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McIlroy sees PGA wins as cheapened without Rahm, LIV's best

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland says PGA Tour titles are cheapened when many of the world's top players are banned after jumping to rival LIV Golf and merging the tours is more important than punishing defectors who seek a return (Ryan LIM)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland says PGA Tour titles are cheapened when many of the world's top players are banned after jumping to rival LIV Golf and merging the tours is more important than punishing defectors who seek a return (Ryan LIM)

Rory McIlroy says PGA Tour triumphs at venues such as Pebble Beach and Riviera will be devalued in the absence of two-time major winner Jon Rahm and other star players following their defection to LIV Golf.

And the four-time major champion from Northern Ireland says it's more important to complete a merger between LIV and PGA Tour than it is to sort out punishments for defectors to the Saudi-backed upstart circuit.

Speaking on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's start of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, McIlroy was asked if wins at the California venues were cheapened without Rahm, Dustin Johnson and other top players who jumped to LIV.

"Yeah," McIlroy said. "I'd like to win here and stand up with a trophy on 18 green and know that I've beaten all of the best players in the world, so yeah."

McIlroy, who spoke of conversations with 2023 Ryder Cup teammates Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton before they signed with LIV Golf, said golf needs to reunite top players even if it delays sorting out any punishment for players who went to LIV but want to play future PGA Tour events.

"Life is about choices. Guys made choices to go and play LIV, guys made choices to stay here. If people still have eligibility on this tour and they want to come back and play, let them come back," McIlroy said.

"It's hard to punish people. I don't think there should be a punishment -- obviously I've changed my tune on that because I see where golf is and I see that having a diminished PGA Tour and having a diminished LIV Tour or anything else is bad for both parties."

Talks on a framework merger agreement between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV's Saudi backers, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), have extended beyond a December 31 deadline in order to sort out a deal to please all sides in golf's bitter civil war.

"It would be much better being together and moving forward together for the good of the game," McIlroy said. "The faster we can all get back together and start to play and start to have the strongest fields possible I think is great for golf.

"We're potentially about to do a deal with PIF, who owned the large majority of LIV, and hopefully seeing things come back together here at some point."

McIlroy removed himself from the PGA Tour Policy Board last year, needing to focus on his game instead of working on a merger deal.

"I just didn't feel like I could influence things the way I wanted to," he said. "I felt like I was just banging my head against the wall."

- The sooner the better -

McIlroy said a deal is near between the PGA Tour and Strategic Sports Group (SSG) that would see a $3 billion investment in the tour.

"I just hope they get it done," McIlroy said. "They were supposed to vote on it Sunday night and there was a delay. They were supposed to vote on it last night and there was a delay.

"I feel like this thing could have been over and done with months ago. For all our sakes the sooner we sort of get out of it and have a path forward, the better."

World number 16 Hatton jumped to LIV after talks with McIlroy about the move.

"Everyone needs to do with what's right for them," McIlroy said. "I had a long talk with Tyrrell on Sunday, completely understood where he was coming from.

"I've talked to him quite a bit about it over the past month. It got to the point where they negotiated and got to a place where he was comfortable with and he has to do what he feels is right for him.

"I'm not going to stand in anyone's way from making money and if what they deem life-changing money, like absolutely.

"These are guys I respect and I've spent a lot of time with and if that's what they feel is the best decision for them, then I'm going to be supportive of that decision."

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