Are Koepka and McIlroy golf’s new Big 2?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The latest version of the FedEx Cup is in the books. It appears to have done what the Tour, the sponsors and the networks wanted, which is to have the best players vying for the championship and a huge cash payout on Sunday. In your view was the format a success? Would you make changes going forward?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Yes, I would say it was successful.  The best performers of the season, give or take, were in the final groups, and the most popular guy won.  I didn’t pay much attention to the format, but as you suggest, it seemed to work as hoped.  I personally find the prize money obscene, but nothing is going to change that other than nuclear war and the end of life as we know it.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: I am a believer! I really liked the format! From the player’s perspective, the season-long accomplishments were acknowledged. From the sponsor’s perspective, each play-off event increased the interest and gave the proper recognition of the combination of season-long plus play-offs. Finally, when Thomas teed off with a 2-stroke advantage and the others were suitably positioned based on performance everyone knew exactly where everyone stood. If he continued his fine play, he wins. If he doesn’t and others score lower, they can win. But it would take a superhuman performance to overcome all past sins and move all the way to the top. Regardless, whoever dreamt this one up deserves a huge bonus.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I thought it was a success. By Saturday, it was only household names in the running for the FedEx Cup and I was able to clearly follow the leaderboard without trying to figure out how a contingent of other factors would play out down the stretch. I wouldn’t change anything going into next year. This is one of those instances where a radical new format actually works out, and the powers that be at the PGA Tour should be very pleased with the results.

TJ Rule, GolfAwayTours (@GolfAwayTJ): I know there were a lot of negative comments before the event started, with some guys starting 10 shots back, but I think in the end it worked.  It’s the playoffs after all, so the regular season shouldn’t matter as much, just like other sports.  It’s all how you finish the season, and I’m ok with that.  In the end, two of the best players this year ended up battling it out, and it made for a great finish.  I’m sure there is some tweaking that will be done, but they are on to something.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Every golfer I’ve spoken to since Rory’s ‘Rory’ performance has first mentioned his brilliant play followed quickly by how obscene the prize money was. The 25 drives over 320 yards, winning outright, putting like the Rory of old, all lost in the maelstrom of comment after comment on how ludicrous the money was. That devalued anything and everything the Tour and the massive corporate sponsors Fed Ex and Coke (of all things) were hoping for in gilding the tarnished Rubik’s cube of a phoney playoff in a non-playoff sport. As I’ve said many times around this table, since the first time the pseudo Cup was staged to an unwitting and unwelcoming public, the only reasonable change is to scrap it.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Surprisingly, it worked out ok. If a vote had been taken at the start of the season as to which two players should be going head-to-head on Tour Championship Sunday, it’s likely that McIlroy and Koepka would be the chosen two. Well done on that front. The process for accumulating FedEx Cup points is still flawed. A regular Tour win is worth 500 points, a major is just 600. Then the playoffs are worth 2,000 each. I think most fans would agree that the majors are at least as important as the playoffs. I’m still not a fan of the head start for the final but maybe with some tinkering on the allocation of points, it wouldn’t be needed. And can we cut back on the constant references to obscene amounts of money?

A lot was made of the McIlroy-Koepka match-up and based on recent performance and their season long results, the two of them would appear to be in a very elite grouping. In your estimation, are there other players that rise to the same level or is this a new Big 2 heading into next season?

Deeks: Gosh, we’ve been talking here on the RT about the Big Four, the Big Five, the Big Three over the last five years… including names like Woods, McIlroy, Scott, Day, Spieth, Rahm, Thomas, Koepka, Johnson, Rose, Reed, Fowler, Watson, Stenson, Mickelson, even Furyk and Garcia… if there’s anything that’s constant, it’s change at the top.  Yes, Rory and Brooks are the Big Two at the moment, but my guess is one year from now we’ll be talking about two other guys dominating the field.  One of them will come from the group of names I’ve just listed, one of them won’t.

Schurman: The level of competition is what I’ve been waiting for. I’m tired of the Tiger story! He was so dominant he completely ran over several great supporting actors like Els, Mickelson, Love, Singh and Duval. Will Koepka and McIlroy pass the ‘torch’ back and forth between themselves? Somewhat but not with the same toll taken by Tiger. There is a list that includes Cantlay, DeChambeau, Finau, Fleetwood, Im, Rahm, Schauffele, Thomas and Woodland who about to enter the prime of their winning days. Also, lest we forget there are few who have established themselves as being pretty good too. That list includes Casey, Johnson, Kuchar, Scott and Spieth. I see a tremendous future for the PGA TOUR and a lot of fun for us!

