Sports·THE BUZZER

What we know (and don't know) for the 2024 men's golf season

CBC Sports' daily newsletter presents some key angles for the new men's golf season, which teed off Thursday with more confusion than ever over the future of the PGA Tour-LIV rivalry.

Still no deal between the PGA Tour and LIV as a new year tees off

A men's golfer holds his club while looking at his shot.
Canadian Open champ Nick Taylor was one of four Canadian winners last year on the PGA Tour, which is still trying to finalize its opaque deal to merge interests with LIV Golf. (Yoshimasa Nakano/Getty Images)

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The 2024 men's golf season teed off today in Hawaii with the opening round of the Sentry. The 59-player tournament is reserved for those who won a PGA Tour event last year or finished in the top 50 of the FedEx Cup standings.

It's the first of eight "signature" stops on the tour, each offering a $20-million US purse. These form the backbone of the season, along with the $25-million Players Championship in March and the four majors, beginning with the Masters in April. The season ends with the three FedEx Cup playoff events, culminating with the Tour Championship on Labour Day weekend in Atlanta, where the winner will walk away with $25 million — up from the $18 million that Norway's Viktor Hovland collected last year.

Along with those staggering sums of money and the glory of a major title, golfers will compete for Olympic medals this August outside Paris. Meanwhile, the greatest player of all time is trying for another comeback, and the future of the sport remains troublingly unclear as the murky "partnership" announced last June between the PGA Tour and its bitter rival LIV Golf is still up in the air.

Here are a few of the angles to follow this men's golf season:

Tiger Woods is back (sort of).

The GOAT placed 18th in the 20-player Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas a month ago — Woods' first tournament since he had ankle surgery shortly after withdrawing from the Masters last April. He also teamed up with his son Charlie to tie for fifth in last month's informal PNC Championship.

Tiger, who turned 48 last week, appears unlikely to add to his 15 major titles as he continues to cope with the physical damage stemming from the February 2021 car wreck that nearly cost him a leg. But he said that his latest surgery was helpful, and he thinks that playing "maybe a tournament a month" is a "realistic" goal for this year.

With Tiger in the winter of his career, the top dog on tour is Scottie Scheffler, a placid 27-year-old American who's ranked No. 1 in the world and yesterday became the first golfer since Woods to capture back-to-back PGA Tour player of the year awards. Scheffler won the lucrative Players Championship and Phoenix Open last year and led the tour in all the major statistical categories from tee to green, but a shaky putter kept the 2022 Masters champ from winning his second major.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is now a decade removed from his last major title after three top-seven finishes last season, including a runner-up at the U.S. Open. No. 3 Jon Rahm of Spain became the latest star to leave the PGA for a massive offer from rival LIV Golf, signing for a reported $300M last month. The fourth-ranked Hovland, from Norway, is still seeking his first major.

More Canadians are contending than ever before.

A record four of them won PGA Tour events in 2023, which was arguably the best year in Canadian golf history. In addition to the trophies captured by Corey Conners, Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Svensson, Nick Taylor produced his country's most thrilling men's golf moment since Mike Weir's 2003 Masters victory by sinking a 72-foot eagle putt on the fourth playoff hole to become the first Canadian in 69 years to win the men's Canadian Open. Adam Hadwin, who won the internet that day by getting tackled by a security guard as he rushed the green to celebrate his pal Taylor's title, nearly made it five Canadian tournament winners before falling in a playoff at a tour stop in Detroit.

All five qualified for this week's season opener in Hawaii and the rest of the big-money "signature" events in 2024 by being in the top 50 of the FedEx Cup standings. Taylor placed 25th, Conners 26th, Svensson 37th and Hadwin 45th. Hughes finished 51st, but Rahm's departure for LIV bumped him up to the all-important No. 50 spot.

Canada's top players will also vie for a spot on the International team that will take on the U.S. at this year's Presidents Cup, which will be held in Montreal in September. Weir is captain for the Internationals.

The chase for an Olympic spot is on.

Only 60 golfers will play in the men's tournament in Paris. Qualification is based on the world rankings on June 17 — the day after the U.S. Open is completed.

The top 15 players are eligible for a spot, though no country can have more than four entries in the tournament (currently, eight of the top 15 are from the United States). Outside of the top 15, it's a maximum of two golfers per country. Canada enters the season with five players in the top 66, so it shouldn't have much trouble maxing out its quota again. Three years ago in Tokyo, Conners placed 13th and Hughes was 50th.

Paris will be the first Olympic Games since LIV Golf, the Saudi Arabia-financed challenger to the PGA Tour, began stealing players with its eye-watering contracts. There's no rule against LIV players competing in the Olympics, but it's difficult for them to get in because their events aren't recognized in the world rankings. The only way for them to earn points is in the four major championships, which are also tough for LIV players to get into unless they've won one before. But we could see the likes of the third-ranked Rahm, American Brooks Koepka (No. 17) and Australia's Cameron Smith (No 25) teeing it up in Paris.

The golf war is not over yet.

Back in June, the PGA Tour shocked the sports world by striking a deal with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund to merge the commercial interests of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League and the PGA Tour into a new company that would also include the DP World Tour (formerly the European tour). The rivals' description of their apparent truce was foggy at best, but they pledged to hammer out the details by the end of the year.

Hopeful golf fans took this as a sign that the chaos of the past few years — during which big-name players keep disappearing to the clumsy and inaccessible LIV Golf League for no good reason other than insane amounts of money — would soon end and the best players might even be reunited.

But the Dec. 31 deadline passed (it was extended indefinitely) and things are even more confusing today that they were back in the summer. In December, LIV poached Rahm from the PGA Tour for a reported $300M US — which doesn't seem like a very partner-y thing to do. Meanwhile, the PGA Tour is negotiating with Strategic Sports Group, a consortium of billionaire owners of U.S.-based sports teams, about investing in the new entity. And no one seems to have any idea how this will all end as far as what we'll actually see out on the course.

"Our goal for 2024 is to reach agreements with SSG, PIF, and DP World Tour to bring them on board as minority co-investors in PGA Tour Enterprises," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan wrote in a memo to players. "These partnerships will allow us to unite, innovate, and invest in golf for the benefit of players, fans and sponsors."

The players are already benefiting, as purses on the PGA Tour have skyrocketed in response to the LIV Golf threat. But the fans are still waiting for their payoff — which may or may not come before the next star player vanishes into LIV's bottomless vault.

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