The war of words between Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson continued with the former firing back and defending the PGA Tour.
Mickelson has not been shy to boost up the profile of the LIV Golf Series. The six-time major champion and other top golfers around the world, like 2022 Open Champion Cameron Smith, are getting paid top dollar by the Saudi-backed league.
CEO Greg Norman sees LIV as a disrupter and a better alternative to the PGA, and Mickelson agreed when he said LIV is on the upward trend and the PGA is on a downward trend. Mickelson has also called for the two entities to come together and get along with one another, rather than continue the combative rhetoric golf fans have seen. But McIlroy, who has teamed up with Tiger Woods to combat the growing influence of LIV, had a different perspective.
“I don’t agree with what Phil said last week,” McIlroy told reporters Wednesday ahead of this week’s CJ Cup at Congaree Golf Club, per ESPN’s Mark Schlabach. “I understand why he said it because of the position he is in, but I don’t think anyone that takes a logical view of the game of golf can agree with what he said.”
McIlroy will defend his CJ Cup crown at Congaree Golf Club on Thursday among a field of 15 of the top 20 players in the world. Smith is the only LIV golfer who ranks in the top 20. But the league hopes to attract more of the game’s top talent away from the PGA Tour.
“I guess for them to be talking the way they are, it’s bold,” McIlroy said. “I think there’s a ton of propaganda being used and all sorts of stuff. I certainly don’t see the PGA Tour trending downward at all. All the talent, 95% of the talent is here. You’ve got people like Tom Kim coming through (who is) the future of our game.”
Mickelson made his comments at a LIV Golf Jeddah event in Saudi Arabia, and he believed he was on the “winning side” between the two golf leagues. However, world No. 5 Jon Rahm also took issue with his friend’s assessment.
“Man, I love Phil, but I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Rahm told reporters, per Schlabach. “I really don’t know why he said that. … I think there’s some great changes being made and great changes for the players on the tour. I truly don’t know what drove him to say something like that.”
Rahm went further adding: “You have to pick what side do you think is going to be successful, and I firmly believe that I’m on the winning side of how things are going to evolve and shape in the coming years for professional golf. We play against a lot of the best players in the world on LIV, and there are a lot of the best players in the world on the PGA Tour.
“And … until both sides sit down and have a conversation and work something out, both sides are going to continue to change and evolve. And I see LIV Golf trending upwards, I see the PGA Tour trending downwards and I love the side that I’m on.”
It’s safe to say the debate will continue, and where fans fall on the discourse will depend on what they want from the sport.