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McIlroy sticks to the high road in merger talks

Rory McIlroy Rory McIlroy - The Canadian Press

TORONTO – If anyone had a reason to be angry after Tuesday’s announcement of the new world golf order arrangement, it would be Rory McIlroy.

For the last year, the four-time major champion has been the de facto spokesperson for the PGA Tour in its battle with LIV Golf, talking up his side, shooting down the other.

But a day after the bombshell that significantly changed the world of golf, McIlroy was the voice of reason, calmly answering the questions from a room full of scribblers at the RBC Canadian Open, trying to take the high road when he had every right to be bitter.

“I think ultimately, when I try to remove myself from the situation and I look at the bigger picture and I look at 10 years down the line,” McIlroy said, “I think ultimately this is going to be good for the game of professional golf. I think it secures it, unifies it and it secures its financial future.”

His temperament was a far cry from a room full of hot-headed players who met with the tour’s commissioner, Jay Monahan, the prior afternoon. In that gathering, there were harsh accusations thrown out and tempers flared. There was even a call for an overthrow of the present group of leaders that was met with some applause. From some reports, it seemed that only the pitch forks and torches were missing.

McIlroy, however, came out in support of the commissioner, saying that while how the news was delivered may not have been well executed, the tour is in a better place than a week ago and that was due to Monahan’s business savvy.

All through Wednesday’s press conference, McIlroy refused to put the bellows to an already heated situation, instead answering questions with thought and care. He seemed to be looking at the sunny side of every situation while at the same time facing the reality of what lay in front of every PGA Tour member.

“Whether you like it or not,” he said, “the PIF [Public Investment Fund] were going to keep spending the money in golf. At least the PGA Tour now controls how that money is spent. So, you know, if you're thinking about one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world, would you rather have them as a partner or an enemy? At the end of the day, money talks and you would rather have them as a partner.”

That’s the logical answer but perhaps not the one that many wanted to hear. Certainly it’s an about-face for the PGA Tour which has taken a harsh stance on LIV Golf since the day it played its first tournament exactly a year ago. It charged LIV Golf’s Saudi backers with supporting the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It said that those who played on the LIV Golf tour would have to apologize for doing so. It was relentless in the attacks.

Despite all that, McIlroy’s belief was that it was inevitable the two sides would meet and join forces, perhaps just not quite so quickly. And while it may not be particularly easy to digest, he also accepts that the decency of the decision can be hard to accept.

“I’ve resigned myself that the money is coming from PIF and Saudi Arabia and all that stuff,” the Northern Irishman said. “I think that’s the world we live in. I’ve accepted that fact and I probably think most other people should too. I think it’s very hard to keep bringing up the moral argument all the time. For me, I feel corporate America already decided that for me. A hundred billion dollars has already been invested by the PIF in all different entities so I feel that decision has already been made for me. So now it’s how do we make the best of this and having the PIF as a partner with the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour seems to make sense for the future. “

If there was a harsh side to what McIlroy said a day before the 34-year-old starts his defence of the RBC Canadian Open, it was saved for LIV Golf, an entity that he despises. Clearly, he has no interest in seeing that circuit survive the latest business partnership.

“The only way I’ll feel let down is if LIV continues to be something in the world of golf,” he said, with a hint of contempt in his voice.

Conversely, the softest side of McIlroy’s comments was saved for this week’s tournament, which, for the second consecutive year, has found itself caught in the maelstrom surrounding LIV Golf. A year ago, that tour played its inaugural tournament up against the Canadian national championship.

“I feel so bad for RBC,” he said. “They’ve been an unbelievable sponsor for the PGA Tour. To have the national open be a part of this stuff for two years in a row, it’s unfair, it’s unfortunate, it’s unlucky.

“They certainly deserve better.”

As he did last year, McIlroy could help soothe things by becoming the first person to win three Open titles consecutively. He is, along with the cadre of Canadians, the favourite to handle Oakdale Golf and Country Club. A Sunday birdie flurry as he did last year would wipe any merger headlines off the front pages for a day or so.

That’s a big ask but then, golf has been making big asks of McIlroy for a while now.