Rory McIlroy has admitted that the ongoing feud between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf (and the vehement supporters of each) was a source of energy late in the season and helped spur him on to the incredible finish that saw him overhaul Scottie Scheffler at East Lake and capture his third FedEx Cup title.
“I think last year, I was probably energized by everything that was going on in the world of golf,” McIlroy said. “I felt like we were maybe in a bit more of a state of flux. I sat up here at this table this day last year talking about designated events and getting all the best players to play together and all that stuff. I feel like everything’s a little more settled.”
The Tour Championship format has been the subject of widespread criticism from the media and certain players, but McIlroy is a defender of the staggered start format and reminded the attending press that he’d to come from well off the pace in last year’s season finale.
“Yeah, you know, I think going back to last year and — we were just at a breakfast with some of the sponsors earlier, and I said, I fell 11 shots behind Scottie after two holes of the tournament. So if I can come back from 11 shots, I feel like everyone in this field should feel like they have a chance to win,” he said.
The world number two was later pressed as to whether there may be better formats available but McIlroy feels that the season’s best players should be rewarded for their consistent brilliance, going on to say that perhaps a two-stroke advantage wasn’t enough of a reward for the season Scottie Scheffler has had.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people that have different opinions on what it should be. Like, I certainly see the reasoning of trying to have it all one competition this week and not having two winners, one wins the Tour Championship and one wins the FedExCup. I do like it this way. I think it gives the guys that have had the better years an advantage going into the week, which I think they should have.
“If anything, like, Scottie this year, he probably should have more of an advantage than a two-shot lead. But it makes it an exciting week, you know, if guys feel like they have a chance to win. Of all the iterations of the Tour Championship and the FedExCup playoffs, I think this is the best one yet. I can’t sit here and say that I’ve thought of something better at this point. I’m sure if it needs to be addressed in the future, it will, but I think it works pretty well right now.”
With the Ryder Cup approaching and Brooks Koepka being pipped to automatic US Qualifying, McIlroy was asked if he felt the United States’ ability to select both LIV and PGA Tour players gave them an unfair advantage over Europe.
“What guys?” was McIlroy’s response, before going on to clarify “No. I don’t think it would make a difference for us.”
The subject of gambling and fan interference has been a major talking point following an incident in which Max Homa and Chris Kirk were heckled by fans with money on the line during last week’s BMW Championship, and Jon Rahm went on to say that it happens way more often than the media realise. McIlroy, however, feels that non-gambling fan heckles and contributions are more of a personal concern.
“I think for me my biggest pet peeve is when you’re reading a putt and someone that’s been sitting there all day is like, it doesn’t break as much as you think or whatever,” McIlroy explained. “Like, you know, to me, I just think, like, shut up and don’t be a part of the show, just enjoy watching the golf, right?
“But I wouldn’t say that’s to do with gambling, per se, but, yeah, if I was here as a fan, I just want to go out and try to watch the best players in the world and have a good time doing that.”
It was a mixed week on the greens last week for McIlroy who was trialling a new putter, but despite having both in situ at East Lake this week, he admitted that a return to his previous putter is the most likely outcome when he takes to the first tee on Thursday morning.
“Yeah, more than likely I’ll probably go back to the Spider,” he said. “I figured a couple things out last week, just with, like, aiming and some of the shorter putts and, you know, there was a lot of putts last week that had a lot of break on them from short distances, and I felt with the shorter line on the putter I just couldn’t trust my aim as much as when I have the spider and have that slightly longer line.
“So, yeah, I practiced with it a good bit yesterday and it’s a familiar feel. I’ve done really well with that putter over the last few years. I’ve had some of my best putting weeks of my career at this golf course on these greens with that putter, so hopefully I can rekindle that again this week.”