As I often say, sports is the ultimate reality show.
How could you not think that way after Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x) won the Tour Championship for a record third time and FedEx Cup by one stroke over Scottie Scheffler (Titleist Pro V1) and Sungjae Im (Titleist Pro V1x).
Think about, in the on-going battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, McIlroy has been the central protagonist.
Though it was Tiger Woods (Bridgestone Tour B XS) who headed the players-only meeting the week of the BMW Championship, McIlroy was his main ally. McIlroy has given and taken shots at LIV and, in turn, he was the subject of some of some broadsided swipes. LIV CEO Greg Norman famously or infamously, depending on your viewpoint, said McIlroy was “brainwashed” by the PGA Tour. Working with Woods, McIlroy helped put together a plan to stave off further defections to LIV with some changes in the purses next year, a guaranteed salary on the PGA Tour and some interesting ideas beyond the golf PGA Tour, including Monday Night Golf. Both Woods and McIlroy are heavily involved in that concept. In this respect, Woods and McIlroy have established themselves as businessmen.
Norman never openly verbally attacked Woods. Why would he take a swipe at the world’s most popular and impactful player, even if he isn’t playing that much? LIV tried to sign Woods by offering anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion and he said no because he wanted to stay with the PGA Tour, which had done so much to advance his career. In turn, he brought the sport a global presence it hadn’t before him and tons of money in endorsements.
So, with McIlroy being the most popular active player, he became LIV Golf’s main target.
McIlroy proved his brilliance coming from six strokes behind to win the Tour Championship. You could say Scheffler came undone because of the pressure on the final day, shooting three-over par, but honestly his play had not been as sharp in the second half of the season compared to what it was in the first half. Had he been on his so-called A game, this would not have been an issue.
But let’s also remember Scheffler had a breakout season, winning four times, highlighted by his victory in the Masters and a whopping $14 million-plus in purses, which is a record.
The pressure he faced in the final round of the Tour Championship was unlike anything else he had experienced to this point.
So in way it was a disappointing end to his season, though you have to think he is the preeminent choice to be named PGA Tour Player of the Year.
McIlroy’s win not only underlined how much he has rediscovered his game, but his ability to start off poorly in the first round and rally in the final round. He provided an example of that in the Masters finishing second, shooting eight-under par and holing out for a birdie from the bunker on the final hole. Quite simply, he executed one of the most amazing shots in golf history.
But let’s look at the bigger picture: McIlroy’s win provided a dramatic moment for him to prove his brilliance and popularity, but also the stage to endorse the PGA Tour and take some shots at LIV. Once of the most interesting ones was how he was able to win playing 72 holes compared to 54, which is what LIV does.
And you had to think embattled PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan loved every moment of this.
He has an emerging star in Scheffler, but an active one in McIlroy who, to use the cliché, walks the walk and talks the talk.
He did it all on Sunday.
And he showed his class embracing Scheffler’s parents walking off the course en route to the scorer’s tent. He was apologetic for defeating Scheffler, but his parents told him he deserved it.
Hollywood script writers couldn’t have crafted a more unlikely finish.
Someday there will be a documentary about McIlroy because he has experienced some incredible highs and lows.
I have to think the golfing gods planned it that way.
One other interesting note about the final round: Did you notice that both McIlroy and Scheffler both dressed in white pants and green shirts? Both also had the Nike logo on their shirts and hats. Maybe green was to represent the color of money. But in an era in which the elite golfers in the world display various corporate logos, it is simple with McIlroy and Scheffler.
In many ways, the final round was a corporate endorsement for Nike.