ESPN+ to get streaming deal as PGA Tour wraps up TV talks

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Jon Rahm of Spain hits his tee shot on the 14th hole of the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Course during the third round of the Farmers Insurance golf tournament Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — The PGA Tour is closing in on its next television rights deal, likely to be announced after the West Coast swing now that the digital side is coming together.

Two people aware of the negotiations say ESPN has emerged as the winner of the streaming sweepstakes, which currently belongs to NBC Sports. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal is not finalized.

Live streaming would be available on ESPN+.

It would not be the first time ESPN+ has shown the PGA Tour. It had a portion of PGA Tour Live in 2018 — it was run by BAMTech, of which Disney had acquired a controlling stake the previous summer. PGA Tour Live moved to NBC Sports Gold for 2019 and this year.

ESPN previously won the rights to weekday coverage of the PGA Championship starting this year at Harding Park and plans to offer supplemental feeds on ESPN+.

Sports Business Journal previously reported that CBS and NBC (and Golf Channel) have agreed to terms that would keep them as the networks through 2030, with a rights fee increase of 60%. SBJ reported that CBS and NBC would alternate coverage of the three FedEx Cup playoff events.

The PGA Tour announced two other partnerships last week.

It is sharing with Pluto TV video-on-demand from PGA Tour Live, broadcast partners and featured hole coverage from 23 events. The tour also announced an agreement with Facebook to distribute daily highlights on Facebook Watch. That began from Torrey Pines. The tour plans to publish daily recaps and player highlights from more than 30 events.

THE RACE FOR NO. 1

Rory McIlroy had a shot at getting back to No. 1 in the world. Now it’s Jon Rahm’s opportunity to get there for the first time. And much of it depends on the incumbent, Brooks Koepka.

McIlroy needed to win at Torrey Pines to replace Koepka atop the ranking. Instead, he tied for third. McIlroy is taking a long view and figures if he keeps playing at this level, it will happen eventually.

According to a world ranking guru who goes by “Nosferatu” on Twitter, Rahm can reach No. 1 if he wins the Phoenix Open this week and Koepka finishes outside the top four at the Saudi International.

Koepka, who spent three months recovering from a knee injury, returned at Abu Dhabi and tied for 34th.

This is the second time Rahm has had a mathematical chance to reach No. 1. Two years ago, he needed to win the Farmers Insurance Open and was two shots out of the lead going to the 18th hole Saturday. He made double bogey and closed with a 77. Rahm, who already has nine victories worldwide that count toward the ranking in his three-plus years as a pro, has two wins and three runner-up finishes in his last seven starts around the world.

DAY’S DELIGHT

Jason Day had a good week at Torrey Pines, and his result was only part of the reason. In his first tournament in 10 weeks because of a tender back, Day tied for 16th in the Farmers Insurance Open.

Even better was the company he kept.

His mother, Dening, had come from Australia to Ohio for tests on her lung cancer, and Day said the scans came back “awesome.” She was diagnosed in early 2017 and was initially told she had 12 months to live. Being in the U.S. allowed his mother to join the family in San Diego for a rare occasion.

His mother attended the Masters in April. The last regular PGA Tour event she attended?

“It was the 2008 Honda Classic,” Day said with a big grin. “She doesn’t come out much. It’s good for her to be over here. She hasn’t seen the kids for a while, and the results on her cancer are nice.”

Day described his mother as an introvert who likes to stay in her own space at golf tournaments. She doesn’t need to work, but he would like to see her return because “it keeps her mind going, keeps her busy and focused on something.”

“Sitting at home bored is not great,” he said. “At some point, we’re going to get her over here.”

BIG NUMBERS

Rory McIlroy doesn’t think majors are overrated as much as he thinks career victories don’t get as much credit. That’s why when asked whether he was more impressed with the Tiger Woods’ 15 majors or his 82 victories on the PGA Tour, he didn’t hesitate.

“So much the wins,” he said. “It’s relentless. A really good season these days is three or four wins a year, and he was doubling that year on year on year on year. It’s relentless.”

McIlroy has 26 victories worldwide, including his four majors. Which did he consider more impressive?

This required a little more thought.

“That’s a hard one because I’m very proud of the 26 wins, he said. “Yeah, it’s always hard to not look at the majors and have some nostaglia about them and feel a different way about them. But again, from the outside looking in, I see what Tiger has done with … 83 at some point and he might feel differently. He might say the 15 is more impressive.”

GWAA AWARDS

Patrick Cantlay first won an award named after Ben Hogan for being the best college player in 2012. He receives another one because he’s still playing golf, and doing it well.

Cantlay, who missed the better part of three years because of a back injury, was voted the winner of the Ben Hogan Award by the Golf Writers Association of America as a player who overcame a serious injury to remain active.

“It’s an honor to be associated with Mr. Hogan and join a long list of honorees who have greatly contributed to the game,” Cantlay said. “While the injury process was certainly difficult, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of in the process.”

The GWAA also voted for LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan to receive the William D. Richardson award for outstanding contributions to golf. His leadership and voice has invigorated the LPGA Tour, which in his decade in charge has nearly doubled the tournaments and sent prize money and TV coverage to record levels.

“I’m proud of all that we are doing to leave the game even better for the next generation of golfers,” Whan said.

The ASAP Sports/Jim Murray Award goes to Adam Scott for his working relationship with the press.

They will join other GWAA award winners at the annual dinner April 8 in Augusta, Georgia.

DIVOTS

Jordan Spieth fell out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since his playoff loss as a 20-year-old at the Wyndham Championship in August 2013. … A notice posted in the locker room at Torrey Pines said caddies and their players can sign up for “Caddie Cam” during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-am, which would be similar to the camera NFL referees wear on their hats. The idea is to present a different angle. There would be no volume, and caddies and players in the entire group must agree to it. … Charl Schwartzel, sidelined for much of last year with a wrist injury, is playing the Phoenix Open for his first PGA Tour start since the RBC Heritage last April. The former Masters champion missed the cut in his two European Tour starts this year. … Viewpoint Brewing Co. named a beer after Russell Knox last week in San Diego. It was called “Hard Knox Life,” described as a “Scottish wee heavy ale.” Knox was born and raised in Scotland. His father grew up in San Diego.

STAT OF THE WEEK

For the first time in his PGA Tour career, Tiger Woods finished in the top 10 without having the low score in his group in any of the four rounds.

FINAL WORD

“I’ve been to the biomechanics, and I’ve done the 3D stuff, and it’s all good and it helps. But I think at this stage of my career, I know what works for me. If I’m hitting it good and I’m hitting it on the center of the face and I’m feeling comfortable, I know that everything’s OK.” — Rory McIlroy.

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