Lynch: Rory McIlroy wants a more cutthroat PGA Tour. So, um, who’s gonna cut the GOAT’s throat?

On Friday evening, six men—five of them major champions—were tied for the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, so it must have been sobering for them to see their impressive performances generate less buzz than news that Tiger Woods will be taking another week off work.

That coverage gap can’t be attributed only to the click-thirsty herd mentality of golf media. It’s a reminder of Woods’ transcendent stature—he’s more newsworthy on his couch than most guys are on the leaderboard. But the current and future status of Woods also spotlights the PGA Tour’s unresolved identity crisis: is it a ruthlessly competitive sports league, or is it an entertainment product?

Rory McIlroy was asked Friday whether he has misgivings about there being just 69 players in the field at the API. He does not. “I’m all for making it more cutthroat, more competitive,” he said. “Probably won’t be very popular for saying this, but I’m all for less players and less Tour cards, and the best of the best.”

It’s a defensible argument. The Tour has long operated with the sole objective of creating playing opportunities for members, which in practice means too many tournaments paying too much money to too many journeymen for too little impact. But a desire for a more competitively focused and streamlined Tour—a view McIlroy is far from alone in holding among top players—is incompatible with eligibility carve-outs for sentimental favorites. Like Woods. But who is going to cut the GOAT’s throat? Who will tell fans and sponsors that Tiger hasn’t earned a spot?

API: Rory McIlroy cuts corner, drives 401-yard par-4 10th green at Bay Hill

This is Woods’ last year of eligibility for the Players Championship, which he is skipping. He has no eligibility for signature events, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he has won eight times. Had he signaled a desire to compete at Bay Hill, there’s no doubt he would have received one of the sponsor exemptions not already donated to Adam Scott (a Policy Board member who has had three straight free passes into lucrative events he wasn’t otherwise qualified for). And not a single player would have questioned that call, despite Woods being five years removed from his last victory, which was also his last top-10 finish.

So if the PGA Tour is to be cutthroat, to place more emphasis on competitive relevance, where is the line to be drawn by the blade? How long is the grace period before a struggling player is consigned to the lower decks and told to fight his way back up? Or is popularity sufficient to bypass any performance requirements?

Woods draws more attention to an event by WD’ing on Thursday than most players do by winning on Sunday. Yet in a cutthroat sport where form is the only metric that counts, he is yesterday’s man. In an entertainment product, however, he remains tomorrow’s hope. Woods is hardly the only player whose form is irrelevant when it comes to adding value to the Tour’s product. Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler had four-year win droughts, with only sporadic appearances on leaderboards, but both continued to add enhance the tournaments they graced. If McIlroy were to experience a similar slump, he’d continue to be good for business, even if his scores aren’t good.

Which is to say there’s a balance to be struck: be cutthroat for players, be entertaining for fans who want their favorites, and be conscious of the many constituencies who have valid commercial concerns that might be impacted by reductions in the numbers of events or players (charitable beneficiaries, operators who need full fields to maximize the window for concession sales, broadcasters who need to show a lot of action, host communities that have goals untied to the global ambitions of players). Regardless of whether the PGA Tour thinks itself a cutthroat league or an entertainment product, it is first and foremost a business.

McIlroy’s comments will hit a nerve with rank and file Tour members who already feel marginalized—a culture shock for those accustomed to an organization run on creating opportunities to them to play. But if there’s a reckoning to be had on how much the top guys should be compensated, then it ought to extend all the way down the food chain. How much is too much for too little? The average prize money won on the PGA Tour last season was $2,361,908. The 100th best player on Tour by earnings was Nate Lashley. He made $1,749,031 from 32 starts with three top-10 finishes. By comparison, the 100th earning player on the ATP tennis tour made $735,698. That’s no rap on Lashley. He’s grinding and making a nice living, but he’s not making an impact to the Tour’s business, and there are dozens of other Lashleys doing the same.

Perhaps there are too many players in the field most weeks (but not this week), too many tournaments, too many players who are exempt on the circuit, but these aren’t simple issues for the Tour to resolve. Elite players want fewer snouts in the trough. Journeymen want to keep the jobs they’ve earned under established rules. Sponsors have wildly varying ideas of what constitutes an ideal event for them. And fans want to be entertained by stars (and uncompetitive legends), while leaving open the possibility of being charmed by a Cinderella story (or a shock comeback by the aforementioned uncompetitive legends). In navigating this, the Tour will need to wield the blade carefully to ensure that it doesn’t cut its own throat.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek