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McIlroy: PGA Tour is cheapened without LIV Golf players, doesn't want them punished

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Rory McIlroy wants golf put back together again as quickly as possible, saying Tuesday that even winning one of the PGA Tour's signature events would feel cheapened because it didn't have all the best players in the world.

McIlroy also said he would be opposed to any form of punishment for players who left the tour for the Saudi riches of LIV Golf and wanted to come back.

“I think it's hard to punish people,” McIlroy said at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. "I don't think there should be a punishment. Obviously, I've changed my tune on that because I see where golf is and I see that having a diminished PGA Tour and having a diminished LIV Tour or anything else is bad for both parties.

“It would be much better being together and moving forward together for the good of the game. That's my opinion of it. So to me, the faster that we can all get back together and start to play and start to have the strongest fields possible, I think, is great for golf."

Pebble Beach has a $20 million purse as a signature event, the same for the individual play of LIV Golf when it begins its third year on Friday in Mexico.

LIV announced Tyrrell Hatton is the latest PGA Tour member to join, having snagged Masters champion Jon Rahm nearly two months ago. McIlroy played in the Ryder Cup with both.

Pebble Beach has 45 of the top 50 in the world — the other five are with LIV Golf, which does not get world ranking points — and is one of eight signature events with $20 million purses.

McIlroy, who previously has played the Pebble Beach tournament only once, was asked if a victory would feel cheapened without players like Rahm and past Pebble Beach winner Dustin Johnson in the field.

“Yeah, I'd like to win here and stand up with a trophy on 18 green and know that I've beaten all of the best players in the world,” he said. “So, yeah.”

McIlroy had said he was comfortable that Rahm would not be leaving for LIV when the rumors first surfaced. He also said he has been talking to Hatton over the last month after the Englishman started receiving offers.

He said he most recently spoke to Hatton on Sunday and said he “completely understood” what Hatton was thinking.

“I've talked to him quite a bit about it over the past month. It got to the point where they negotiated and got to a place where he was comfortable with and he has to do what he feels is right for him,” McIlroy said. “So I’m not going to stand in anyone’s way from making money and if what they deem life-changing money.”

The Daily Telegraph reported Hatton received a signing fee of 50 million pounds ($63 million), while reports on Rahm were anywhere from $300 million to $500 million.

“I’ve come to the realization I’m not here to change people’s minds," McIlroy said. "I’m here to just try — especially when I was at the board level — to give them the full picture of where things are at and hopefully where things are going to go. They can do with that information what they want.”

McIlroy was among the six players on the PGA Tour board who were involved in the negotiations with Saudi Arabia's national wealth fund and a private equity group comprised mainly of American pro sports owners. He stepped down from the board in November and Jordan Spieth was selected to finish the final year of his term.

“I just didn’t feel like I could influence things the way I wanted to and I felt like I was just banging my head against the wall and it was time for me to step off and kind of concentrate on my own stuff,” he said.

But he stays in the loop and indicated the PGA Tour was on the verge of approving a deal with Strategic Sports Group, the private equity consortium. He said a vote was delayed twice this week already.

“I feel like this thing could have been over and done with months ago,” McIlroy said. “I think just for all of our sakes that the sooner that we sort of get out of it and we have a path forward, the better.”

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