Does the PGA Tour have a juice problem and will they solve it on Sunday?

LOS ANGELES – Everything would have been so perfect. She had the stars. She had records. You had one of the greatest stages in all of prime time sports. It was supposed to be the big day on the PGA Tour.

Two weeks ago at Pebble Beach, Wyndham Clark shot a 60 in the third round to break the all-time course record and take the lead at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The tour couldn’t have put together a better Sunday, in theory. It was the week off before the Super Bowl, which meant he basically had the sports calendar to himself. It made the tournament an exclusive event, meaning one of golf’s most iconic venues saw all of the tour’s best players compete. And suddenly the reigning U.S. Open champion — the star of the new season of the Netflix golf show, “Full Swing” — Clark was locked in a duel Sunday with the sport’s most exciting young player, Ludvig Åberg.

And it simply never happened.

Instead, extreme weather conditions disrupted play Sunday with flooding and downed trees across California. The course required so much water over five days that the tournament wasn’t even able to finish on Monday. Instead of a thrilling, star-studded prime-time finale with everyone talking about PGA Tour golf, the tournament ended with Clark’s Saturday 60 and a whimper.

It’s been a strange six weeks on tour. He’s in the midst of the best part of his schedule before the majors, and there’s an ongoing discussion about whether the PGA Tour season is lacking energy.

But it could be just the Sunday he’s been waiting for. At the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club – which many consider the best non-major on tour – the final round is shaping up to get interesting. He has world No. 7 player Patrick Cantlay two shots ahead. He has his good friend and No. 5 golfer Xander Schauffele in second place, tied with rising star Will Zalatoris back in the mix after missing 2023 due to back surgery. Add major winner Jason Day and Ryder Cupper Harris English four back in an elite course, and this could be the Sunday that brings that juice.

About that juice, though.

It’s really no one’s fault. It’s not even clear if that’s true. But something strange happened. All six tournaments so far have been won by a landslide. Literally. They were won by the so-called randoms, the “mules”, as some in the golf world like to call them. Chris Kirk. Grayson Murray. Nick Dunlap. Matthieu Pavon. Wyndham Clark. Nick Taylor. All six entered the tournament with odds of 100-1 or better. Five of the six entered the week outside the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings. The only winner within that top 50, Clark, won without a final round.

It wasn’t even bad. Most of the golf was exciting. One tournament was won by a 20-year-old amateur who staked his claim to the sport’s potential future. Two involved moving stories of overcoming adversity. Two went to the playoffs! And last week in Phoenix it became national news because of the drunken mob that overran security.

But, for better or worse, the sport has become a profit-driven business. While the wars continue between leagues and private equity firms and all we hear about are ratings, Player Impact Programs and stars, there is debate as to whether these results have been a problem.

Recap: Chris Kirk (100-1) won The Sentry signature event in a low-scoring battle with stars like Sahith Theegala and Jordan Spieth. It wasn’t the prettiest tournament, but Kirk winning after taking time off to deal with alcoholism and depression was a great storyline. A week later it was more of the same. Grayson Murray (300-1) also struggled with alcohol and mental health issues, even facing PGA Tour punishment years earlier, and won in a thrilling playoff thanks to two stunning clutch shots. These weren’t stars, but most agreed they were really great finishes.

Then, at the American Express, which is by no means a big tournament expecting big fanfare, 20-year-old reigning U.S. champion Nick Dunlap (400-1) took the golf world by storm by becoming the first amateur to win a PGA. Tour event from Phil Mickelson 33 years earlier. This was gold.

Then it was 31-year-old Frenchman Matthieu Pavon (150-1) who won at Torrey Pines. Then came the bad weather at Pebble Beach with the private tour of the exciting final round, which brought even more people from the golf world to watch the final round of the LIV in Mexico. And last week at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, known for its loud, alcohol-filled atmosphere, there was a thrilling playoff finale between Nick Taylor and 47-year-old Charley Hoffman. And even that was drowned out by the news that fans broke containment and the weather delays that pushed that thrilling finish into the first half of the Super Bowl.

