"I don't want to kick someone while he's down," began Rory McIlroy, before going on to thoroughly fillet Phil Mickelson with well-chosen, succinct words that left no room for debate.
McIlroy, a player member of the PGA Tour's board, reacted to the public statements of both Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau that both were committing their futures to the PGA Tour rather than being wooed over to the proposed Saudi League with its lure of filthy lucre.
The remarks from McIlroy were in relation to the comments of Mickelson revealed on the firepitcollective.com where the six-time Major champion – and current US PGA titleholder – where he acknowledged the human rights issues in the kingdom but still looked at joining the proposed new tour because it was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse.”
With Johnson and Dechambeau (even belatedly) adding their commitment to the PGA Tour, with the likes of world number one Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and McIlroy among those to have been strongest in previously supporting the US circuit and demurring from any approaches from the Greg Norman-headed Saudi Golf League, that breakaway tour is effectively dead in the water before ever truly getting going.
McIlroy was especially articulate in his reaction to Mickelson’s comments, describing them as “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant . . . it was just very surprising and disappointing, sad. I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”
Of so many of the world’s top players distancing themselves from any involvement in the SGL, McIlroy added: “I think with everything that’s transpired in the last few days, I don’t think it’s surprising. Like, I’ve always reiterated, I feel like [the PGA Tour] is the best place to play golf if you’re an elite professional golfer.
“Maybe I’m fortunate that I’ve been more privy to the inner workings of the Tour and I’ve been more involved and got quite a good relationship with the leadership team on the PGA Tour . . . every time I walk out of a meeting or walk out of any sort of interaction with them, I’m always very confident that the Tour’s headed in the right direction.
“I was really glad to see DJ and Bryson put out those statements this week. We all want to play against the best players in the world and they’re certainly two of the best players and it’s nice to know they’re committed to playing [on the PGA Tour] and committed to making this the best tour in the world.”
For McIlroy, despite finishing nine shots adrift of Joaquin Niemann in the Genesis Invitational, there were positive vibes on leaving Riviera as he gears up to a busy period that will see him play the Arnold Palmer Invitational next week and the following week's Players.
He has yet to decide if he will play the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play championship in Austin next month, with a preference to play the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio the week before the Masters.
“Say you don’t make the weekend of the Match Play and you don’t play San Antonio, you’ve basically got two weeks off before you tee it up in arguably the biggest strokeplay event of the year [the Masters], so your last competitive rounds are matchplay and then you’ve got two weeks off. That seems like a little much to me and it’s nice to feel like I play my way in [to Augusta].”
McIlroy is not playing this week's Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, even though it is close to his home, instead preferring to play back-to-back weeks at Bay Hill and Sawgrass. "My game's close, it's close," said McIlroy, who finished tied-10th with all four rounds under par at Riviera.
There are two Irish players competing in the Honda Classic, with Pádraig Harrington – after a disappointing performance in the Chubb Classic on the Champions Tour – returning to the main circuit, while Shane Lowry, who hasn't played since Saudi International, gets up and running at the first event of the Florida Swing.