Rory McIlroy: Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood will be haunted by LIV defection during Ryder Cup

Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick in Rome
McIlroy says the golfers selected for this year's Ryder Cup have not dwelled on the players who were not eligible for selection - PA/Mike Egerton

Rory McIlroy has told the LIV rebels missing from Europe’s Ryder Cup team that their defection will come back to haunt them this week in Rome.

Although hostilities have calmed since the Saudi-funded breakaway struck a peace deal, McIlroy says exiled Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood will “miss being here” more than Europe’s new team miss them.

The trio had been stalwarts of the event for two decades but made themselves ineligible after joining LIV and resigning their tour memberships.

McIlroy, who previously said he felt “betrayed” by their decision, acknowledges that it was “a little strange not having them around”.

“But I think this week of all weeks, it’s going to hit home with them that they are not here and I think they are going to miss being here more than we’re missing them,” he said at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club. “It’s just more this week is a realisation that the decision they made has led to not being a part of this week and that’s tough.”

McIlroy has previously drawn criticism from his friend Poulter after saying that those playing on the Saudi-funded circuit should not be able to appear again in the blue and gold.

But despite Garcia – the Ryder Cup’s all-time leading points scorer – making a forlorn late attempt to find a way back into the reckoning, McIlroy said the current team would not be dwelling on former team-mates.

‌“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,” 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.”

The absence of any LIV Golf representatives beyond this year’s Masters champion Brooks Koepka was not lost on the American, although he did not have any sympathy for the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, who last week complained that he had been unfairly snubbed by United States captain Zach Johnson.

“I don’t make the decisions,” Koepka said. “Everybody had an opportunity to get there. I mean, I had the same opportunity as every other LIV player, and I’m here. Play better. That’s always the answer.”

‘If you want to be part of the circus, you have to put up with the clowns’

McIlroy, now one of Europe’s elder statesmen, has told his team-mates “not to look up” to him and also urged them to embrace a raucous atmosphere in Rome.

The showdown between Europe and the US has become an event like no other in golf, with fans dressing up in wigs, putting on suits of armour and drinking heavily.

However, when asked whether fan scenes “might go too far” this week, McIlroy said: “No, because I think that’s all part of the Ryder Cup. There’s not a lot of other instances in the game of golf where that happens but there’s certainly a line. Most fans that come out to watch golf are very respectful and they know what that line is.

“We have all had our fair share of heckles over the years… Someone said to me once, ‘If you want to be part of the circus, you have to put up with the clowns’.”

McIlroy is aiming for Ryder Cup redemption after struggling at Whistling Straits in 2021. He ended his last appearance fighting back tears after poor form, telling Sky Sports: “I love my team-mates so much. I should have done more for them this week.”

McIlroy is the third-oldest on this year’s team as he embarks on his seventh career appearance at the Ryder Cup. However, he said: “I’m not there giving rallying cries and team speeches... I don’t want anyone looking up to me. I just want everyone looking at the side. I want them looking over to me. I don’t want them looking up to me in any way. I want them to see me like I’m on their level. There’s no hierarchy on our team. We are all one part of a 12-man team and we all go forward together. I guess that’s the one message I’ve tried to relay to some of the younger guys on the team.”