Despite not playing in an official PGA Tour event for more than a year while recovering from serious injuries suffered in a major car wreck last February, Tiger Woods has been awarded $8 million for being the most popular player in golf.
Woods won the tour’s inaugural Player Impact Program, a new initiative that uses five metrics to determine popularity and does not take on-course performance into account, even though the only tournament he played in last year was the unofficial parent-child PNC Championship in December.
During that same month, Phil Mickelson tweeted out that he had won the PIP and the $8 million first prize. But Mickelson, who became the oldest major champion by winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in May, was counting his chickens before they hatched.
While Woods winning isn’t really all that surprising as the public clearly still loves the 15-time major champion and wants him to return to playing regularly, his victory indicates that some of golf’s younger players just aren’t having the impact the PGA Tour would likely desire.
The big win and payday for Woods is also a loss for lesser-known golfers who are playing well, a frustration voiced by defending FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay. “I think I’m old-school in the respect that I would like the money to be doled out relative to play, and I don’t think the PIP does that,” Cantlay said last month, via ESPN. “It may be the first departure that the tour has had from rewarding good play to rewarding social media or popularity presence, so I don’t like that departure.”
Cantlay may not like it, but expect the PGA Tour to keep rewarding Woods as long as he “moves the needle.”
“Woods has long been the game’s most famous name, so it was no surprise that he would rank first in internet searches and general awareness,” per the PGA. “More surprising, perhaps, was that he wound up No. 1 in earned media after spending more than half the year almost entirely out of the spotlight. And when he did return, his impact was felt.”
As the runner-up to Woods, Mickelson will take home $6 million followed by Rory McIlroy ($3.5 million), Jordan Spieth ($3.5 million), Bryson DeChambeau ($3.5 million), Justin Thomas ($3.5 million), Dustin Johnson ($3 million), Brooks Koepka ($3 million), Jon Rahm ($3 million) and Bubba Watson ($3 million).
Established with an initial prize pool of $40 million, the PIP, which tracks Google search popularity, Nielsen brand exposure rating, Q score, MVP Index rating and Meltwater mentions (the frequency that a player generates coverage across various media platforms), will increase to $50 million and reward 10 players once again in 2022.