Uncertainty and controversy over a potential merger with LIV Golf's Saudi backers loom over the US PGA Tour as its 2024 season tees off Thursday in Hawaii.
The PGA's tournament of champions, now dubbed The Sentry, again will be played at Kapalua, this time in support of wildfire-devastated host Maui following last August's tragedy.
A field of 59 will compete in the $20 million opener with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy the only qualified player skipping the event to begin his 2024 campaign later.
Even as the PGA Tour returns to a calendar-year format, the impact of last June's shock announcement of a framework merger deal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and DP World Tour lingers over the series.
Too late for Jon Rahm
That signals the upstart series can drain top PGA talent ahead of LIV's season openers next month at Mayakoba in Mexico and Las Vegas during Super Bowl week there.
Negotiations between PGA and PIF officials have gone beyond an original December 2023 deadline and still no details have emerged about plans for what a unified PGA-LIV structure would feature even as the rivals plan separate 2024 seasons.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, criticized by many players for keeping details of LIV merger talks secret, said in a memo to players on Sunday that LIV talks were "active and productive" and the PGA was working to extend talks into 2024.
Three of the past five major winners are now with LIV Golf -- Rahm, 2023 PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and 2022 British Open winner Cameron Smith -- even though its lack of world ranking points means fewer LIV golfers qualify for majors.
For now, the only events where LIV and PGA rivals will compete are the majors, which this year feature the Masters on April 11-14 at Augusta National, the PGA Championship at Valhalla on May 16-19, the US Open at Pinehurst on June 13-16 and the British Open at Royal Troon on July 18-21.
Tiger Woods, a 15-time major winner and member of the Tour Policy Board that must approve any LIV deal, said last month he was "pleased at the process and how it has evolved" in PIF talks but frustrated by its slowness.
Asked how a merged PGA-LIV series would work, Woods said, "The answer is murky," citing a large number of possibilities and trying to find what works best for players.
‘Confident deal will get done’
"I'm confident a deal will get done in some way," Woods said. "We're working together. We're trying to get a deal done for the tour and for all parties involved.”
Until then, the PGA Tour's revamped 2024 schedule includes eight "signature" tournaments, starting this week, in a 36-event lineup ending with 70 players qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs that conclude September 1.
Other signature events, with limited fields and higher prize money, include Pebble Beach, Riviera, Bay Hill, the Heritage a week after the Masters, Quail Hollow and the Memorial Tournament and Travelers Championship in the weeks before and after the US Open.