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Rory McIlroy ‘still’ hates LIV and fully expects it to go away after partnership with PIF

Growing increasingly frustrated with headlines that said the PGA Tour was “merging” with LIV Golf, Rory McIlroy wanted to make one thing abundantly clear Wednesday in Canada.

“It’s not LIV. I still hate LIV,” he said. “Like, I hate LIV. I hope it goes away. And I would fully expect that it does.”

An important distinction needs to be made, he said: The Tour is joining forces with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, not LIV Golf. The rival tour – which this week marks the one-year anniversary of its inaugural event – has been funded almost entirely by the PIF.

What was announced Tuesday was a framework agreement that will see the PIF become the exclusive investor in a new, for-profit entity with the Tour and DP World Tour. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will serve as the chief executive officer of the new company, with PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan as the chairman.

Rory McIlroy said the PGA Tour-PIF merger is a positive thing, on the whole, but he can’t help feeling “like a sacrificial lamb.”

McIlroy was perhaps the first star player to spurn the Saudis, back in 2020, when he dismissed the idea of the then-Premier Golf League because he “didn’t really like where the money was coming from” given the country’s well-documented history of human rights abuses.

Powered by the PIF, LIV launched last year and lured a number of big names away from the Tour, while McIlroy became the most front-facing Tour proponent and LIV critic. Speaking on CBS a year ago at the Canadian Open, Monahan took a shot at LIV’s financial backers by asking: “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”

A year later, the Tour has partnered with them.

“I said to Jay yesterday: ‘You’ve galvanized everyone against something, and then that thing that you galvanized everyone against you’ve now partnered with,’” McIlroy said. “It is hypocritical. It sounds hypocritical.

“But whether you like it or not, the PIF and the Saudis want to spend money in the game of golf. They want to do this, and they weren’t going to stop. So how can we get that money into the game, but use it the right way? I think that’s what this ultimately will do, hopefully. That’s my hope.”

Details of the new agreement between the Tour and the PIF are still to be worked out, but McIlroy said he’s “come to terms” with the Saudi influence in the sport.

“I see what’s happened in other sports. I see what’s happened in other businesses,” he said. “Honestly, I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that this is what’s going to happen. It’s very hard to keep up with people that have more money than anyone else. And if they want to put that money into the game of golf, then why don’t we partner with them and make sure that it’s done in the right way. That’s sort of where my head’s at.”

What remains to be seen is what happens to LIV’s team concept. Monahan promised to conduct a “comprehensive empirical evaluation” of the model that has so far struggled to gain much traction in the U.S., but in the future there could be a format that’s similar to the Aramco Team Series that has been part of the Ladies European Tour schedule. Early next year the Tour will also launch TGL, the tech-infused league founded by McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

“I would say an element of team golf might still stay,” McIlroy said of the future Tour schedule. “My hope is it won’t be under the LIV umbrella; it’s something that the PGA Tour will control, the PGA Tour will operate. … But I don’t think it will look anything like LIV has looked, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Another outstanding detail is how to handle the rebel players who wish to reapply for Tour membership following the 2023 season. On this point, McIlroy was unequivocal: “There still has to be consequences to actions. The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this Tour, started litigation against it. Like, we can’t just welcome them back in. That’s not going to happen. And I think that was the one thing that Jay was trying to get across (Tuesday) is: We’re not just going to bring these guys back in and pretend like nothing’s happened. That is not going to happen.”