CHARLOTTE — Rory McIlroy is thinking ahead. Well beyond the Wells Fargo Championship. He’s looking beyond the upcoming majors and to what comes next.
We don’t yet know what the new Wyndham Rewards Top 10 will mean for the Wyndham Championship, which is three months away, but if McIlroy’s response to a question posed Thursday is any indication, our little tournament is about to go big time.
McIlroy shot a 5-under 66 in the first round and spoke to a host of golf writers afterward, eventually exhausting his description of the round, his love for Quail Hollow and the vagaries of his golf game on the weekend of his 30th birthday.
And then he was asked a question about his upcoming schedule. It went something like this:
“Rory, how will your schedule change when all the majors end in July? What does that leave for August?”
He didn’t blink.
“Well, you got FedEx Cup playoffs, so that’s all going to be there,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot to play for in those. Every year the FedEx Cup is getting bigger and bigger, and it’s more of a target on all the guys’ radar. So there’s a lot to play for in August, obviously. The regular season with the Wyndham Rewards, with guys trying to win the regular season as well.”
Then he went off for a while about giving players time off, a vacation of sorts for golfers who play long seasons around the world and look forward to having an offseason.
McIlroy seemed to be suggesting that time off has become a premium in recent years for the top golfers, something you’re seeing this week with many of the best players not playing in the Wells Fargo.
For years, that has plagued the Wyndham, too. It comes at the end of the regular season when many players need a week to rest or recharge or practice for the playoffs. Which is why the next question posed to McIlroy came with a quick and quite shocking response to many of the golf writers standing around.
“Would you make a run at the regular-season title if it meant going to Greensboro?”
“Oh yeah,” McIlroy said. “For sure.”
This is what the Wyndham has been waiting for, an indication that the new $10 million bonus waiting for the PGA Tour’s first “regular-season” title is on the minds of the top golfers in the world.
Several of the writers were stunned to hear what McIlroy said. Most people in and around the game hadn’t even started thinking about the Wyhdham Rewards Top 10 because it’s still three months away and none of the players seemed to be talking about it.
But last week, Jon Rahm’s win in Texas vaulted him 17 places in the standings and into the top 10. Suddenly, people realized it’s out there. Suddenly, people were talking about it.
“The players are thinking the scenarios through,” Wyndham tournament director Mark Brazil said. “There are probably 15 or more scenarios even now, and after the U.S. Open next month, you’re going to see players start making plans, realizing they need to play more.”
The “top 10” format, introduced last year to boost the prestige of the last regular-season event was heralded at the time as a game-changer for the Wyndham Championship. But it wasn’t necessarily seen as being important to the Tour.
But now that it has raised its head on the horizon, the entire PGA season is more in focus. March is for the Players Championship. April is for the Masters. May is now for the PGA, June is for the U.S. Open and July is for the British Open.
August is for the playoffs, which meant the Wyndham needed something to save it, quite frankly.
The bonus idea not only saved it, but made it part of the playoffs, a wild-card event if you will. And with its own Sam Snead Cup, a regular-season title, FedEx standings and a whole bunch of money at stake.
What we needed to hear was somebody like McIlroy saying what he said Thursday. He's currently third in the Wyndham Rewards Top 10 standings. McIlroy has never played in Greensboro.
We still don’t know how it will all play out, and how well it will work and what the future holds for our tournament.
But it appears that the players are thinking about it even now, and it appears that they all want to be a part of something new and groundbreaking. And the money has their attention.
Is this a sign of things to come? Was this what the Tour and the Wyndham wanted to hear?
Oh yeah. For sure.