Rory McIlroy outlines why he will not be joining any golf breakaway tour

‘People can see it for what it is, which is a money grab’

Rory McIlroy is looking to bounce back at the Wells Fargo Championship  after missing the cut at the Masters. Photograph:  Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy is looking to bounce back at the Wells Fargo Championship after missing the cut at the Masters. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

 

Rory McIlroy’s game currently might be a bit off-colour, coming into the Wells Fargo Championship on the back a missed cut at the US Masters and down to 15th in the world rankings, but the Northern Irishman isn’t in any way inclined to partake in the gold-digging venture of any proposed breakaway megabucks tour.

Call him a traditionalist? Or, perhaps, a realist? First approached seven years ago to determine any interest in the Saudi Arabia financially-backed proposal, McIlroy has kept to his principles and, these days as chairman of the Players’ Advisory Committee on the PGA Tour, also has some extra clout beyond doing the talking with his clubs.

“They first contacted me back in 2014, so this is seven years down the line and nothing has really changed,” admitted McIlroy. “Maybe the source of the money has changed or the people that are in charge have changed, but nothing has happened. No sponsorship deals, no media deals, no players have signed up, no manufacturers have signed up. There’s been so many iterations at this point.

“. . . people can see it for what it is, which is a money grab, which is fine if that’s what you are playing golf for is to make as much money as possible. Totally fine, then go and do that if that’s what makes you happy . . . I’m playing this game to try to cement my place in history and my legacy and to win Major championships and to win the biggest tournaments in the world.”

In putting a definitive stamp on the topic, he added: “I think the model that the PGA Tour and the European Tour have, I don’t think there’s a better model for the game of golf because it gives everyone an opportunity to go out there and have a great week and change their lives . . . it’s a complicated issue, but I just don’t see how it can get going. And the possibility that people, if they do go in that direction, can’t play in the biggest tournaments in the game.

“The game of golf, whether it’s a right or wrong thing, is so about history. We still talk about Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen and Ben Hogan and all those guys because that’s what this game is. It’s steeped in history and the legacies that those guys have. If you move further away from that, you’re basically losing the essence of what competitive golf is.”

McIlroy’s last tournament outing was that missed cut at Augusta National but he has used the interim to work further with Pete Cowen, who has been added to his coaching team, at home in Florida.

Without a win since the HSBC-Champions in China in December 2019, McIlroy claimed to see some light at the end of the tunnel in his attempts to get back to winning ways.

“I’ve neglected my strengths a little bit the past couple of months, and [I’m] focusing more on those and focusing on what makes me a good golfer and how I swing the club and how I move the club. It’s [about] understanding my move a little bit more. It’s all stuff that I’ve worked on before, but maybe just gotten away from a little bit trying to focus on other things. I feel like I’m on a pretty good trajectory at the minute.”

With the USPGA at Kiawah Island later this month, where he won the title in 2012, McIlroy – who celebrated his 32nd birthday Tuesday – at least has the opportunity to find his form on a track that he knows only too well having won this event twice (in 2010 and 2015).

“Coming back to a place that I’ve played pretty well on before, hopefully that gives me a little bit of good mojo.”

While McIlroy has enjoyed a three-week break, Shane Lowry’s has been a little shorter but still much-needed. The Offalyman – who had played seven events in an eight-week stretch, featuring two top-10s – returns to competition after a fortnight’s break refreshed and revived and believing his game “is in a good place”.

Séamus Power’s time off in recent weeks was for a different reason, after contracting Covid-19 ahead of the Zurich Classic which sidelined him. However, Power showed he had recovered well from the virus with a brilliant 62 in Monday qualifying to earn a spot into the field and a chance to turn his season around.

Rory McIlroy poses with the trophy after the second of his victories at the Wells Fargo Championship at Qauail Hollow in May 2015. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy poses with the trophy after the second of his victories at the Wells Fargo Championship at Qauail Hollow in May 2015. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Wells Fargo Championship Lowdown

Purse: €6.75 million (€1.2 million to the winner).

Where: Charlotte, North Carolina.

The course: Quail Hollow Golf Club – 7,521 yards Par 71 – was originally designed by George Cobb but has undergone redevelopment over time, initially by Arnold Palmer and most recently by Tom Fazio ahead of the 2017 staging of the US PGA Championship. The closing stretch of holes known as The Green Mile takes in the run from the 16th to the 18th holes. The finishing hole is a 494-yards Par 4 that features a creek working its way along the left side of the narrow fairway and up to the green.

The field: Justin Thomas, current leader of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings and world number two, headlines a field that also features Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Webb and local member Webb Simpson in a strong field as players gear up towards the US PGA in a fortnight’s time. Rory McIlroy, the only two-time winner (2010 and 2015), holds the course record, a 61 in the third round of his 2015 win. Thomas won the US PGA here in 2017.

Quirky fact: The moniker of the Green Mile given to the closing stretch of holes was inspired by a local radio sports talk show when a caller suggested the name, based on the Stephen King novel. The Green Mile is a prison term for the final walk a death row inmate makes to the execution chamber!

Quote-Unquote: “I feel like I have a great opportunity to make a huge name for myself on the PGA Tour and continue to grow my brand and grow the game over here.” – Justin Thomas on not having his head turned by any approach to join the Saudi Arabia moneyed Golf Super League.

Irish in the field: Three of them, two-time champion Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry (playing the event for a fourth time), and Séamus Power, who came through Monday qualifying: McIlroy is off the first in a group with Patrick Reed and Stewart Cink (5.54pm Irish time); Lowry is off the 10th with Keith Mitchell and Jason Dufner (6.05pm Irish time); and Power is grouped with Kyle Stanley and Sean O’Hair (7pm Irish time).

Betting: Justin Thomas heads the market at 10-1 and has the credentials to justify favouritism on a course he knows well. However, Shane Lowry’s 40-1 makes him a tempting each-way given his decent form of late and he seems poised to return to the winner’s enclosure . . . while Stewart Cink is another each-way prospect at 55-1, coming in on the back of his win at the Heritage.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf (live coverage from noon and 7pm).

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