It was business as usual for Rory McIlroy on Thursday -- a scorecard littered with birdies and bogeys and a post-round press conference focused on matters other than his golf game.
McIlroy posted a 1-under-par 71 in the opening round at the RBC Canadian Open, where he is the two-time defending champion. His card included five birdies to offset four bogeys, leaving the world No. 3-ranked player four shots off the morning lead.
Following an opening question about the course conditions in his post-round press conference, it was right back to the biggest topic in the world of golf -- the merger heard ‘round the world.
After 48 hours of drama following the news of the PGA Tour’s merger with the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and the DP World Tour, was it good to get back on the course, where good friend and playing partner Justin Rose posted a 3-under 69?
“Rosie and I said, ‘All right, no chatting until lunch so that we can actually concentrate on what we’re doing out there,’” McIlroy said. “We started to get in a conversation walking down the first (hole) and we’re like, ‘No, let’s stop this. Let’s just focus on our golf and we’ll say what we want to say when we get inside.’
“So, it was nice to play a round of golf and focus on something else for those five hours we were out there.”
That was followed by a question about the air quality - McIlroy wasn’t bothered by it much - and right back to the merger questions, which took up the remainder of his press session.
McIlroy has spent the past year as the de facto voice of the PGA Tour and players while engaging in regular public spats with the likes of LIV Golf defectors Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed. So, it’s no surprise that everyone wants the opinion of McIlroy, who said Wednesday that he was never offered money by LIV Golf and still hopes that the Saudi-backed league goes away.
He acknowledged that the off-course pressure has weighed on him far more heavily than what goes on inside the ropes.
“You know, the most uncomfortable I’ve felt in the last 12 months was my press conference yesterday,” McIlroy said.
After 48 hours of phone calls, press conferences and meetings, McIlroy was back to his “job.” The alarm went off at 4:15 am, he played a round of golf and then planned to practice a bit in the afternoon before planning for a good night of sleep.
The PGA Tour agreed to a merger that will change the complexion of professional golf around the world without consulting the player who has been at the forefront of those who “stayed loyal” to the tour. McIlroy was asked if it’s time to perhaps focus more on himself.
“This is business and my job is playing golf at the end of the day,” he said. “The more that I can focus on that and focus on the birdies and the bogeys instead of the stuff that’s happened in the board room, I’ll be much happier.”
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