Of course the story going into the Open Championship is Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x).
That’s just the way the world of golf has gone since LIV Golf invaded the purity of the sport with money luring some of the biggest stars of the game away from the PGA Tour.
McIlroy has been steadfast in his support of the PGA Tour, basically becoming a human shield.
Perhaps his most poignant remark came in the last week when he said he would retire rather than play for LIV if it was the last place on earth to play golf.
While that was a tad dramatic and highly sensational, he spoke from the heart.
No one has spoken so honestly and unabashedly about how the Saudi-backed organization has impacted professional men’s golf.
Whether or not he was ever approached with an offer – and he says he wasn’t – LIV Golf needed him more than he needed it.
He has made untold hundreds of millions from the game and has long cultivated a reputation as the biggest start in the sport next to Tiger Woods (Bridgestone Tour B XS).
And with Woods sidelined indefinitely and, for all intents and purposes, finished as the indomitable force in the game, McIlroy has become the apex figure.
The fact he won the Tour Championship last year underlined his talent. He has had numerous top-10 finishes this year and won the CJ Cup last October and the Scottish Open last week continues to make him a compelling figure on and off the course. Similar to last week in which he went into the Scottish Open as the betting figure, he is favored to win the Open Championship.
That he decided not to speak to the media this week, similar to what he did prior to the U.S. Open, is not to be interpreted as disrespectful or haughty. The majors are important and he wants to maintain a steely focus.
McIlroy missed the cut at this year’s Masters and admitted afterward he needed a rest from the sport, in particular because he had been spending so much time talking about the politics of the sport that he missed valuable practice time.
The year before he closed with a seven-under par in the Masters and recorded a shot for the ages holing out from the bunker with what can only be described as artistry and imagination.
He said prior to the Scottish Open he felt refreshed after taking some time off and has developed a “really comfortable swing thought” after finding something at the Travelers Championship in June. He finished tied for seventh. He has not placed out of the top-10 since tying for 47
Whatever he has done since then has been working, including a second in the U.S. Open.
With the LIV players in the Open Championship, this will be the last time this year there will be a clash of the two tour in the same tournament. The future is murky because of the confusing deal in which the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which finances LIV Golf, entered into a recent controversial agreement with the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.
Something is going to change, whether that means the PGA Tour defectors are welcomed back, LIV will continue on its own or there will be some kind of amalgamation. LIV Golf has already led to a change in the PGA Tour with bigger purses and the elite players committing to 20 tournaments a year. To be sure, the purses will escalate with the PIV money. By pouring hundreds of millions of fresh money into the PGA Tour, PIV likely will wield some influence on players being able to choose which tournaments they want to play.
The ones who jumped to LIV Golf decided based on money, and for some it was a wise decision economically because their best results on the PGA Tour had already faded. But it did come with a price in terms of integrity. Some would say they sold out. Dustin Johnson (TaylorMade TP5x) readily admitted that.
What all of this means this week is really irrelevant. The Open Championship has always been a tournament that stands out from the other three majors because it’s links golf and often played in wind, cold, rain or a combination of all three. The pot bunkers add another quirky element, as seen last week when Sam Burns (Callaway Chrome Soft X) had an impossible lie in one of the craters trying to swing at a ball that was on a vertical incline. It looked to be an embedded ball in which Burns would get relief, but the official deemed otherwise. With an awkward stance, Burns did his best but the ball ended up landing backward. It was kind of like the scene in The Perfect Storm when the Andrea Gail fishing boat was pushed back by an unrelenting wave that caused it to come crashing down. That is the appeal of links golf. It is even more pronounced in the Open Championship because it is a major.
It has been nine years since McIlroy won this tournament. His appeal is as great as ever, while his current play is stellar.
Now all he has to do is put it together for four rounds to stand atop of the golf world once again in his remarkable career.