Tour Confidential: Tiger’s caddie split, Rory McIlroy’s $3 million penalty
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Tiger Woods’ split from Joe LaCava, Rory McIlroy’s penalty for skipping a Designated event, DP World Tour resignations and more.
1. Joe LaCava had been Tiger Woods’ trusted caddie since 2011, but with Woods out, the long-time looper has now joined Patrick Cantlay’s bag full-time, debuting with a T21 finish at the Wells Fargo Championship last week. Do you see this immediately improving Cantlay’s prospects going forward? How can a caddie like LaCava help him?
Josh Berhow, Managing Editor (@Josh_Berhow): It will be interesting to see what this move does for Cantlay, a.k.a. one of the best — if not the best? — current pros without a major title. Sometimes, it’s the little things that vault players over that hump. It’s not like he was carrying his own bag before, though, and had a good looper in Matt Minister, but sometimes a change of scenery is good for all parties. LaCava’s resume speaks for itself. It will definitely be a fascinating duo to watch going forward. It can’t be a bad thing, right?
Dylan Dethier, Senior Writer (@dylan_dethier): Predicting caddie dynamics is a fool’s errand. I think caddies are hugely important but there are so many different ways to be a good caddie that it’s tough to know how it’ll go. With that said, this pairing makes a ton of sense. LaCava is a pro’s pro, which I’m sure Cantlay will appreciate. But he also just seems to have a great sense for when to keep things light and when to dig his heels in. I’m excited to see what happens.
Ryan Barath, Senior Editor, Equipment (@rdsbarath): With the NHL Playoffs in full swing, thinking about caddies has me drawing a direct line to coaches and the old saying “they get hired to get fired”. Sure there are some extremely long-term relationships out there on tour but in most cases the end result is up to the golfer and not the guy carrying the clubs. Do I think it helps Cantlay’s chances — honestly no, but I’ve been wrong before.
2. Woods and LaCava won 11 times together, including a five-win 2013 season and the 2019 Masters, which was Woods’ 15th major title. What was your favorite moment or most memorable interaction between the two? And how much will this hurt Tiger’s chances when he does get healthy and tees it up next?
Berhow: Loyalty was a word thrown around a lot last week, as in the loyalty LaCava had to Woods to stay on his bag despite Tiger missing significant time with injuries. Now there’s a good chance LaCava was still getting paid something during that absence, but there’s always that strong will to compete between the ropes for player and caddie. He had to miss out, and I think a move like this was a matter of time. I’ll always think back to that pep talk he gave Woods during the final round of the 2019 Masters — “He was saying some things that I can’t really repeat here,” Woods said — which ultimately led to Woods turning his game around and winning his fifth green jacket. As for what this means to Tiger? I’m not sure he’s worried too much about that right now. His first step is to get healthy and, when he’s ready, I think he’ll have a long list of candidates lining up to see if they can find lightning in a bottle another time or two.
Dethier: I posted this video last week from ESPN’s Tiger doc Return of the Roar and the line from LaCava has stuck with me since:“If I could live another 100 years I’d wait another 100 years. I was never not going to work for Tiger as long as he was going to have me.” LaCava’s departure signals the end of an era, but there’s plenty left to celebrate from his partnership with Woods.
Barath: I think the 2019 Masters has to be the moment for me as a whole but I can distinctly remember earlier this year at the Genesis Invitational, Tiger was out first in the pro-am on Wednesday and one of the few guys out just as early was LaCava. It was still dark, near freezing, and there he was with Tiger’s bag getting ready for 18 holes. Lots of people can be there in the big moments but for me, the small moments like that show just how much it meant to be there for Tiger.
3. Rory McIlroy will be penalized $3 million for missing his second Designated event of 2023, as McIlroy skipped Hilton Head the week after the Masters. He previously missed the first Designated event of the season (he played the DP World Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic instead of the Sentry Tournament of Champions). Under the Tour’s current policy, players can only miss one Designated event before it starts cutting into their PIP winnings. Two questions: Is it a bad look for McIlroy, who has essentially acted as PGA Tour’s de facto player/commissioner, to now miss two of these? Or are McIlroy’s absences evidence that this current model isn’t working?
