The new PGA Tour season is about a month old headed into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week, which marks the second designated event of the year.
But the vibes on California’s Monterey Peninsula, as more players leave for LIV Golf while a deal between the leagues is still pending, are a bit off. Even winning at Pebble Beach this week doesn’t mean as much as it used to.
“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, so yeah,” Rory McIlroy said Tuesday when asked if a win would feel diminished.
While the field this week is definitely stronger than most, McIlroy’s logic makes sense. England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who is ranked No. 16 in the Official World Golf Rankings, became the latest to make the jump to LIV Golf this week ahead of its season opener in Mexico. Hatton joined Jon Rahm’s team after he left for LIV Golf late last year.
McIlroy said he spoke with Hatton on Sunday about his decision to go to LIV Golf, and much like he was with Rahm, he was supportive. That’s a big change from how McIlroy was just a few months ago.
“At the end of the day, I think I’m done with trying to change people’s minds and trying to get them to see things a certain way or try to see things through my lens because that’s ultimately not the way the world works,” McIlroy said. “You know, these are guys that I respect and that I’ve spent a lot of time with, and if that’s what they feel is the best decision for them, then I’m going to, you know, be supportive of that decision and let them go and do their own thing.”
The PGA Tour, LIV Golf, the DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund are supposed to be finalizing an agreement for their proposed partnership. They set a deadline for that to be completed by the end of 2023, though it was extended indefinitely after no deal was reached in time.
The PGA Tour is reportedly close to reaching a $3 billion investment deal with Strategic Sports Group, though it’s unclear how the PIF and LIV Golf would factor into that investment or what it would mean for the future partnership. Although McIlroy isn’t involved in the decision-making process anymore — he stepped down from the Tour’s board last year — he’s more than ready for the deal between the Tour and the Strategic Sports Group to be finished.
“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.”
McIlroy won twice on Tour last season, first at The CJ Cup in October and then at the Genesis Scottish Open. While he failed to win a major championship once again — it has been a decade since he has done so — McIlroy finished inside the top 10 in his last 10 starts to close out the season. He finished second at the Dubai Invitational earlier this month before winning the Hero Dubai Desert Classic for a fourth time on the DP World Tour.
McIlroy is currently ranked No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings, behind only Scottie Scheffler. There are a number of scenarios in which McIlroy could jump Scheffler and reclaim the No. 1 ranking this week, including with a win Sunday.
But until the sport is all back together, at least in McIlroy’s eyes, that won’t mean as much as it used to.
“It would be much better being together and moving forward together for the good of the game. That’s my opinion of it,” he said. “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.”