Rory McIlroy has gone from being a precocious youngster on the European Ryder Cup team to its universally acknowledged veteran leader. Along the way, he spent about a year as the spokesman for the establishment and the PGA Tour in its battle against LIV Golf. That blew up in McIlroy's face when the PGA Tour and LIV's financial backers struck a surprise agreement.
But McIlroy remains an integral part of the Ryder Cup, while longtime European stalwarts like Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood are watching from home. McIlroy spoke of their absence Wednesday morning, acknowledging that "it's certainly a little strange not having them around."
McIlroy noted that he figured this was always going to be the moment that the LIV players realized the gravity of what they'd done, walking away from the golf establishment to align with a breakaway tour.
"I think they are going to miss being here more than we're missing them," he said. "I always thought leading up to this week is when it's going to hit home that they are not going to be here."
“I’m disappointed not to be there in Rome,” McDowell said last week. “Obviously, I knew that would be potentially a consequence of being here at LIV. I didn’t expect to be on the team, but I expected to be potentially part of the backroom staff."
McDowell said at last week's LIV event that he sees a pathway for LIV players to rejoin the Ryder Cup conversation. “I see a world where we put our differences behind us," he said. "LIV proceeds and is a recognized tour, and the PGA Tour, DP World Tours proceed as recognized tours, and we all live in the ecosystem together. Whether we merge or don’t merge, as long as we respect each other for what we’re doing, I can see a world where we all get along, and hopefully that means being part of the Ryder Cup ecosystem."
In Rome, McIlroy allowed that there could be a potential return, but stopped well short of advocating for it. "This week is a realization that the decision that they made has led to not being a part of this week, and that's tough," he said. "The landscape in golf is ever-changing and more dynamic, and we'll see what happens and whether they will be part of it in the future."
The Ryder Cup begins on Friday morning at 1:30 a.m. ET and runs through Sunday.