Rory McIlroy admits he  prematurely dismissed chances of Saudi-backed breakaway succeeding

"It seems like it's still going. Greg and everyone behind it are very determined. I think we're just going to have to see how it plays out. Guys are going to make decisions.
Rory McIlroy admits he  prematurely dismissed chances of Saudi-backed breakaway succeeding

DOWN THE LINE: Rory McIlroy during a practice roundat Southern Hills Country Club

RORY McIlroy admits he may have spoken too soon when declaring the Saudi-backed breakaway was "dead in the water" as he lamented the absence of defending champion Phil Mickelson at the US PGA Championship.

Mickelson has not played since February's Saudi International, shortly after which his explosive comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed events were made public.

In an interview with the author of a biography published this week, Mickelson admitted he was well aware of Saudi Arabia's "horrible record on human rights", including the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, but was using the threat of a breakaway to "reshape" how the Tour operates.

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman said the organisation's full league of 14 events had been ready to launch until Mickelson's comments cost him several sponsors and resulted in some players backing out, with eight events now scheduled instead, each with a prize fund of £20.2million.

Three days after Mickelson's comments were made public, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau joined the likes of McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa in pledging their loyalty to the PGA Tour, prompting McIlroy to think the threat of the breakaway was over.

"I might have been a little presumptuous at that point," McIlroy said ahead of the year's second major at Southern Hills in Tulsa.

"It seems like it's still going. Greg and everyone behind it are very determined. I think we're just going to have to see how it plays out. Guys are going to make decisions.

"Honestly it's going to shape the future of professional golf one way or another, so I think we're just going to have to see how it all shakes out."

The PGA Tour has refused to grant the likes of Mickelson and Lee Westwood the required releases to contest the first LIV Golf event at Centurion Club next month, with Norman pledging to "defend, reimburse and represent" any players sanctioned if they play regardless.

Asked if he had a preferred outcome to the divisive saga, McIlroy added: "Honestly I'm rooting for it all to be over. I'm just so sick of talking about it.

"I've made my decision and I know where I want to play, and I'm not standing in anyone's way, and I'm not saying that they shouldn't go over there and play if that's what they feel is right for them, then 100 per cent they should go and do it."

Mickelson's victory at Kiawah Island last year made him the oldest ever winner of a men's major championship, his two-shot victory over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen coming just a month before his 51st birthday.

The left-hander officially entered the US PGA and June's US Open last month, but withdrew from the former on Friday.

"(It's) unfortunate, sad," said McIlroy, whose last major victory came in the 2014 US PGA at Valhalla.

"This should be a celebration, right? He won a major championship at 50 years old. It was possibly his last big, big moment in the game of golf.

"I think he should be here this week and celebrating what a monumental achievement he achieved last year."

McIlroy arrived at the season’s second major championship with a fresh outlook on a course he’d never seen before Monday’s practice. The notion of “ignorance is bliss” might be the ticket he needs to get back into the major win column at the PGA Championship.

“I feel good about my game. I've done some good work,” McIlroy said. “One of the things I've tried to work on and I've done well, I've led greens in regulation the last two tournaments I've played. That's something that hasn't quite been there, and that's something you need to do, especially around here.

“I focused a lot on iron play and chipping and putting last week in practice because I knew that was basically sort of going to be the key to having a good week this week. I feel good about it all. I'm certainly in a better place with my game than where I was this time last year going into Kiawah. Happy about that.” 

McIlroy got his first look at the recently Gil Hanse enhanced Perry Maxwell gem on and he like what he saw. He’s been honing his iron and wedge game at home based on flyover videos he’d watched of the course and tidbits he’d taken from bumping into Tom Gillis, who played Southern Hills in last year’s Senior PGA Championship, on the range at the B ear’s Club last weekend.

“I didn't know what this place was like before Gil got his hands on it, but I think he's done a wonderful job with it. Love the green complexes. I love that he gives you options off the tee,” McIlroy said. “I think you're going to see a lot of different strategies this week, guys hitting driver where maybe other guys aren't and vice versa. It's a really good track. I really enjoyed playing it yesterday, and I think it's going to be a wonderful test this week.

“One of the things I loved is the way they've cut the runoffs, it's very hard to putt from off the greens. They're trying to get wedges in guys' hands, which I really like. It's forcing you to chip instead of just – like whenever Pinehurst was, 2014, you could putt from sort of everywhere; where this is actually forcing you to get a wedge in your hand, which is really good. I like that.” The key to ending his eight-year major drought, McIlroy continues to reiterate, is not digging himself an early hole by getting overly aggressive. That tendency has ruined many chances since 2014.

“I think over the past few years, the things that have stopped me from getting in contention or being able to win these majors is big numbers and shooting myself out of it sort of early,” he said. “I can even think back to Augusta, I finished three behind in the end, and I went bogey, double bogey on 10 and 11 on Friday. You go par-par there and all of a sudden there's those three shots. It doesn't take much in major championships to; it's tiny margins.

“Look, I'd love to go out those weeks and get a lead and build on it, but that unfortunately isn't going to happen all the time. I think the most consistent way to get yourself to be able to have chances to win these major championships is to sort of adopt that conservative strategy. Tiger (Woods) did it most of his career, and okay, he had a couple of huge wins in there, but a lot of times being conservative with his strategy, letting other guys make the mistakes – pars are pretty good in major championships – that's sort of the philosophy that I believe in going forward.” 

In a recent BBC interview on 5 Live Sport’s All About podcast, McIlroy put a little perspective on his lack of major wins since claiming the Open and PGA back-to-back in 2014.

“I haven't won a major in the last seven years but I've basically won everything else there is to win in golf,” he said. “I've won the Players Championship; I've won FedEx Cups; I've won Race to Dubai titles; World Golf Championships; I've won national opens. I've done a lot in the last seven years.

"Yes, that hasn't included a major championship but I've played good enough golf in those seven years to win one. I'm staying as patient as I possibly can and to just keep giving myself chances. If I do keep giving myself chances, hopefully those chances end up turning into wins."

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