The tour failed to secure a victory.

A subsection of people turned this conversation into a conversation about LIV’s departures and a sign that the tour was no longer a great product. This offseason, the PGA Tour lost a major star, Jon Rahm, and another top-20 player, Tyrell Hatton. Losing them was painful. Don’t doubt it. But it’s probably wrong to act as if the results of these tournaments were due to the absence of those two. Kirk and Clark beat packed courts with most of the best players in the world. Sony, AmEx and Phoenix also had a good chunk of players in the top 10 and top 20. Those players simply beat them.

It’s probably more about the personality component. No matter what you think of LIV, it’s at least fair to say they’ve taken on many of the biggest people on the PGA Tour. Few are bigger than Mickelson. Brooks Koepka is a star. Bryson DeChambeau is a pariah. Dustin Johnson may not be a huge “personality,” but he has been one of the most talked about golfers for over a decade. Rahm and Hatton are two emotional, hot-blooded players who bring talent. Cameron Smith is a fishing-loving Australian with a mullet who was on his way to becoming a bigger star. And everyone has opinions about Patrick Reed.

Even if you want to criticize the quality of some of these players, the truth is that LIV has a lot of golfers who attract more attention.

And while it’s no one’s fault, the PGA Tour players who play the best aren’t exactly the winners. As The Fried Egg’s Garrett Morrison pointed out, only one of the six winners ranked in the top 20 of the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program, rewarding players for bringing business to the tour (tickets, sponsorships, media consumption and customer engagement). fan). And that was Clark in a rain-shortened event.

The biggest brands on tour right now are Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. Well, the Riviera is only McIlroy’s second event in the United States this year. Spieth is playing well, but he’s not quite winning. And Woods is a 48-year-old legend who averages more peaks per year than the top 10. Then, just to add fuel to the market share fire, Woods withdrew from Genesis, the event he hosts, on Friday at due to the flu, and Spieth was disqualified Friday for submitting an incorrect scorecard. That’s two huge benefits out of the equation.

The next wave of young stars like Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa aren’t quite at the hype level of those names, and even they haven’t (yet) played at their exceptional levels this season.

None of this is actually a problem, really. The tournaments are still good. Many have included interesting plots. Anyone who acts like this is a big deal is probably trying to make it so. But it’s one thing. One thing to keep an eye on.

“It’s important, obviously,” Schauffele said Saturday, “but I was talking to the CEO of AmEx and he was talking about the ratings when Nick (Dunlap) won. People love the Cinderella story. I’m not sure what the ratings were for Waste Management, but Charley is – I’m biased, obviously, being from San Diego – but he’s one of the older guys trying to win here, being a younger crowd. It’s one of the greatest things about the PGA Tour. “Anyone he can win every week and there are a lot of stories going around.”

That’s just enough of a thing to make this Sunday a little momentous. The Riviera is undoubtedly the best course the tour plays at all year round. Cantlay and Schauffele are top 10 players year after year, and Zalatoris is someone the golf world aspires to. But this ranking victory also comes with a warning.

Cantlay isn’t exactly a popular player. He is only n. 19 in last year’s PIP rankings and has at times lost points with the masses over accusations of slow play and a well-known report that he didn’t wear a hat at the 2023 Ryder Cup to protest players not getting paid for playing . event. Schauffele is the world No. 5 and one of the most consistent players of his era, but his career is mostly known for being consistent without winning many major events. Crucially, even the PGA Tour’s big Sunday will come thanks to some of its more boring stars.

But this is where we need to move away from PIP and popularity. Let’s just talk about golf. This final round is going to be amazing. It will be the best course with the best players and something golf enthusiasts should watch.

We are six weeks into an eight-month season. Shut up and enjoy yourself.

(Photo by Patrick Cantlay: Harry How/Getty Images)