This week in golf: PGA Tour’s loaded field, LPGA returns, LIV Golf prepares for its finale

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The week that was in professional golf saw many notable players return to the winner’s circle.

Keegan Bradley ended a four-year PGA Tour drought by winning the Zozo Championship in Japan.

Brooks Koepka claimed his first victory in 20 months by winning LIV Golf’s first event in Saudi Arabia, which, if you haven’t heard, was a $4.5 million payday.

And Fred Couples bested his age by 3 shots by carding a 12-under 60 in the final round of the SAS Championship on Sunday, with 12 birdies in his final 14 holes, to win on the Champions Tour for the first time in more than five years.

The biggest winner of the week? LIV Golf, if you believe the words that were coming out of six-time major champion Phil Mickelson‘s mouth in Saudi Arabia this past week.

“I think going forward you have to pick a side. You have to pick what side do you think is going to be successful,” Mickelson told reporters. “I firmly believe that I’m on the winning side of how things are going to evolve and shape in the coming years for professional golf.”

Of course, PGA Tour players don’t believe they’re on the wrong side in the ongoing dispute with LIV Golf.

Who’s going to win this week? A loaded PGA Tour field is set for the CJ Cup in South Carolina, which begins Thursday at Congaree Golf Club. With another win, Rory McIlroy can supplant Scottie Scheffler as the No. 1 player in the world.

While LIV Golf takes a break before its season-finale team event in Miami later this month, the LPGA will kick off its two-event Asian swing at the BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea.

Here’s what to watch in professional golf this week:

What’s next on the PGA Tour

The CJ Cup in South Carolina
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Congaree Golf Club, Ridgeland, South Carolina
Defending champion: Rory McIlroy
Purse: $10.5 million

Three storylines to watch:

The boys are back: For the first time since the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake, most of the PGA Tour’s top players will be competing this week at Congaree Golf Club. In fact, 15 of the top 20 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are in the field, including six of the top 10. The five missing from the top 20 are Cameron Smith (LIV Golf), Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris (injured) and Tony Finau. It will be a preview of the 13 elevated events next season, as the Tour’s top players have committed to play in each of them.

Rory’s defense: McIlroy hasn’t competed on the PGA Tour since winning the FedEx Cup for the third time at East Lake in August. But the No. 2 player in the world hasn’t been taking it easy. He made three starts on the DP World Tour, tying for second at the BMW PGA Championship, finishing solo fourth at the Italian Open and tying for fourth at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Last year, McIlroy beat Collin Morikawa by 1 stroke to pick up his 20th PGA Tour victory at the CJ Cup @ Summit in Las Vegas. He’ll have a chance to unseat Scottie Scheffler as the No. 1 player in the world if he defends his title or finishes solo second, depending on how Scheffler performs this week.

No rest for the weary: More than three dozen players in the field, including Viktor Hovland, Tom Kim, Hideki Matsuyama and Morikawa competed in the Zozo Championship in Japan, which ended around 3 a.m. ET on Sunday. The PGA Tour chartered a United flight for players, caddies and staff to get back to the U.S. The flight departed Tokyo around 10:45 p.m. ET on Sunday and landed in Savannah, Georgia, at 10:21 a.m. ET on Monday. The 12½ hour-flight covered more than 7,300 miles.

What’s next in LIV Golf?

LIV Golf Team Championship
When: Oct. 28-30
Where: Trump National Doral Miami
Purse: $50 million

Three storylines to watch:

It’s all about the team: The seeding is set for the season-ending Team Championship, in which 12 four-man squads will compete for $50 million. The first-place team will evenly split $16 million, second place gets $10 million, and third place takes home $8 million. Dustin Johnson’s 4 Aces GC is the top seed with 152 points, followed by Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers (96 points), Sergio Garcia’s Fireballs (93) and Louis Oosthuizen’s Stinger GC (72). They’ll each receive a first-round bye and get to pick their opponents for the second round. Brooks Koepka’s Smash GC, which won the team event in Saudi Arabia last week, is the fifth seed and will be the first to choose its opponent for the opening round. Harold Varner III’s Niblicks are the 12th seed.

Koepka ends drought: Koepka took down former roommate Peter Uihlein on the third playoff hole to win the LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. It was his first victory since February 2021. The former world No. 1 golfer also revealed to reporters that he wasn’t sure he would play again after he suffered a dislocated and shattered right kneecap in March 2021. Koepka said he’ll need a knee replacement in the next few years.

