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McIlroy's RBC Canadian Open Win Is a Boost for PGA Tour




Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x) didn’t just defend his RBC Canadian Open title, he also defended the embattled PGA Tour, in particular Commissioner Jay Monahan.

His sublime win on Sunday at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, about a 25-minute drive from where I live, was popular. Make no mistake, this was a pro-Rory crowd, notwithstanding the others in the field – and this was one of the deepest in years with the likes of Justin Thomas (Titleist Pro V1x), Sam Burns (Callaway Chrome Soft X), Scottie Scheffler (Titleist Pro V1), Tony Finau (Titleist Pro V1), Justin Rose (TaylorMade TP5), Cameron Smith (Titleist Pro V1x) and Shane Lowry (Srixon Z-Star XV) to name a few.

The people who packed the course were clearly cheering for the Northern Irishman. The chants of “Rory, Rory, Rory” were loud and proud. Whether it was kids or adults, they also wanted McIlroy to win.

With everything that is going on the world of golf, notably the battle with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series that is buying talent with guaranteed contracts and huge payouts for individual and team play, the PGA can only rely on its goodwill to keep players on its roster. The more that leave for riches and a shortened schedule, the harder it will be to keep the stars.

It will all come to a head this week with the U.S. Open, over which the PGA Tour has no jurisdiction to limit entrants. It’s the United States Golf Association that has the right to boot out players – and there is no indication of that. So, while Monahan suddenly finds himself squarely in the center of this uncivil golf war, he has McIlroy in his corner.

And that is huge.

McIlroy is arguably the biggest star in the sport. He’s certainly had a great season, winning two of 10 tournaments, finishing second in the Masters with a stunning final round that included holing out with bunker shot for the ages on the 18th hole, and an eighth-place finish in the PGA Championship.

Last year he won one of 21 events, the year before one or 15. In 2018-19, he won three of 19, including the Players Championship, the RBC Canadian Open and the Tour Championship.

He has gone from this brash, upstart 20-something with tons of talent, to a more mature 30-year-old who has become a father. He now has 21 career PGA Tour wins, and that is a significant number because he has surpassed Greg Norman, who is overseeing the LIV Tour and has gone out of his way to verbally disrespect anyone who lines up against him. He openly said McIlroy was “brainwashed” for siding with the PGA Tour.

Monahan attended the Canadian Open, largely to use the tournament as a way to address the situation with the LIV Tour. He spoke to CBS’ lead golf host Jim Nance and clearly the PGA Tour boss was uncomfortable. This has clearly been a trying time for him, far more so than in 2019 when he had to make the decision to suspend the tour after the first round of the 2020 Players Championship due to COVID.

After his win, McIlroy was asked by CBS broadcaster Amanda Renner what this latest victory means.

“This is a day I will remember for a long, long time, 21 PGA Tour wins, one more than somebody else,” he said.

That somebody being Norman.

Thomas, who finished third and had a long embrace with McIlroy with whom he and Finau were grouped in the final pairing to start the round, Tweeted afterward: “What a week. That’s why we play and that’s why we play on the PGA Tour. Got to battle against one of the best today and go outdueled, but not without a fight.”

I attended the media conference before the tournament began and McIlroy offered some candid comments on a variety of subjects. He said he was happy for the Canadian Open to be back after it was cancelled for two successive years because of COVID-19 and for live sporting events in general. He said had wonderful memories from his victory in in 2019 when he flirted with a tournament record 59.

When asked about the LIV Series and the stars of the sport who effectively gave up their right to play on the PGA Tour, he said: “I think my stance on it has been pretty clear. It’s not something I want to participate in. I certainly understand the guys that went. I understand what their goals and ambitions are. Certainly, I’m not knocking anyone from going. It’s their life, it’s their decision, but for me I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world.

“Obviously, money is a deciding factor in a lot of things in this world, but if it’s purely for money it never seems to go the way you want. I’ve had that happen before a couple of times in my life, and there’s other things that are a part of it, too. It’s a weird time in professional golf. We’re just going to have to see how this season plays out and what the consequences are. For me right now I can only speak personally, it’s not something I envision ever doing. I’m happy where I am on the PGA Tour. I have a schedule I can pick for myself. I can spend a lot of time at home with my family if I want to, prioritize the Majors.”

It was interesting what he said about the Canadian Open, a tournament which used to be an afterthought because it was scheduled after The British Open, but the PGA altered things three years ago to have the Majors played once a month from April to July. The Canadian Open, one of the oldest tournaments in golf history, benefitted from it because it was now leading up to the U.S. Open. When McIlroy played in it in 2019 for the first time, it made a huge impression, though winning it clearly helped and made him want to come back.

“I am, I guess, a self-obsessed golf nerd, historian, traditionalist,” he said. “Most of the older events in our game are national opens and I’ve been fortunate to win quite a few. One of the great things about our game is in some ways you can compare yourself to historical figures – figures I’ve never met before – but I look at it from trophies my name’s on. Walter Hagen’s name’s on there or Gene Sarazen or Byron Nelson or Ben Hogan or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or whoever it is. I think that’s one of the coolest things about our sport that not a lot of other sports can tap into. As a golf historian and traditionalist, I like that stuff. I like having the Claret Jug at home and looking at the names on the trophy. That’s so cool.

“You look at the Canadian Open trophy and the names that are on that. You’re putting your name in history by winning these national championships. Honestly, it’s something that money can’t buy or something money can’t give you.”

McIlroy now has his name twice on the Canadian Open trophy, but this latest one has a theoretical asterisk on it because it happened the same week the LIV Series started and created a wide swath between the players who are committed to the PGA Tour and the others who have pledged their allegiance elsewhere.

It doesn’t make one right and the other wrong. But it’s true, money does make people do something they otherwise might not do and lead to some unnecessary name calling.

But at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, there was a whole lot of name calling, specifically Rory, and standing in the midst of it I must say it sounded glorious.

The pent-up energy from having the event return for the first time since 2019 exploded like a powder keg on the 18th hole when the crowd swarmed the green. It was like the scene leading up to the 18th green in the 2021 PGA Championship when Phil Mickelson (Callaway Chrome Soft X) won to become the oldest player to record a victory in a Major tournament.

Take a bow, Canada, what a tournament!


Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko is an award-winning writer who has published nine books, three of them bestsellers. He has been involved in sports writing for more than 35 years and has interviewed many superstar athletes. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada and enjoys watching golf and playing it.

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