Winning the Tour Championship in stunning style was a golden moment for Rory McIlroy, as he pocketed $26m for taking down world No.1 Scottie Scheffler in an epic final round.
But McIlroy still walked away from Atlanta with a knot in his stomach, declaring he “hates” what the emergence of LIV Golf is doing to the game, with the defection of world No.2 Cameron Smith imminent.
Multiple reports across the weekend reaffirmed a long-held belief that Smith and fellow Aussie Marc Leishman would be among the latest players to join Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed group this week, a move that would be a hammer blow to the PGA Tour on multiple fronts.
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It means not only would the Aussie stars be banned from the PGA Tour, but their absence would reduce the International team at the Presidents Cup later this month, a flagship PGA Tour event, to a relatively second-string line-up.
McIlroy, who has been the face of the pushback against LIV and key to significant PGA Tour changes for next year and beyond, didn’t hold back after his win and pointed to real feelings of angst ahead of a showdown with many other defectors he’ll confront at the DP World Tour’s BMW Championship in England in the middle of September.
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Up to 18 LIV players, including outspoken Englishmen Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, one-time Ryder Cup teammates of McIlroy, will be playing, and he’s not sure how he’ll handle it.
“If you believe in something I think you have to speak up, and I believe very strongly about this. I really do,” McIlroy said of his strong anti-LIV stance.
“I hate what it’s doing to the game of golf. I hate it. I really do. Like it’s going to be hard for me to stomach going to Wentworth in a couple of weeks’ time and seeing 18 of them there. That just doesn’t sit right with me.
“I believe what I‘m saying are the right things, and I think when you believe that what you’re saying is the right things, you’re happy to stick your neck out on the line.”
McIlroy revealed before the Tour Championship that he had reached out to Smith, following the Australian’s British Open win, to inform him of the upcoming PGA Tour changes as rumours swirled of his potential LIV defection.
Smith has refused to confirm or deny his links, and even after finishing 20th in Atlanta, he left the event without further addressing the situation, with reports he’ll be playing in the LIV event in Boston this week.
Savouring his victory in what had been a “tumultuous time” for golf, McIlroy said he would continue to stand up for the PGA Tour no matter who joined LIV.
“Look, it’s been a tumultuous time for the world of men’s professional golf in particular. I’ve been right in the middle of it. I’ve picked a great time to go on the PGA Tour board,” he said.
“I‘ve been in the thick of things. I guess every chance I get, I’m trying to defend what I feel is the best place to play elite professional golf in the world.
“It’s in some ways fitting that I was able to get this done today to sort of round off a year that has been very, very challenging and different.”