The 18 LIV Golf players in the 2023 Masters field don’t serve as a catch-all for Rory McIlroy’s ire.
He regularly sees the likes of Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka back home in Jupiter, Fla. He also acknowledged that all the top players in the world congregating in the same place this week has led to an increased level of comfort with some of those who have departed for the PGA Tour’s Saudi-backed rival.
That also doesn’t mean McIlroy is seeking out all 18 to mend fences that have been broken over the contentious past year.
“It’s a very nuanced situation, and there’s different dynamics,” he said Tuesday before heading out with Koepka for nine holes around Augusta National. “It’s OK to get on with Brooks and D.J. and maybe not get on with some other guys that went there, right? It’s interpersonal relationships. That’s just how it goes.
“This week and this tournament is way bigger than any of that. And it’s just great all the best players in the world are together again in what seems to be quite a while.”
McIlroy has been one of the most outspoken critics of LIV Golf as the de facto voice of the PGA Tour players. He has readily admitted to strained relationships with the likes of long-time European Ryder Cup teammates Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter.
McIlroy said he hasn’t spoken yet with Phil Mickelson, but is happy the three-time Masters champion is back at Augusta after sitting out last year.
The debate about how well LIV players will fare this week continues to rage on in many circles, with reports that some plan to “storm” the 18th green if one of them wins the green jacket. Cameron Smith acknowledged Monday that he believes it’s important for LIV that it has players in contention come Sunday.
“I think that only puts more pressure on themselves,” McIlroy said. “If they’re not just playing for themselves but they’re playing for this cause or whatever — that might help in some way. I don’t know. But I think this tournament is bigger than all of that.
“It’s a narrative and it’s a storyline, but the Masters and the four major championships sit above all that noise. And that’s the way it should be this week.”
The personal storyline for McIlroy continues to be his quest for the career grand slam. This will mark his ninth Masters since claiming the 2014 PGA Championship — the most recent of his four career major titles.
The Northern Irishman enters the week ranked No. 2 in the world. McIlroy kicked off 2023 with a win at the Dubai Desert Classic, later tied for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and is coming off a third-place finish at the WGC-Match Play.
However, his other three starts this year have resulted in a T32 in Phoenix, a T29 at the Genesis Invitational and a missed cut at The Players Championship.
McIlroy tied the lowest final-round score in Masters history with a 64 last year to claim second behind Scottie Scheffler. He arrived at Augusta National last Thursday — earlier than he has traditionally — but said it’s not in an effort to over-work his way toward a green jacket.
“It’s fun to be here, it’s fun to play. It’s a treat,” he said. “I feel like you go around here, whether you learn something or not, it’s just a nice way to spend a day. So, there’s no real thinking behind playing more years than others.”
McIlroy has long been dubbed as having a game “tailor-made” to win at Augusta. But he was also quick to point out the same was said of many before him, including Ernie Els and Greg Norman, neither of whom was able to win the Masters.
In 14 career starts, McIlroy has four top-5s, seven top-10s and a scoring average of 71.4. Outside of a handful of players, he knows the course better than anyone in the field, and said he’s as “relaxed as I ever have been” during Masters week.
“I’ve got all the ingredients to make the pie,” he said. “It’s just putting all of those ingredients in and setting the oven to the right temperature and sort of letting it all come to fruition. But I know that I’ve got everything there.
“It’s just a matter of putting everything together.”
–Field Level Media