“I wasn’t sure whether I could even move the same way and if I want to play if I could move the way I wanted,” Koepka said. “I’m fortunate [to] be in the spot that I’m in right now.”

It was a $4.75 million payday for Koepka, who collected $4 million for the individual title and $750,000 for the team win (one-fourth of $3 million). It’s going to cost him a new Lamborghini, which he promised his brother and teammate, Chase, if they won a team event.

Golf but (much) louder: The entertainment lineup for the team championship was announced last week and it’s not what you would expect to see at a traditional golf tournament. Then again, there’s not much that’s traditional about LIV Golf. The music lineup includes The Chainsmokers (not including South African golfer Shaun Norris), Nelly, DJ Tay James, Snoop Dogg and Travis Scott. They’ll be playing some golf, too.

What’s next on the LPGA Tour

BMW Ladies Championship
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Oak Valley Country Club, Busan, South Korea
Purse: $2 million
Defending champion: Jin Young Ko

Three storylines to watch:

Player of the year race: Australia’s Minjee Lee seemed to have the Rolex Player of the Year award wrapped up after she won the U.S. Women’s Open and tied for second at the Women’s PGA Championship. But a WD and consecutive missed cuts by Lee allowed three other players to get back into the race. With four tournaments left to play this season, Lee is 19 points ahead of Canada’s Brooke Henderson, winner of the Amundi Evian Championship. Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul, 19, is 25 points back after picking up her second victory of the season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in late September. And Lydia Ko, thanks to top-seven finishes in six of her past seven starts, is 29 points behind.

Ko is back: Defending BMW Ladies Championship winner Jin Young Ko, the No. 1 player in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, is expected to make her first start since late August. Ko hasn’t played since the CP Women’s Open, in which she missed her second straight cut for the first time in her LPGA career, because of a nagging left wrist injury. It’s the same injury that bothered her last season. Ko’s lone victory this season came at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore in early March.

Choi’s farewell: South Korea’s Na Yeon Choi will compete for the final time on the LPGA Tour this week. She announced her retirement on Oct. 5. Choi, 34, won nine times during her LPGA career, including the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open in Kohler, Wisconsin.

“All athletes encounter the moment when they decide to retire,” Choi said in a statement. “I think this is the right moment for me to make this big decision because I know that I will be leaving with no regrets in my career, which has been filled with my sweat and blood. It is not an easy decision to make but I am going to make the choice with no regrets for myself and my future. I’m going to stop playing golf, which was my whole life and at the same time a sport I both loved and hated. I’ve experienced many challenges but I will miss those moments a lot.”

Inside the Official World Golf Rankings

Moving up

Keegan Bradley
Current rank: 23
Previous rank: 44

Bradley’s emotional victory in Japan, his first on Tour in more than four years, helped him move inside the top 25 of the OWGR for the first time since August 2014.

Emiliano Grillo
Current rank: 75
Previous rank: 87

Grillo, from Argentina, was solo fourth at the Zozo Championship, moving him up 12 spots. He shot 6-under 64 in the final round, but then threw some shade at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.

“I don’t like it, to be honest,” Grillo said.

OK, then.

Andrew Putnam
Current rank: 79
Previous rank: 109

The former Pepperdine star tied for second at the Zozo Championship, his best finish on Tour since he was runner-up at the 2021 Barracuda Championship.

Rickie Fowler
Current rank: 106
Previous rank: 160

Fowler couldn’t hold a 1-shot lead in the final round in Japan and finished runner-up for the 15th time in his PGA Tour career. Fowler hasn’t won in more than three years, but his form seems headed in the right direction.

Keita Nakajima
Current rank: 311
Previous rank: 354

The former world No. 1 amateur player, who played in three majors as an amateur last season, tied for 12th in his first Tour start as a pro in his native Japan.

Moving down

Brooks Koepka
Current rank: 35
Previous rank: 33

Since LIV golfers still aren’t receiving OWGR points, their rankings continue to fall. It is the four-time major champion’s worst ranking since near the end of the 2014 season, when he was playing as a non-PGA Tour member.

Patrick Reed
Current rank: 59
Previous rank: 56

Maybe Reed should add the OWGR to his growing list of defendants in his lawsuit. He was ninth in the world heading into the 2021 Open Championship.

