Tiger Woods has been hailed by his peers as the "hero" the PGA Tour needs, after the 15-time major winner led a players-only meeting to discuss the threat posed by the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.
The Saudi-funded LIV circuit, led by Aussie legend Norman and backed by a reported $3 billion, has pulled numerous star players away from the PGA Tour with nine-figure guarantees.
The LIV roster currently includes heavyweights such as Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen.
Tiger Woods showed up for the private meeting of top PGA Tour players before this week's second FedEx Cup playoff event - the BMW Championship in Wilmington, Delaware.
According to the group, his influence on proceedings was enormous.
“I think it's pretty apparent that whenever we all get in the room, there's an alpha in there,” Rory McIlroy said Wednesday. “And it's not me.”
Exactly what came out of the Tuesday night meeting at Hotel Du Pont is more of a mystery, even down to the number of players in attendance.
The purpose was to unify, not only against the threat of a rival league funded by Saudi money, but shoring up any weaknesses in the tour.
Chief among the topics was a future of bigger money and a formula that gets the best players on tour competing against each other more often.
It was important enough for Woods, who has played only three times this year because of injuries to his leg from a February 2021 car crash, to fly up in his private jet and bring along Rickie Fowler, who did not qualify for the BMW Championship.
World No.3 McIlroy said the incredible act from Woods showed just how much he loves the sport of golf and appreciates all that it has given him.
“I think it shows how much he cares about the tour. I think it shows how much he cares about the players that are coming through and are going to be the next generation," McIlroy said.
“Like it or not, they (PGA Tour) can’t really sell Tiger Woods anymore. The Tour had an easy job for 20 years. They don’t have Tiger. Yes, they’ve got a bunch of us and we’re all great players, but we’re not Tiger Woods,” he said.
“We’re moving into a different era, and we just have to think about things a little differently.”
World No.7 Justin Thomas echoed McIlroy's sentiments and said Tiger's presence could not be understated.
“That was huge. He has been a great kind of leading role in a lot of ways in the game for a lot of us,” Thomas said.
“He came because it was very important to him. It probably was just not something that he felt was appropriate to do over Zoom or just to call in. I think it shows how passionate he is about golf and wanting to improve it.”
PGA Tour in running battle amid LIV Golf threat
The meeting came at a volatile time. Even the start of the lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs was interrupted by more LIV Golf developments — reports linking British Open champion Cameron Smith to the rebel series after the FedEx Cup, and a federal judge denying a request by three LIV Golf players who wanted to play in the Tour's season-ending series.
“One thing that came out of it, which I think was the purpose, is all the top players on this tour are in agreement and alignment of where we should go going forward, and that was awesome,” McIlroy said.
So where should it go?
“I don’t think that’s for a public forum right now,” McIlroy said. “I think that’s between the players and between the executives at the tour to sort of manage a way forward.”
Will Zalatoris was in the meeting, fresh off his first PGA Tour title last week that lifted him to the top spot in the FedEx Cup standings and No. 9 in the world.
He just turned 26 and has been on tour for only two years, one of them as a full member.
To be in that room, Zalatoris said, was one of “coolest” experiences he could imagine.
“He is the most powerful voice in sports, obviously in golf, without question,” Zalatoris said of Woods.
“Having everyone there and being that united in terms of how much we want — with everything going on in terms of landscape of golf — we want the best thing not only for now but going forward. It was exceptionally cool to see that many people together to try to do the right thing."
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was not invited. He had a Player Advisory Council meeting earlier Tuesday, and he had an informal Q&A with players Wednesday morning, similar to what he did last week in Memphis, Tennessee.
Monahan already has announced an increase in prize money for next season, with eight tournaments offering $15 million or more in prize money, a planned series of even larger purses for three international events late in the year and a January-August schedule starting in 2024.
LIV Golf offers $25 million for each tournament — five more this year, 14 for 2023 — with $5 million of that for a team concept.
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