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A finalist for PGA Tour player of the year … plays for LIV

dustin johnson poses with award

Well, this is awkward.

On Monday, the PGA Tour released the finalists for the Jack Nicklaus player of the year award, nominating three men for their extraordinary seasons and, in turn, their contributions to the PGA Tour. But there was, naturally, just one problem: one of the nominees has since sworn his allegiance to the Tour’s enemy, LIV Golf.

The Tour listed Cameron Smith, the reigning Players Championship winner, alongside Masters champ Scottie Scheffler and Tour Championship winner Rory McIlroy as finalists for Nicklaus Award. This, despite Smith’s announcement last Monday that he would be leaving the PGA Tour for a reported $100 million payday to join the Saudi-backed rivals.

Smith, the World No. 2, had the best season of his career in 2022, winning three times and collecting more than $10 million in on-course earnings. After opening the season with a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Smith closed out a wonderful (and weird) week at the Players Championship with a nervy win in front of his family in his adopted hometown, leading a tearful celebration with family in the Tour’s biggest event. With the monkey off his back, he stormed back to win the 150th Open Championship in July, leapfrogging Rory McIlroy with five straight birdies down the back nine to claim his first major championship.

Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann sign with LIV Golf, along with four others
By: Sean Zak

In late August, after months of rumors, the 29-year-old Aussie finally announced he had signed on to join LIV Golf, joining his fellow countryman and mentor — LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman — in the upstart league. He competed for the first time last weekend in LIV Boston, finishing tied for 4th as the captain of his all-Australian team, Punch GC.

Even after the biggest season of his career, Smith remains a longshot to win the award. Scheffler had one of the most dominant years in recent memory, winning three times in addition to the Masters, ascending to World No. 1, and generally establishing himself as one of the sport’s most gifted players. Behind him, McIlroy enjoyed a resurgence of his own, nabbing this third and final victory of the 2021-22 season at the Tour Championship and taking home the event’s $18 million first prize for the third time in his pro career.

Scheffler, McIlroy and Smith were announced alongside the nominees for PGA Tour rookie of the year, Cameron Young, Sahith Theegala, and Tom Kim. Players who competed in at least 15 events will be eligible to participate in the voting for both player of the year and rookie of the year this week. Previous winners of the award include Patrick Cantlay (’20-21), Dustin Johnson (’19-20), and Rory Mcilroy (’18-19). The voting closes at 5 p.m. on Friday, September 9, and a winner will be announced at a later date.

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