MCILROY’S VERY LARGE STAGE
The PGA Fed Ex Cup tournament tees off today with round one of the Barclays Championship in Paramus, New Jersey. The top 125 players, as determined by points accumulated by order of finish in events during the regular PGA season, go in this one with the top 100 surviving for next week’s Deutshe Bank Classic outside Boston. The paring process continues until 30 players go for the Fed Ex Cup championship, and the $10 million bonus that goes with it.
With 125 of the best players on the planet gathered in New Jersey, I hope the PGA Tour finally realizes it has a stage big enough to fit all of them, and they show the sincerity behind their Tour slogan, “These guys are good”. The PGA Tour has a chance to turn a major corner now that the door has closed on one era and opened on another. 125 golfers begin the pursuit today but all eyes are on one, who, for the first time in a generation, is not named Tiger Woods.
Rory McIlroy has clearly moved to the center of the golf world and already there’s a new feel to the new era. Rory demonstrated a lighter approach to his ascension to the top than his predecessor, who often felt challenged by his fellow pros and lived on the precarious edge of correctness, political and otherwise. When the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee correctly pointed out the number of times Tiger Woods skirted the rules last season, Tiger attempted to have him removed from his job.
Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler were less than pleased with the way the very compelling PGA Championship was allowed to finish as darkness set in. To complete the final round that night Tour officials allowed McIlroy, in the final pairing, to play off the 18th tee before Mickelson and Fowler, both still very much in contention, played their second shots. As soon as the front group was off the green McIlroy was on it. On their first meeting since, in the practice area for the Barclays, Mickelson loudly commented about the compact finish at Valhalla, leading to a pregnant silence in the gallery. The tension quickly snapped when both players broke into laughter.
Rory McIlroy has been ranked number one before, so he obviously understands the pressure of maintaining it. Already he’s shown he’s willing to defend the ranking with a sense of humor and an understanding that that stage of his has plenty of room for a lot of other golfers.
Now that the era has changed, here’s hoping the PGA Tour and it’s broadcast partners don’t make the same mistake a second time and, this time, let those other golfers have their share of that stage.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.