Rory McIlroy loaded both barrels and took full aim at Phil Mickelson and the Super Golf League on a hugely damaging day for the Saudi-backed breakaway alternative to the PGA Tour.
The SGL saw two of the players closest linked to joining it, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, both release statements saying they were sticking with the PGA Tour, rowing in behind the likes of McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa in rejecting the big signing bonuses.
DeChambeau’s rejection in particular came as something of a shock given he was rumoured to have been offered at least $150m to be the headline star, but now ambassador Greg Norman will be scrambling to find any young, marketable stars willing to jump ship and be the face of the franchise.
Mickelson is the only one seemingly committed to joining, however he has come under significant fire after an excerpt from his new biography, written by journalist Alan Shipnuck, saw him defend the fact the SGL is backed by Saudi money despite the nation’s horrific human rights record.
While the defending PGA champion is still a significant name, the reality is that he is the wrong side of 50 to attract the next generation of fans and, that remarkable win at Kiawah Island last year aside, his last significant result in a full-strength event was a runner-up finish at the 2020 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
And McIlroy has joined the likes of Justin Thomas in firing back at six-time Major winner, while also revealing he thinks the SGL is no longer a threat as it won’t have that star name to headline its events.
“I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down obviously, but I thought (Mickelson’s comments) were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant. A lot of words to describe that interaction he had with Shipnuck,” said the Holywood man.
“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.
“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 in the world and it’s nice to know that they’re committed to playing here and committed to making this the best Tour in the world.
“Who’s left to go? I mean, there’s no one. It’s dead in the water in my opinion. I just can’t see any reason why anyone would go.
“Who else have you got to fill the field? I mean, Greg Norman would have to tee it up to fill the field. Like, I mean seriously? I mean, who else is going to do it? I don’t think they could get 48 guys.
“I knew the way these guys have operated and it’s all been smoke and mirrors and they’ve created rumours and spread rumours and tried to play one guy off another and said one thing to one manager and said a different thing to another manager and just sort of created this chaos and confusion around that group, and everyone’s questioning everyone else’s motives so they’re just kind of playing everyone off one another.
“I think it’s nice now that we all can sit down and say, look, we’re all on the same page here.”
There have been murmurs of discontent in how several aspects of the Tour are run in recent weeks – unsurprisingly, mostly from Mickelson and DeChambeau, but also from Charley Hoffman at the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open – which led to fears that some players would indeed jump ship.
While McIlroy did not deny that there are things could improve on Tour, the World No.5 was steadfast in his belief that the way commissioner Jay Monahan runs his ship is a solid foundation that doesn’t need to be rocked.
“Are there things the Tour could do better and they’re working on? Of course, but that’s the same in any business, in any sports league around the world, they’re all trying to get better, just as the PGA Tour are,” he continued.
“But that is why the tournament in Saudi happened a couple weeks ago, I thought it was awfully quiet, there were no announcements that were really made, and I think once that happened everyone was waiting for something and nothing really came of it.
“I would say don’t try to fix something that’s not broken. I don’t think that the Tour and the system is broken. Are there things that could evolve and get better and maybe create better fan experiences for people watching at home or that come to tournaments, different formats, stuff like that? Yeah, of course.
“There’s certainly room for all of that, but all I would say to the golf fans is the PGA Tour are working on that and there is room for some other things at the top of the game that guys can get excited about and that the fans can get excited about and maybe switch it up from just regular the 72 holes week in and week out.”
All these comments came after McIlroy quietly worked his way up the leaderboard to record back-to-back top-10 finishes, a closing three-under 68 at Riviera Country Club seeing him finish at 10-under for the week and in a share for 10th at the Genesis Invitational.
The 32-year-old never had his best golf all week but still mounted a strong weekend – going 67-68 – to start his PGA Tour season positively, although he would finish the week nine shots off Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, who completed the wire-to-wire victory in the Pacific Palisades.
“Quietly solid. I shot four rounds under par. I had a nice 67-68 weekend. I played nicely. My game’s close, it’s close. I certainly didn’t do enough to shoot 21 under par this week and keep up with Joaco, but I’m happy with my week,” was his summation of his week.
“I always sort of thought Riv is a place where you shoot four 68s and you’re going to be in with a good chance. This year, with just them not being able to water the rough and the rough not being up, it just made the course a little bit more benign and you could sort of miss it a little bit more off the tees and get away with it.
“I’ve never seen the greens this good at Riv… I’ve never held as many putts here as I have this week, so guys seem to be holing a lot more putts just because they’re not soft, there’s not heel prints, there’s none of that and they’re rolling true.”
Niemann became the first wire-to-wire champion since 1969 as he won by two shots from Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young to claim his second PGA Tour trophy, closing things out with a level-par 71 to finish his week at 19-under.
After setting the 18-, 36- and 54-hole scoring records, the 23-year-old Chilean missed out on tying Lanny Wadkins’ 72-hole scoring record by one stroke, although it seems a safe bet that will not mind all that much as he eased to a first PGA Tour win since September 2019.
Tour rookie Young was always on his coattails but never quite mounted enough of a challenge, while Morikawa had a putt on the 18th to put some pressure on by setting the clubhouse target at 18-under but saw it slide wide, settling for a six-under 65 and second place, allowing Niemann to enjoy his walk up 18 on his way to a closing par.
- Full scoring HERE