Rory McIlroy toning down criticism of LIV Golf at PGA Championship

PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Rory McIlroy's days as one of LIV Golf's most vocal critics may be over.

The four-time major champion demurred Tuesday when asked to speculate what professional golf might look like down the road.

“I don't have a crystal ball,” McIlroy said ahead of the 2023 PGA Championship that begins Thursday at Oak Hill.

Maybe that's by design. Asked if he was making a conscious effort to sidestep talking about Saudi-funded LIV going forward, McIlroy simply responded, “Yeah.”

The world's third-ranked player hardly seems to be alone in taking that approach. Masters champion and No. 1 Jon Rahm and No. 2 Scottie Scheffler essentially shrugged off any LIV talk while getting ready to play 72 holes on the demanding East course.

The white-hot spotlight that followed players from both the PGA and LIV tours to Augusta National in April seems to have cooled a bit.

Maybe it was the fact the only fireworks that erupted at the Masters were limited to the golf course — where LIV's Phil Mickelson was runner-up and Brooks Koepka played in the final group with Rahm — and not press conferences or social media. Five weeks and nearly 900 miles north later, no one seems particularly interested in rehashing talking points that have become well-worn over the last year.

Rahm said he was “the wrong player to talk to” when asked where he sees professional golf down the road. He reiterated he's “never had any negative feelings toward any player that went over to LIV.”

As if to prove his point, Rahm noted he went out for a practice round with Talor Gooch — who left the PGA Tour for LIV last summer — on Monday.

Still, it's perhaps telling of how quickly the landscape in the sport has changed since LIV launched 11 months ago that Rahm referred to two-time major champion and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson as “Dustin from LIV" after the two ran into each other at the Masters.

The qualifier sounded a little strange coming from Rahm, just like the sight of Johnson sporting FootJoy shoes after Adidas ended its sponsorship of Johnson in February, part of the fallout of Johnson joining LIV.

Things appear to have stabilized a bit for LIV in its second season. The tour now has a U.S. television partner in the CW and Johnson is coming off a victory in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last week that LIV said was its best-attended event in the U.S. to date.

Whether that means the tours can coexist peacefully or if this is merely a lull remains to be seen.

“If you talk to a LIV player, this is going to be great, it’s only going to get better,” Rahm said. “You talk to people on the other side, in two years they’re going to be done. I really couldn’t tell you. I have no clue. I really have no clue. I really don’t know what to say. Obviously they’re trying their hardest to be a little bit different, and it could pay off or not. I really don’t know.”

WAUGH AND LIV

Seth Waugh doesn’t believe he showed an anti-LIV Golf bias as it relates to the world ranking. The PGA of America’s CEO said he was simply offering his business opinion on the Saudi-funded league.

Waugh told the Times of London last week he doesn’t see the LIV business model as sustainable, arguing the concept of team play attracting fans was flawed logic.

“They can fund it for as long as they want to, but no matter how much money you have, at some point burning it doesn’t feel very good,” Waugh told the Times.

His comments raised questions of bias because the PGA of America has a seat on the board of the Official World Golf Ranking, and the OWGR still has not decided whether to bring LIV Golf into its system.

“We don’t think division is in the best interest of the game,” Waugh said Tuesday. “And then when asked what do I think, as a former businessman who looks at things, I think disruption is a good thing. I think good things have happened from that. Certainly the players are better off in a lot of ways from what it was.”

Waugh formerly was CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas.

Waugh said there has been a “healthy back and forth” between the OWGR and LIV, which applied to get world ranking points in July. The process typically takes a year, and LIV does not meet certain criteria because of its limited fields (48 players), no cuts and lack of opportunities to qualify for the league.

“This is not an ‘us versus them.’ The OWGR, if you take a step back, the whole point is to create a level playing field, a yardstick by which to measure the game. Our job is to measure tours — not players, but tours — and how they perform on those tours to come up with that yardstick,” Waugh said.

CASEY OUT, STEVENS IN

Paul Casey withdrew on Tuesday due to an unspecified injury. The 45-year-old was in the field at Oak Hill after the PGA gave him a special exemption. Casey finished tied for fourth in 2021 at Kiawah Island to earn a spot in the last year's PGA but could not compete due to injury.

Casey, who moved to LIV Golf last year, finished fourth in the first LIV event of the 2023 season but had failed to finish higher than 24th in each of his last five LIV tournaments, including a tie for 40th in the 48-player field last week in Oklahoma.

Casey's withdrawal opened the door for Sam Stevens, a PGA Tour rookie who has a pair of top-five finishes this season, to make his PGA Championship debut.

THE YOUNG AND THE (MOSTLY) BEARDLESS

Cameron Young arrived at Oak Hill fresh in more ways than one.

The 26-year-old took the week off before the PGA after finishing in a tie for 59th at the Wells Fargo Championship. Young spent part of his down time shaving his trademark beard, looking almost unrecognizable while making his way around the East course on Tuesday.

The new look came after his wife Kelsey suggested it might be time to break out the razor.

“I don’t think I looked terrible (with the beard),” Young said. “I don’t know. Yeah, I haven’t been clean-shaven probably since our first son was born (in 2022). No real reason. It just happened to be a couple (of) days ago.”

Given the way the stubble was already starting to sneak through following his practice round, the beard could be back sooner rather than later.

“It probably won’t stay this way," said Young, who has top-10 finishes in three of his last four majors, including a tie for third in last year's PGA at Southern Hills. “It’s too much work.”

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AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.

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