WILMINGTON, Del. — Underscoring the gravity of the mounting threat posed by the upstart LIV Golf Invitational Series, Tiger Woods — despite his absence from the BMW Championship field — traveled to Delaware on Tuesday to meet with top players and rally support for the PGA Tour.
“I’ve heard Tiger is the new commissioner [of the PGA Tour], right?” joked Cantlay, ranked No. 4 in the world and seventh in the FedEx Cup standings. “That’s what everyone’s been saying. I’m going to the meeting [Tuesday night]. I’m going to listen to what it’s all about.”
Woods, a 15-time major champion, has been outspoken regarding his loyalty to the PGA Tour, declining an offer of between $700 million and $800 million from LIV, Greg Norman, the organization’s CEO, told Fox News in an interview this month. Before the British Open in July, Woods said the players in the new breakaway circuit had “turned their backs on what has allowed them to get to this position.”
Cantlay, meanwhile, arrived in Delaware having never played at Wilmington Country Club but buoyed by his victory a year ago; that riveting triumph, which required six playoff holes, came at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md.
The runner-up at last year’s tournament, however, is not in the field at this week’s tournament, and Bryson DeChambeau’s conspicuous absence is unrelated to his performance on the golf course. DeChambeau departed the PGA Tour earlier in the summer to join the Saudi-backed LIV series for a reported nine-figure deal, among the highest-profile flash points in the contentious saga that has dominated this golf season.
A glance at the BMW leader board last year, when Cantlay and DeChambeau set a tournament record relative to par at 27 under through 72 holes, reinforces the gravity of the feud.
Past major champions Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia, for instance, finished in a two-way tie for sixth last year but aren’t playing this week, having lost their PGA Tour eligibility. Also absent is Abraham Ancer, who tied for ninth at the BMW in 2021.
All three defected to LIV, the series with ties to Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who, according to U.S. intelligence officials, approved the operation that led to the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
And so, even though virtually all of the top 70 players in the PGA Tour’s playoff points race will be in Delaware this week, several of the sport’s best-known stars will not.
“One of the great things about the PGA Tour is the depth of the field,” said Jon Rahm, the fifth-ranked player in the world who tied for ninth at the BMW Championship last year. “So there’s always a hungrier future star that’s willing to put in the work and make themselves known. Lack of talent on the PGA Tour and the world of golf is not an issue.
“Again you might have lost some names, but you’re gaining some great golfers. … I don’t think we are essentially losing that much because, like I said, you’re just getting to know some great players that were there that you haven’t heard of before.”
Rahm, 27, has been candid as well about his allegiance to the PGA Tour, with the 2021 U.S. Open winner indicating the potential to earn hundreds of millions with LIV would not be life-changing. His stance has been in stark contrast to that of another of the game’s youthful major champions, Cameron Smith.
The 28-year-old Australian, who won last month’s British Open at St. Andrews, has been coy when asked about his commitment to the PGA Tour after a report in the Telegraph that Smith intends to defect to LIV for a contract worth $100 million.
The tour announced Monday that Smith had withdrawn from the BMW because of “hip discomfort,” according to an accompanying statement from his agent. Smith’s withdrawal came two days after he incurred a two-stroke penalty at the St. Jude Championship, the first of the FedEx Cup’s three playoff legs.
Smith, ranked second in the world, is third in the FedEx Cup standings heading into the second round of the playoffs comprising 68 players.
“It’s no doubt fields out here have gotten weaker missing those guys,” Cantlay said, in a departure from other PGA Tour luminaries. “That’s just one of the unfortunate circumstances that happens when you have somewhat of a fractured sport as far as the best players, where they’re playing, especially compared to all the consistency we’ve had in the past where pretty much every single one of the top players plays all these events.”
The BMW field typically includes 70 players, after the top 125 in the standings qualify for the opening event. But in addition to Smith withdrawing, Tommy Fleetwood is not participating in the playoffs for personal reasons, the Englishman posted on Twitter.
There are no alternates in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which will culminate with the top 30 in the standings competing at next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. The winner of the FedEx Cup receives $18 million, an increase of $3 million from what Cantlay pocketed as last year’s champion.
“It’s still an incredibly fantastic field,” said reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, ranked 11th in the world and 12th in the FedEx Cup standings after a tie for fifth at the St. Jude. “The field this week is  of the best players in the world. Yeah, I think that only three of them that aren’t here. It’s not a massive loss in my opinion.”