An old-school Sony Open and questions about 36-hole cuts

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Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, acknowledges the gallery from the 18th green during the final round of the Tournament of Champions golf event, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Matt York)

HONOLULU – No two tournaments held in consecutive weeks in the same state have so little in common as Kapalua on Maui and the Sony Open on Oahu.

One is an elite field of 39 players, the other a full field of 144. The prize money this week is $7.9 million, compared with $15 million last week. The Plantation Course at Kapalua was built on a small mountain that requires players to get into vans twice to reach the next tee. The other is a flat walk along the ocean and royal palms.

“I think guys who play Kapalua also enjoy coming here with an easier walk around the golf course,” said Adam Scott, among 19 players from Kapalua who are playing the Sony Open. “It feels like a little calmer week than tackling that mountain over there.”

One big difference — and a key point going forward on the PGA Tour — is that roughly half the field will be going home on Friday.

Cuts have been an integral part of the meritocracy that golf allows, dating back decades. There was time when getting to the weekend was one thing; players had to finish among the top 25 or so just to get paid.

At question is what the PGA Tour will look like going forward. This year is all about designated events and $20 million purses, a response to Saudi-backed LIV Golf. The work in progress is 2024 and beyond, and one topic is limited fields for the elite players and whether there should be a cut.

LIV Golf is only 54 holes with no cut, and it's one reason the anti-LIV crowd sneers at the rival league as a little more than an exhibition.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said last week, “I've always felt a cut was important to the sport.”

Scott, for one, said he can make arguments for both sides, and that it depends on the ultimate goal for the PGA Tour's competition structure and whether a cut is needed.

“That's a hard thing in a membership organization. There are hundreds of opinions getting thrown around. You're not going to please everyone,” Scott said. “We have to decide what we want to be.”

He referenced a comment from Tiger Woods on preferring “pure competition,” and Scott said he sits on that side of the fence.

Pure competition?

“I think he means a cut and more traditional golf,” Scott said. “That's fine. But then you've got to structure a lot of things around that and go down that path. I think compromise in trying to please everyone is not going to be the best answer.”

One of the records deemed untouchable is Woods making 142 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour from February 1998 through May 2005. Some two dozen of those tournaments, such as the Tournament of Champions or the Tour Championship or the Match Play, did not have a cut.

Woods also won 18 World Golf Championships, which had limited fields of golf's best from around the world and no 36-hole cut.

Now consider the breakdown.

Overall, Woods had a winning percentage on the PGA Tour of 17%, an astounding rate for his era. He won 40% of the World Golf Championships he played, 21% of regular PGA Tour events (including 23 that had no cut) and 17% of the majors he played.

Overall, for no-cut events — WGCs, Tour Championship, Kapalua — he won 34% of them. Were they harder or easier to win?

“It's hard to argue with the quality of the field,” Scott said.

Jordan Spieth also can see both sides of the equation. He is actively involved in the discussions of what the PGA Tour will look like going forward.

Spieth is trying to find a good balance for his schedule and opted for the Sony Open over the Farmers Insurance Open. He loves both events, but said “I can't figure out how to make the cut in January” at Torrey Pines.

Spieth had one eye on fans who wanted to come watch their favorite players and would know for certain the stars would be there all four days.

“But at the same time, the professional golf that we’ve been playing for all this time — 80% of the tournaments that I’ve played in, maybe more — have had cuts, and you have to play well, he said.

“Obviously, the conversation with LIV ... we should be doing what's best for our tour and forget about the consequences and any reaction that would cause elsewhere.”

For now, the objective for Spieth, defending champion Hideki Matsuyama and everyone else is to get to the weekend in Hawaii and still have to work.


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