Rory McIlroy produced a bright four-under-par start to the defence of his RBC Canadian Open title but on a day overwhelmingly overshadowed by the PGA Tours decision to suspend all those Tour members who teed-up in the historic opening event of the LIV Tour outside of London.
McIlroy had waited three years to defend the title he won in posting a sizzling final round 61 to capture the 2019 edition of the Canada’s premier men’s tournament.
His opening day score of a four-under-par 66 included six birdies to leave him trailing three shots behind American Wyndham Clark, who signed for a 63 to be the early clubhouse leader in the $US 8.7m event on the St. George’s course in suburban Toronto.
However, the main golf headline is not what’s taking place in Canada but the move by the PGA Tour to immediately suspend the future Tour playing rights of the likes of double major winning Dustin Johnson along with fellow major champions such as Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Louis Oostuhuizen and Ireland’s own Graeme McDowell who were teeing-up on the Centurion club outside of the English capital.
You could ask the question why has it come to this and/or why could not both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf come to some sort of agreement?
LIV Golf reacted with a statement saying: “Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deepens the divide between the Tour and its members. It’s troubling that the Tour, an organisation dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking golfers from playing. This certainly is not the last word on this topic. The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond.”
As a golf journalist who first covered the PGA Tour at the 1988 Players Championship, and up to the Covid lockdown would cover on average 20 PGA Tour events a year, I tend to agree with LIV’s statement.
Pro golfers should be ‘free agents’ and there is clearly room for another Tour at the game’s highest level but now we have the matter on track to head to the courts and continue to place the ancient club-and-ball game in the saddest of lights.
McIlroy has been asked at length his thoughts on the matter and no doubt as Chairman of the PGA Tour Players Advisory Committee he has been kept up-to-date on the Tour’s intended hard line but inside the ropes today he could at least put that aside as the 33-year-old seeks to successfully defend a title for a first time in his 32-tournament winning career.
Though once off the Toronto course the Irishman again found himself asked for his reaction to the PGA Tour ban.
“I think at this point, Jay’s (Monahan) been pretty transparent in terms of he’s just going to act within the tournament regulations and the rules that are set for a PGA Tour member”, he said to waiting journalists.
“All he’s doing is basically going by the book. I think that the majority of the members that are here this week and that haven’t gone and played elsewhere really appreciate that.
“So, he’s done the right thing because these guys have broken rules and done things outside of the tournament regulations, and because of that, there are going to be consequences, I guess”.
McIlroy’s round was a mix of three outward birdies and a bogey and a repeat of the same over his inward half.
“It was a really solid start with a 66 around here is a good score,” he said. “I felt like the course was there to go even lower just from the rain and how receptive it was. Overall, very happy with the start of the week, especially coming off a disappointing weekend at the Memorial last weekend. It was nice to bounce back with a good score
“I think this course’s best defence in any conditions is the rough and the pin positions. The greens are slopey. If you hit it in the rough, you don’t have a chance of getting to some of the hole locations.
“Though there’s a few holes out there, if you missed it on the wrong side, got yourself above the hole, it got really, really tricky. I expect them to hide the pins away again for the next three days”.
Shane Lowry was also off to a great start and returned to the event after finishing joint runner-up three years ago behind McIlroy, albeit seven shots back.
Lowry’s three-under 67 including five birdies and one less bogey.