Rory McIlroy mocked Greg Norman after winning his first title of the year on Sunday. The Northern Irishman’s comments summed up the divisiveness and civil war at the top of the male game, but also highlighted the potential for the traditional tours to hit back against the Saudi rebel circuit.
“This is my 21st PGA Tour win - one more than someone else and that gave me some extra incentive to get it done,” McIlroy said, after his remarkable 62 saw him defend the Canadian Open. "I played with two top players in the world today - Tony [Finau] and Justin [Thomas]. This is what it is really all about. It is a day I'll remember for a long, long time."
The ears of Norman, - the chief executive of the LIV Golf Series that staged its first $25million event in Hertfordshire - must have been burning. The Australian won 20 PGA Tour titles in his time as a golf great, but has now been leapfrogged in the all-time table by the 33-year-old from Belfast.
McIlroy conjured five birdies on the front, firing 29 before making birdies at his first three on the back nine to wrest control of the event. There were moments of concern on the back nine, before he hit his approaches to within kick-in distance on the last two holes to reach 19-under and deny Americans Finau (64) by two and Thomas (64) by four.
“This is the best tour in the world,” McIlroy said. “All those massive crowds…. well, it was pretty entertaining, with the calibre of play. I”m sure the PGA Tour loved what they saw and I’m sure we can keep this up going forward. The top guys going at it… that’s what the fans want.”
McIlroy has been the most vocal opponent to the breakaway circuit and, despite having seemingly softened his utterances about LIV and Norman in the last few weeks, this was clearly a little personal.
However, this should be more notable than a mere bit of payback. After finishing second and eighth in the first two majors of the season, McIlroy must now go into the US Open, starting in Boston on Thursday, as one of the favourites - if not the outright favourite.
McIlroy’s wedge play has never looked so sharp and his confidence cannot have been any higher than when he won the last of his four majors eight years ago. “Regardless of whether I won today I would have been confident,” he said. “But the fact I lost the lead and then regained the lead means a lot and gives me a lot of self-belief.”
Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner who on Thursday banned the LIV rebels, numbering Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, appeared on the US broadcast and detailed his opposition.
“I’ve spoken to players, had a players’ meeting and I’ve spoken to a number of players individually over a long period of time,” he said. “And I think you’d have to live under a rock not to know that there are important implications.
"I would ask any player who has left, or any player who was considering leaving, have you ever had to apologise for being a PGA Tour member?
"It’s been an unfortunate week that was created by some unfortunate decisions. It’s my job to protect, defend and celebrate our loyal PGA Tour members, our partners and our fans, and that’s exactly what I did. And I don’t think it [the bans] was a surprise to anybody given how clear I had been about how we were going to handle the situation.
“Those players have chosen to sign multi-year, lucrative contracts to play in a series of exhibition matches against the same players over and over again. You look at that versus what we see here today, and that’s why they need us so badly.
“You’ve got true, pure competition, the best players in the world here at the RBC Canadian Open, with millions of fans watching. And in this game, it’s true and pure competition that creates the profile and presence of the world’s greatest players, and that’s why they need us. That’s what we do. But we’re not going to allow players to free ride off of our loyal members, the best players in the world."