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LIV talk endures as playoffs arrive

by Doug Ferguson AP Golf Writer | August 11, 2022 at 2:10 a.m.
Rory McIlroy said Wednesday that a federal judge’s ruling against three players with LIV Golf was the right decision. McIlroy is scheduled to compete in the PGA FedEx St. Jude Championship, beginning today in Memphis. (AP/Alastair Grant)


MEMPHIS -- Perhaps it was only fitting that a violent thunderstorm hit the TPC Southwind right about the time a federal judge in California ruled against a motion that would have allowed three players who cashed in on LIV Golf to play for $75 million in bonus money on the PGA Tour.

On the eve of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the ruling still resounded.

"Common sense prevailed, and I thought it was the right decision," said Rory McIlroy, a player-director on the PGA Tour board and the strongest voice against the rival league. "And now that it's happened, I think it just lets us focus on the important stuff, which is the golf, and we can all move forward and not have that sideshow going on for the next few weeks, which is nice."

The important stuff? More money.

The tour's postseason starts today with the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the first of two tournaments offering a $15 million purse. The top 30 after two weeks advance to East Lake in Atlanta for a shot at winning the FedEx Cup and its $18 million prize.

Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones wanted a piece of the pie and sought a temporary restraining order in a case that featured both sides accusing the other in court documents of wanting to have their cake and eat it, too.

U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman, who had access to LIV contracts and how much the players were paid to join, ultimately ruled they could not show irreparable harm because they have made more to sign with LIV Golf than they could reasonably make in the playoffs.

"Those guys were given an opportunity to go play, and just go play," PGA champion Justin Thomas said. "You can have your cake, but you don't need to eat it, too. And they got their share of a large, large amount of cake."

Swafford and Gooch brought it as far as Memphis. They were seen outside the course Tuesday evening, presumably waiting for a favorable ruling from the California court that would allow them to be part of the field for the first playoff event.

And then they were headed home, no longer welcome at the moment at tournaments run by the PGA Tour. Still to be determined are the majors, which are operated by separate organizations, and who have not determined eligibility criteria for 2023.

The Masters, U.S. Open and British Open have exempted players who reach the Tour Championship since as early as 2008.

The top 125 qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs. Even without the three LIV Golf players who unsuccessfully sought to play, the field is only 120 players for the TPC Southwind. Former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama cited a sore neck and withdrew Wednesday morning, making him the fifth player to withdraw.

Only the top 70 after the first event will advance to the BMW Championship next week in Delaware, and the priority for half the field is to make sure they stay in the game.

The lead attorney for LIV Golf cited PGA Tour hype in calling the FedEx Cup the "Super Bowl" of golf and the hardest trophy to win. McIlroy would know from experience, as one of only two players -- Tiger Woods was the other -- to win the FedEx Cup twice since it began in 2007.

"You have to put yourself in position, but then you have to really turn it on for the last few weeks," McIlroy said. "It's a weird one. It's like you have to play consistently good golf over the course of a 30-week season and then you have to get hot at the end of it, as well."

That's what Patrick Cantlay did last year, winning the second playoff event in an epic duel with Bryson DeChambeau, and then holding off Jon Rahm at the Tour Championship.

"I'm not sure it's the hardest trophy to win -- I haven't won any of the others, so maybe ask me that question when I've knocked down a few of the others," Cantlay said, referring to the majors. "This is more of a compilation than a single week. That's one of the cool things about it."

Whether it's a wide-open race from the start is up for debate. Bill Haas not only is the highest seed at No. 25 going into the Tour Championship to win the FedEx Cup (2011), he is the only player who started a PGA Tour outside the top 40 in the world ranking to win the prize.

The $75 million in bonus money is distributed to the top 150 players, including LIV Golf players who have not resigned their PGA Tour membership.

It's a lot of money, enough to take their attention off antitrust lawsuits and rumors swirling about who might be next to defect over to LIV Golf.

"I just want to play golf and stop worrying about it," Thomas said.

  photo  Elliot Peters, left, an attorney representing the PGA Tour, leaves a U.S. courthouse in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. A federal judge ruled that three golfers who joined Saudi-backed LIV Golf will not be able to compete in the PGA Tour's postseason. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)
 
 
  photo  FILE - The PGA Tour logo is shown during a press conference in Tokyo, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have illustrated with words what PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan got wrong. McIlroy said players leaving for Saudi-funded LIV Golf are taking the easy way out. Woods says they are turning their backs on the tour that made them. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Signage for LIV Golf is displayed during the pro-am round of the Bedminster Invitational LIV Golf tournament in Bedminster, NJ., Thursday, July 28, 2022. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have illustrated with words what PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan got wrong. McIlroy said players leaving for Saudi-funded LIV Golf are taking the easy way out. Woods says they are turning their backs on the tour that made them.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
 
 
  photo  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his shot from the 3rd tee during the final round of the British Open golf championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, Sunday July 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
 
 
  photo  Justin Thomas of the US, left, and Viktor Hovland, of Norway, on the 3rd green during the first round of the British Open golf championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, Thursday, July 14 2022. The Open Championship returns to the home of golf on July 14-17, 2022, to celebrate the 150th edition of the sport's oldest championship, which dates to 1860 and was first played at St. Andrews in 1873. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
 
 


  photo  Justin Thomas (right), shown with his caddie Jim Mackay at the U.S. Open in June, is ready for the PGA FedEx Cup playoffs despite a lot of attention being paid towards LIV Golf. “I just want to play golf and stop worrying about it,” Thomas said. (AP/Charles Krupa)
 
 


Print Headline: LIV talk endures as playoffs arrive

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