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Breaking Down The Player Impact Program Winners (Spoiler Alert: Tiger Won The $15 million)

If you're not familiar with the Player Impact Program, let me explain it to you. The PGA Tour uses some nebulous algorithm to determine its most popular players and then pays them for being popular. It's really that simple, and it's definitely sort of an odd concept in a sport historically synonymous with meritocracy. 

The creation of the PIP was widely seen as a reaction to the emergence of LIV Golf, which gives players guaranteed money for the attention they bring to the circuit. Until last year, the PGA Tour did not such thing. It paid players solely and wholly based on their on-course performance. If Tiger Woods finishes T-8 in an event and Tyler Duncan finishes T-8 in an event, they receive the same check at the end of the week. Contrast that with team sports, where James Harden makes a gazillion dollars whether he drops 65 or plays like hot garbage. 

And so, with competition suddenly a thing, The PGA Tour decided to begin compensating their top players for something not directly related to their scores. An ancillary benefit, if not the primary function of the PIP, was to keep the top players happy on the PGA Tour. That did not happen in the program's first year, when a full half of the 10 initial winners left for LIV—No. 2 Phil Mickelson, No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau, No. 7 Dustin Johnson, No. 8 Brooks Koepka and No. 10 Bubba Watson. The PGA Tour subsequently increased the payout from $40 million to $100 million, the grand prize from $8 million to $15 million, and doubled the amount of winners from 10 to 20. And the list takes on extra significance this year, for the PIP winners are the players that will automatically qualify for the 13 "elevated" events that will debut in 2023, each offering at least $20 million in prize money. If you're in this group, you're in good shape. 

I speculated on the 20 winners in yesterday's Monday Morning Rap. Here's who I predicted:

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Matt Fitzpatrick, Max Homa, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay, Hideki Matsuyama, Shane Lowry, Tom Kim, Cameron Young, Tommy Fleetwood and Rickie Fowler. 

Turns out I went 18-20 and nailed the top 6, just with JT and Spieth in reverse order. Here's the list, including the payouts, and a few words about each. 

1. Tiger Woods, $15 million - They might as well name this award after him. The guy won the PIP last year without hitting a single shot in competition. This year, no contest. 

2. Rory McIlroy, $12 million - No one spoke in front of a microphone more this year than McIlroy, who emerged as a spokesman-of-sorts for the PGA Tour in its battle with LIV Golf. 

3. Jordan Spieth, $9 million - Hasn't been the generationally dominant player of years past, but he's still massively popular and hardly ever puts a foot wrong. 

4. Justin Thomas, $7.5 million - Certainly got that "it" star power, he's more demonstrative than most top players and burns with a fire that other athletes can relate to. Added his second major championship this year at the PGA. 

5. Jon Rahm, $6 million - Finished the year with three worldwide victories but had a very disappointing majors season. Given his candor and seemingly dispassionate feelings regarding LIV, he's someone the PGA Tour is doing everything they can to keep happy. 

6. Scottie Scheffler, $5.5 million - Surefire player of the year isn't one for self promotion and won this money with his golf game, which was better than anyone else's. 

7. Xander Schauffele, $5 million - Similarly lowkey off the course, but he's a constant presence on top-level leaderboards and you're not going to forget that name. 

8. Matt FItzpatrick, $5 million - Laconic Brit won his first major title at this year's U.S. Open, played in the final round of the PGA Championship and played alongside Woods at St. Andrews. Crushed this major season. 

9. Will Zalatoris, $5 million - Missed the FedEx Cup playoffs and Presidents Cup with an injury but has a unique look and has become something of a fan favorite. 

10. Tony Finau, $5 million - Might be the nicest guy in world golf, and winning three times toward the end of the season certainly didn't hurt. 

11. Collin Morikawa, $3 million - Oh, what a difference a year makes. Not in his PIP finish, because that's the exact same. But last year, 11th paid zero dollars, whereas the 25-year-old gets $3 million this year. 

12. Shane Lowry, $3 million - Played some really solid golf at the beginning of the season and won the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship event on the DP World Tour. Still, a bit of a surprise to see him this high. 

13. Kevin Kisner, $3 million - We'd never take credit for this, but Kis was 13th when he asked the Fore Play squad to get the word out. We responded in kind, and he jumped all the way to No. 13. Look, I'm not trying to imply anything here. I'm just connecting dots. 

14. Max Homa, $3 million - Given that he played better golf than Lowry this year and is the world No. 1 on Golf Twitter, I do not understand how he finished behind Lowry. 

15. Billy Horschel, $3 million - Never shy to share his opinion, he made some serious headlines for calling out the LIV guys' hypocrisy earlier in the year. Also won the Memorial going away. 

16. Rickie Fowler, $2 million - Most all the guys listed above are top-20 players in the world. Fowler, then, is the first PIP winner that cannot point to his play for support. He's still outside the top 100 in the world rankings, but he's also still in every third commercial on the Golf Channel. 

17. Adam Scott, $2 million - He's been rumored to be a LIV target, and he'll have to complete a set of requirements from the PGA Tour—including playing in all the elevated events—to receive his full PIP money. 

18. Jason Day, $2 million - Sort of a shock given he, too, is outside the top 100 and he's not in nearly as many commercials as Rickie. Guessing his overall Q-score is still quite high among the general public given his 2014-2017 stretch. 

19. Patrick Cantlay, $2 million - He's been perhaps the most outspoken critic of the PIP, and it's really not designed for a player as private as he is. No. 4 in the world rankings. 

20. Viktor Hovland, $2 million - Had a pretty quiet summer after getting as high as world No. 3 earlier in the year. Just didn't get much airtime on weekends as he didn't challenge leads much. 

"Additional Players" as determined by new measurement criteria

Hideki Matsuyama, Cameron Young, Sam Burns, $2 million - The program clearly doesn't weigh Asia as heavily, for Matsuyama is a massive star in Japan and one of the most important players for the PGA Tour to keep in the fold. Young and Burns both don't have much off-course juice but both had excellent seasons. 

With 23 guys getting money, there aren't too many "snubs"...but one jumps to mind. Tom Kim, who didn't start playing on the PGA Tour until the summer, but what a summer he had. Guy won twice this year, becoming the first guy to do that before 21 since Tiger Woods, and absolutely stole the show at the Presidents Cup. Guess he'll have to wait another year.