline, nonetheless. And there are countless other examples.

So, kudos to LIV. We may never see Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeCHambeau or Brooks Koepka play a PGA Tour event ever again, and that’s a tragedy in itself, but they’ve unwittingly contributed to making the PGA Tour a much better product for the average fan.

It’s disappointing that it’s taken anarchy to bring about something that should’ve happened a long time ago, but still, it’s an ill wind that blows no one any good.

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