Berhow: No, it’s not really a good look, but it also shows that these guys are human, just like us, and have bad days and weeks and need some time away. (It also probably helps that McIlroy is, absolutely loaded, so an extra $3 million in his pocket doesn’t mean the same thing it would mean to us.) The Tour’s designated events model is still new and a work in progress, but I’ll give the guy a break because we know how much the Masters means to him and I won’t act like I know what’s going on in his life, but yes, this proves there will always be hiccups no matter what the formula is. ‘Tis life. That said, if he missed a third with a non-injury, then Jay, we got a problem.
Dethier: Yeah, it’s kind of a bad look for McIlroy to skip out after essentially designing a system where the best players would show up. But 1. This rule is changing next year, allowing pros to skip, and 2. He’s also being significantly financially punished for missing the RBC. The current model is working. What’s more concerning is McIlroy’s game, which looked uneven all week in Charlotte en route to a T47 finish.
Barath: Considering all the things Rory has said about having to stick to a schedule, it does come off the wrong way, but as Dylan said, having this rule change next year is going to make this a moot point at the end of the season.
4. The DP World Tour confirmed it received membership resignations from Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Richard Bland, which comes after they were sanctioned for playing in a conflicting LIV event last June (and after the DP World Tour recently won an arbitration case, allowing the reinstatement of its fines and suspensions). That also means no Ryder Cup for Sergio, Poulter and Westwood, three players with storied histories in the event who were all set to be captains at some point. Will this tarnish their legacies, and is the Ryder Cup the biggest loser of all here?
Berhow: Their legacies were already established as great Ryder Cup players on dominant European Ryder Cup teams, and while a captaincy would have been a nice feather in their caps, I don’t see that being a huge detriment to their body of work in their careers. And yes, I feel bad for the Ryder Cup, for the fans, but that’s on both sides, the U.S. and European. The event will obviously still have stars and good players, but it’s no secret that it won’t have all of the best players. It stinks. But come this fall in Rome, it’s not like we’re going to have to fill rosters with NCAA players. It will still be a blast. Put it this way: I’m keeping it circled on my calendar.
Dethier: It’s definitely weird that these guys won’t be Ryder Cup captains given their careers have been so defined by their Ryder Cup performances. But that was part of the deal when they jumped to LIV; the decision to leave was always a complex calculus and this is part of what they gave up. Will this change the makeup of this year’s roster much? I’m not so sure. It certainly makes captain’s picks less exciting. And it means Team Europe has to find a different crop of captains going forward.
Barath: As a whole, there are a lot of great Ryder Cup players that were never Captains, so I think from a playing perspective this doesn’t change much. What has yet to be cemented in history is what going to LIV and taking the money does for these players when their careers really end, and what happens to LIV over the next few years.
5. The lineup for the next made-for-TV Match is here, as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs face off on June 29 at the Wynn Las Vegas. Thoughts on the talent for The Match 8? What’s your interest level?
Berhow: I don’t mind the lineup. I like the change-up, although I prefer at least two pro golfers to add some consistency and credibility to each side. This is the first one with strictly teammates vs. teammates, so it will be interesting to see if their names alone — Curry and Mahomes are big draws — will be enough to get viewers, or if it’s a little too niche.
Dethier: I love the fact that they’re leaning into natural partnerships. Mahomes/Kelce and Steph/Klay are two of the most dynamic duos in all of sports right now. There are plenty of different directions they should continue to explore with these, but this works for me — it feels like a high-production-value YouTube challenge match. I’m a sucker for these; I’ll be tuning in, no question.
Barath: It’s fine, and that’s all I can really say. What I really want to see is more LPGA Tour involvement than anything else. I said it last time and I’ll say it again, exposure to the women’s game can bring in so much more interest and I just don’t understand the lack of involvement from the producers part or more lobbying from the LPGA Tour.