Kaplan: Our Big whatevers (2, 3, 4, 5) are so short-lived that there is really no point in taking the time to point them out. I don’t think they’re the only two players capable of rising to that level; McIlroy and Koepka are just playing the best right now. Who knows what 2020 has in store . . . here are some other names that could be in the running next year: Tommy Fleetwood, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, and Francesco Molinari.

Rule: Sure, I guess you could say that they are the Big 2 heading into the season, but let’s be honest, that will change, maybe even before the calendar year ends!  In November last year, some may have considered Cameron Champ on of the best in the world, look how that turned out!  It’s impossible to dominate the sport and even Rory can’t play at a consistently high level, so although they will be favoured at events they play in to start the year, all it takes is a few bad weeks and they are back with the rest of the pack!

Quinn: The only guys I think can get into a top four are Jon Rahm and Zander Schauffele. They have the distance, and the short games. Just a matter of time, hopefully, before they’re playing in a number of final pairings with the big two.

Mumford: When every player is playing his best, McIlroy and Koepka appear to have an edge right now – more talent, more focus, more drive. Nobody else is quite in their league, but there are an awful lot that are close, Rose, Rahm, Thomas and Molinari particularly. Four or five years ago, McIlroy, Spieth and Day were the new Big 3 with Rickie Fowler peeking through the curtain. By this time next year, it could be an entirely different cast of characters. Personally, I’d like to see a long, dominant legacy-building run by the new Big 2 but there’s just too much talent on the PGA Tour to bet a lot on that happening.

Brooke Henderson finished a very respectable T3 in defending her CP Canadian Women’s Open title. However, Jin Young Ko didn’t leave much room for anybody else, scoring 26-under on the Magna course. Is that an embarrassingly low score for a national championship? In other words, was Magna set up too easy for the women?

Deeks: Yes, it’s an embarrassingly low score, not just by one player, but anything better than 10-under says the course just wasn’t up to the challenge.  It’s a great golf course, don’t get me wrong; but the skill of these players is now so much higher than a decade ago, they’re making mincemeat of the layouts they’re playing.  Magna was set up at 6700 yards, so it wasn’t supposed to be a patsy.  The fairways were generous, but the rough wasn’t easy.  And when I played Magna in July, the greens were the fastest I’ve played all year; I assume they were even quicker for the tournament.  The fact of the matter is the players are great, they hit the ball as far as men did 15 years ago, and Jin Young Ko is simply a golfing machine.  In a decade from now, 30-under won’t be out of the question.

Schurman: So, the score was low. So, what! It was a combination of the course set-up and a star player playing extremely well. The PGA TOUR sets up their courses starting with fairly easy on Thursday and Friday to challenging on Saturday to championship on Sunday. They do this to create interest. At every golf course in the world, there is some person who can shoot low scores and wonders why the ‘big’ boys and girls he/she can do something better than he/she? That is until the big boys and girls come to the course and shoot 62. I think it’s wonderful to see -26! That sells tickets! It’s something the regular players can’t shoot. They don’t have to wonder if they should quit their job and seek their fortune on the Tour. They can come to the tournament and see for themselves how the game is played by the best players.

Kaplan: Yes, it certainly was. At over 6,700 yards, Magna was one of the longer setups on the LPGA Tour schedule, and it still posed almost no challenge whatsoever for the field. I’m not interested in seeing professionals shoot four straight rounds in the mid 60s to win tournaments. I want to see grit and strategy, missed shots and recoveries, narrow fairways and unforgiving greens. That makes for entertaining golf. Not wide-open holes with massive greens that players can gouge with driver-wedge combos.

Rule: There’s nothing wrong with players shooting good scores and given the width of the golf course and perfect greens, they were always going to make a lot of birdies.  I suppose they could have lengthened the course a bit, but it’s fun watching players play well and make birdies.  All in all, it was a great event, and not a bad champion!  Always nice to have the No1 player in the world win your national championship, which has happened at that event 4 times in the last 5 years, with Brooke being the one other winner, not too shabby!

Quinn: Every Doug Carrick course I’ve played I have enjoyed immensely. Every tee box I’ve stepped on has told me all I need to know. I think he’s Canada’s best. The Tour set Magna up for a bashing, and everyone involved should be embarrassed. That was a wasted opportunity on a terrific layout. I don’t think the LPGA Tour will be invited back, and rightly so.

Mumford: I can’t imagine too many Magna members were happy to see their course shredded by the women, but that’s what happens when you give them generous fairways, huge greens and perfect conditions. It turns into a putting competition and a birdie-fest. It’s very entertaining but I’d prefer to see a bit more strategy included in the course set-up and perhaps more length. Any course that yields as many sub-par rounds as Magna did, including the winning score of twenty-six under isn’t a proper test and not befitting a national championship.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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