I have no relationship anymore with LIV rebels

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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off the 4th hole during the BMW PGA Championship Pro-Am at Wentworth Golf Club on September 07, 2022 in Virginia Water, England - Oisin Keniry/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off the 4th hole during the BMW PGA Championship Pro-Am at Wentworth Golf Club on September 07, 2022 in Virginia Water, England – Oisin Keniry/Getty Images

So much for the golfing bond that could never be broken. Rory McIlroy announced on Wednesday that he “no longer has much of a relationship” with Ryder Cup team-mates who have joined the Saudi-funded rebel circuit and dismissed the big three of Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter as “not the future of the Europe team”.

With the 15 LIV-contracted golfers here at the BMW PGA Championship barred from playing in Wednesday’s pro-am it was a humbling day for the trio once regarded as the heroes of the blue-and-gold brigade.

First, Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the DP World Tour came out swinging in an extraordinary press conference in which he all but accused Garcia of being part of the “LIV propaganda machine” and then McIlroy marched into the media centre to expand on his statement few weeks ago that he “wouldn’t be able to stomach” seeing the rebels at the West Course.

‘They are the ones that have made that decision… I can keep my head high’

“They shouldn’t be here. They’re taking spots away from players who really need spots this week,” McIlroy said, before shrugging his shoulders when asked if he was sad that friendships have been affected by the game’s civil war.

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t say I’ve got much of a relationship with them at the minute. But if you’re just talking about Ryder Cup, they’re not the future of Europe’s team. Their best days are behind them. And [as for our relationships] I haven’t done anything different. They are the ones that have made that decision. I can sit here and keep my head held high.”

Westwood has not been particularly close to McIlroy for the last decade, but Garcia attended McIlroy’s wedding and vice versa when both were married in 2017, while Poulter classes the Northern Irishman as “a mate”.

Yet now McIlroy objects so much to their LIV antics that he does even believe they should be welcomed straight back onto the established tours if they ever enacted U-turns. “They could always go through Q-School, yeah” he said, with a blank expression.

McIlroy then ridiculed the renegades and LIV’s 54-hole format. When pressed if there would be added motivation here in the final round if he found himself up against a LIV player, McIlroy, again deadpan, replied. “They are going to be pretty tired on Sunday – it will be the fourth day. I’ll be trying to win a golf tournament regardless.”

Meanwhile, a video on social media of Poulter apparently having a heated discussion on the practice green with defending champion Billy Horschel – the American who on Tuesday called LIV players here ‘hypocrites’ – seemed to sum up perfectly the febrile mood.

This is not any old golf tournament, however. Indeed, because of the friction thick in the Surrey air it is not any old flagship event with a £7 million purse. It will be fascinating to see how the sell-out galleries react, especially after Pelley’s verbal offensive. At Monday’s AGM in the clubhouse he was challenged with questions from the LIV contingent and at Tuesday’s player meeting, Poulter went in again, wanting to know about “the strategic alliance” with the PGA Tour.

Pelley issued a no-nonsense response and repeated it the next morning to the journalists, lashing out at LIV for “churning out negative news stories and misinformation about the poor state of the traditional golf world, including our Tour. It’s just not right and nothing could be further from the truth”.

European Tour - BMW PGA Championship - Wentworth Golf Club, Virginia Water, Britain - September 7, 2022 Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Director of Tour Operations at PGA European Tour David Garland talk during the Pro-Am Action Image - Action Images via Reuters

European Tour – BMW PGA Championship – Wentworth Golf Club, Virginia Water, Britain – September 7, 2022 Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Director of Tour Operations at PGA European Tour David Garland talk during the Pro-Am Action Image – Action Images via Reuters

The Canadian clearly believes that Garcia is one of those at fault, making no secret of his disdain at the Spaniard’s recent claim that “the European Tour is going to become the fifth best in the world”, behind not only the PGA Tour and LIV, but also the Asian Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour.

“Wow – he actually said that. One of our members. Unbelievable,” Pelley said, before employing combined purses to prove that his circuit  is comfortably third on “the money metric” and introducing other metrics to insist “we are the second biggest tour by a country mile”.

Pelley also alluded to Westwood declaring last week that the Tour is now merely a “feeder league” for the PGA Tour.

“A feeder tour is a tour that exists purely to allow players to get to the next level,” Pelley said.

“The Challenge Tour is a feeder tour. The Korn Ferry Tour is a feeder tour. I ask you: is this week a tournament that is on a feeder tour? A tournament with sold-out crowds, TV coverage around the world in 150 countries, five of the top 15 players in the world? A tournament with 150 accredited media? No, is the answer to all these questions. So can we please just stop the ‘feeder tour’ nonsense once and for all?”

This is the unprecedented backdrop to Thursday’s first round here, with bitterness swirling among the loyalists at what they see as “disrespect” towards this cherished event, from fellow pros only allowed to appear because of a temporary legal reprieve issued until the case proper is heard in February.

“The request to the players when they joined LIV was please do not show disrespect towards the Tour which gave you a platform to build your career; disrespect by constantly parroting LIV’s talking points and commenting negatively on our Tour,” Pelley said.

“Some players have followed that request perfectly. Others, however, have not conducted themselves in that manner at all. That is my biggest personal disappointment.”