Charl Schwartzel won the first event of the LIV Golf series held at Centurion Club
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You betrayed us: ‘Conscience of golf’ Rory McIlroy takes aim at Saudi rebels and savages players who made U-turns to play in mega-rich breakaway competition

  • Rory McIlroy claimed victory in the Canadian Open, his 21st PGA Tour title  
  • It came at the same time as LIV Golf’s inaugural event in Hertfordshire 
  • Northern Irishman has positioned himself as leader of those against breakaway
  • There has been huge criticism of players who joined Saudi-backed competition
  • McIlroy says Charl Schwartzel’s victory ‘meant nothing’ despite £4million prize 

The ‘conscience of golf’ was how USA Today’s Christine Brennan, one of the leading sportswriters in America, described Rory McIlroy. On the eve of the US Open, the conscience of golf could hardly have been more clear.

Asked what he had got wrong when he described the Saudi-backed LIV tour as ‘dead in the water’ in February, the Northern Irishman thought for a moment and then gave this devastating reply: ‘What I got wrong is that I took a lot of statements that were given by players supporting the PGA Tour at face value, I took them at their word,’ he said. ‘That was what I got wrong.’

Perhaps it is just as well that rebels such as Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, who made such statements, do not do conscience, otherwise their ears would have been stinging here at the stately Country Club in Brookline.

There was plenty more from McIlroy, who might not have returned to the winner’s circle in the majors just yet but has certainly found his voice when it comes to speaking up for his sport.

There are people who think there is no difference between players gravitating to LIV for more money and players both now and before who moved from Europe to enjoy the vastly greater riches on the PGA Tour. So let Rory explain why the difference is actually night and day.

‘You’ve got three of the four majors taking place in the United States,’ he began. ‘The travel gets increasingly more difficult going back and forth. In terms of winning majors and tournaments and building your legacy, America was and is the place to be.

Charl Schwartzel won the first event of the LIV Golf series held at Centurion Club

Charl Schwartzel won the first event of the LIV Golf series held at Centurion Club

Jusin Thomas (left) and Rory McIlroy have been vocally against the Saudi-backed rebels

Jusin Thomas (left) and Rory McIlroy have been vocally against the Saudi-backed rebels

McIlroy won the Canadian Open after seeing off competition from Thomas on Sunday

McIlroy won the Canadian Open after seeing off competition from Thomas on Sunday

‘I don’t think it has ever been all to do with prize money. It certainly has never been guaranteed. So that is the other difference.

‘A big regret of mine was sitting at home and missing the 2011 Players Championship. That was on bad advice. Now I’ve surrounded myself with good, honest, hard-working people who are trying to do the right thing by the game of golf.’

By now, he was warming to his theme. Asked why he had taken it upon himself to represent the traditionalist’s view, McIlroy, the chairman of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council, added: ‘LIV is the cloud hanging over golf at the moment. We are getting ready for one of the biggest events of the year and that is what we are talking about. But playing on the PGA Tour is the right thing to do. It was a tour created by the people who came before us, like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

‘They worked hard for something and I would hate to see all that was built up by all the players who came before us turn out to be nothing. There are also the charitable donations given to communities. 

Bryson DeChambeau (pictured) and Dustin Johnson committed their futures to the PGA Tour before U-turning recently to join the rebel Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series

Johnson pictured practicing before this week's US Open

Bryson DeChambeau (left) and Dustin Johnson (right) committed their futures to the PGA Tour before U-turning in a move that disappointed McIlroy 

‘You could put all the major sporting organisations in this country together — the NFL (American football), the MLB (baseball), the NBA (basketball) and NHL (hockey) — if you combined their charitable donations, the PGA Tour have raised twice as much as that in their history. 

‘That is a massive legacy and one we really should be very proud about. That is why I think it is important to see what is happening in golf right now through a wider lens and why I try to take a wider view of it all.’

So those are the strident views of the poster boy for the game as it has always been played.

What about Phil Mickelson, the pin-up for the rebels? My goodness, what a contrast left by this seemingly broken husk of a man when he spoke from the same spot the previous day. 

McIlroy says Schwartzel's victory meant nothing and the Northern Irishman is backed by fans

McIlroy says Schwartzel’s victory meant nothing and the Northern Irishman is backed by fans

Since he was last seen in America, the Saudis have reportedly handed the lefty a cheque for $200million and here was living proof that all the money in the world cannot buy you peace, or make you happy when you look in the mirror.

Shiftily evasive in his answers, desperate to say nothing, it was hard to believe this was the man who used to think he was the smartest guy in the room. He came across as a man consumed by shame.

That said, it does make him the model ambassador for the circuit that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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