Justin Rose
Current rank: 69
Previous rank: 66

The former world No. 1 golfer has been struggling with his form for a while and withdrew after the first round of the BMW PGA Championship, the DP World Tour’s flagship event, because of a back injury.

Phil Mickelson
Current rank: 143
Previous rank: 138

The six-time major champion might believe LIV Golf is winning in its ongoing battle with PGA Tour, but Lefty is losing when it comes to his world ranking. It’s his worst position since 1993, less than a year after he turned pro.

Jason Day
Current rank: 146
Previous rank: 143

Another former world No. 1 golfer, Day tied for eighth at the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas. It was his first top-10 finish since a tie for third at the Farmers Insurance Open in February.

On the record

J.T. Poston picked up his second PGA Tour victory at the John Deere Classic in July. He advanced to the Tour Championship for the first time in his career and tied for 15th at East Lake Golf Club. Poston is also an ambassador for Congaree Golf Club, which is hosting its second PGA Tour event. South Africa’s Garrick Higgo won the 2021 Palmetto Championship there. Poston talked to ESPN on Monday about what PGA Tour players can expect this week and other topics.

Q: What do you think of the layout at Congaree?

A: It’s awesome. I really like it. I think a lot of the guys will like it this week. I think it’s going to be very different from what we see week in and week out. There’s no rough. It’s all fairway and waste areas. It’s not something you’d usually see on Tour. Usually, you see a lot of rough around the greens and off the tee. It’s mowed real tight and the fairways are firm and fast. I think it will be fun. I think it’s a good layout, and I’m looking forward to it getting the exposure it deserves.

Q: What can you tell me about the Congaree Foundation?

A: The way they have it set up as a foundation and they call people ambassadors. They want you to be an ambassador of the club and the foundation. The foundation helps local kids and kids from all over the country and world take the next step with college golf. They do two junior camps every summer and kids come in from all over the world. They take classes, get instruction from the pros, they have trainers and learn everything about playing golf at the college level. It’s a pretty sweet deal. They’ve had a number of kids come through the program get college scholarships, where otherwise they probably wouldn’t have exposure to that kind of instruction.

Q: What is going to be at a premium this week on the course?

A: I think it’s going to be iron play and controlling your ball. I think the greens can get firm and fast, so getting your ball pin high is [going to be important]. I don’t think it’s going to be a week where guys are going to be able to attack a bunch of flags, so just hitting solid shots and hitting a lot of greens in regulations [are going to be key]. You’re going to have to be sharp around the greens. There’s a lot of run-offs, so the ball is not going to be just sitting just off the green if you miss. It’s going to be like links golf, where choosing the right club, trajectory and right part of the green can make or break getting up and down.

Q: After picking up your second PGA Tour win and finishing in the top 15 of the FedEx Cup points standings, what are your goals this season?

A: I just want to put myself back in that position. One of the big things from last season was kind of being in the mix for the Presidents Cup. I know I was probably on the outside looking in, but just being part of the conversation was something I was pretty new to and something that I thought was awesome. A light bulb kind of went off to where I feel like I can play well enough to be in the mix for those teams. I really want to try to put myself in that position again and see if I can make one of those teams. In order to do that, I think it’s sort of the mentality of going out and trying to win golf tournaments, and not worrying about just having good weeks and top 10s or top 20s. I want to try to give myself a chance to win as many times as possible this year and see where I stack up at the end of the season.

Q: In terms of your game, what do you feel like is dialed in and what needs improvement?

A: I feel like my putting and short game have always been pretty good through the years. It’s been streaky at times, but I’d say the last couple of years it’s been a little more consistent. I’ve started to drive the ball a little bit better, but the weeks that I play my best are when my tee to green is really good, especially my approach play and irons. As far as where I can improve, it’s probably just being a little bit more consistent and tighter on shots into the greens, because I feel like the short game and putter are always going to be there.

Q: What did you make about Phil Mickelson’s comments about LIV Golf “winning”?

A: My gut says of course it’s easy for him to say that because he’s not on the PGA Tour and he’s on the LIV tour. He’d be stupid not to say that, whether he actually believes it or not. It feels like there’s a lot of decisiveness between the LIV tour and PGA Tour and choosing sides and this and that, but at the end of the day what’s going to be best for the game of golf? I think what the PGA Tour has done is obviously a model for success and it has been for a long time. They’re obviously making a few changes here and there to try and constantly better the product. I’d have a hard time saying that the LIV golf is going to be better than the PGA Tour, personally.

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