Saudi money has no lure for McIlroy as he tees it up at this week’s Memorial

The Northern Ireland star has a busy four-week stretch ahead that has the US Open as its focal point

No temptation for Rory McIlroy to follow the lure of Saudi money. A number of players have had their heads turned by the wheelbarrows of green bucks on offer on the LIV start-up invitational tour – among them his good friend Graeme McDowell – but McIlroy, for one, is not lured by the extravagant prize funds.

And, following on from failing to close the deal when in contention at the recent US PGA Championship, the Northern Irishman returns to tournament duty at this week’s Memorial at Muirfield Village for a busy four-week stretch that has the US Open as its focal point.

“I have some very close friends that are playing in (the LIV) event in London (next week) and I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in their way, for them to do what they feel is right for themselves. It’s not something I would do personally.

“But I understand why some of the guys have (entered) and it’s something that we are all just going to keep an eye on and see what happens over these next few weeks. But I certainly don’t think the field is anything to jump up and down about. Look at the field this week (in the Memorial). Look at the field next week in Canada. They are proper golf tournaments,” said McIlroy.

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For McIlroy, the world number eight who is playing for the first time since the US PGA at Southern Hills which he considered “a missed opportunity”, the upcoming weeks – playing the Memorial, defending the Canadian Open, the US Open and The Travelers – represent a strong run of tournaments on courses that for the most part play to his strengths.

In fact, the exception may well be Muirfield Village. “I’ve had a bit of a complicated relationship. It seemed to fit me quite well earlier in my career and then the last few years I’ve struggled with the strategy of how to play it. I feel like a lot of the fairways here pinch in around 310 (yards) so it allows the average hitters to hit driver,” he said.

On quite a number of holes that narrowing of the fairways around the landing zone for the big hitters has taken driver out of his hands. So for this week he has put an old 3-wood (with a loft that plays more like a 2-wood) into his bag.

“I’m embarking on a four-week stretch, so I’m going to be playing a lot of golf coming up, and I feel like my game is in good shape. I’m excited for this run to give myself a few more chances to hopefully win golf tournaments,” admitted McIlroy, who has not won since the CJ Cup last October, part of this wraparound season on the PGA Tour.

As for not being one of those lured away to the new LIV limited-field circuit – which has attracted McDowell, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood among others – McIlroy expanded that his motives for playing golf are not solely about the money side of it.

“When I turned pro I was playing for money. I wanted to keep my card. I remember I played the Spanish Open in 2007 as an amateur and the year before one of my really good friends in amateur golf, Oliver Fisher, had turned pro and got his European Tour card. And we went out for dinner one night in Madrid and before going out for dinner I looked at the European Tour Order of Merit it and saw he made 200 grand that year. And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, 200 grand, that’s unbelievable. The guy is loaded’.

“At the start, of course, we turn professional to earn a living playing golf. Like when I turned pro, I was nowhere near getting in Majors. I was nowhere near playing at the top level of professional golf. I hoped to be there one day but like all I wanted to do was get my tour card, make a living playing golf. Yeah, like first thing I did when I got my tour card was buy myself a house. You need a job and you need to make money to buy yourself a house.

“There’s a lot of different parts to this. Do I play golf for money now? No. My situation has changed over the years. But when I started playing the game professionally, yeah, money was at the top of the list.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times