Rory McIlroy swipes Henrik Stenson with Ryder Cup/LIV dig, Westwood fires back
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
The long-running PGA Tour/LIV feud broke back into the mainstream over the weekend, when Jon Rahm’s shock defection to LIV Golf fired up strong opinions on both sides of the issue. By the end of the weekend, Rory McIlroy had sparked a minor spat among former European Ryder Cup teammates.
But McIlroy’s comments, at least initially, weren’t all critical. When Rahm’s surprise decision to leave the PGA Tour for LIV broke on Friday, McIlroy had no harsh critiques to offer the World No. 3. Instead, the four-time major winner sounded conciliatory in an interview on Sky Sports, in which he revealed that he would, “miss competing against [Rahm] week in and week out.”
“He has got so much talent, he’s so tenacious and he’s a great teammate in the Ryder Cup,” McIlroy told Sky Sports. “The thing that I’ve realized is that you can’t judge someone for making a decision that they feel is the best thing for them.”
He even went as far as to say that officials “are going to have to rewrite the rules for the Ryder Cup eligibility” to ensure that Rahm is on Team Europe in 2025 at Bethpage Black (LIV players who resigned from the DP World Tour are barred from playing in the Ryder Cup).
It was a much different tone than Rory struck during the initial wave of LIV defections two years ago, when he publicly criticized longtime friends and Ryder Cup teammates for joining the upstart league. Among them was English pro Lee Westwood.
Many things have changed in two years. The PGA Tour and PIF called a truce and are working on a framework agreement to unite pro golf. McIlroy, after being the unofficial player spokesman for the Tour during the feud, resigned from the Player Advisory Board.
But it appears not all grudges have been washed away with the recent developments, especially between McIlroy and Westwood.
On Saturday night, McIlroy took a shot at another LIV defector and former Euro Ryder Cupper, Henrik Stenson, in a reply to an X post.
McIlroy wrote, “The best thing to happen to the 2023 Euro Ryder cup team was Henrik going to LIV!”
For context, Stenson had been named European captain for the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome. But when the Swedish pro defected to LIV in the summer of 2022, Ryder Cup Europe removed Stenson as the team captain. Then in August of 2022, Luke Donald was tapped as the replacement captain.
The tumult proved to be a beneficial one for the Europeans, who saw Donald thrive in his role as captain, lead the team to a huge victory over the Americans and earn rave reviews from his players. Donald’s captaincy was so successful that he’s already been confirmed to captain the team again in 2025.
Whether McIlroy’s comment was intended as a swipe at Stenson, or simply another word of support for Donald, Westwood seemed to take offense.
Westwood, the 50-year-old former European Ryder Cup star who joined LIV in the early days, decided to fire back at McIlroy. He quote-tweed McIlroy’s remark, and then wrote his own sarcastic response:
“Nice to see the season of good will in full swing! Merry Christmas!!!”
Back in 2022, McIlroy told The Guardian that his Ryder Cup teammates’ decision to join LIV was “the first time in my life that I have felt betrayal, in a way.”
“You build bonds with these people through Ryder Cups and other things,” McIlroy told The Guardian at the time. “Them knowing that what they are about to do is going to jeopardize them from being a part of that ever again? There was a great opportunity for GMac to maybe be the captain at Adare in 2027 [the 2027 Ryder Cup at Adare Manor in Ireland]. Most of Sergio’s legacy is Ryder Cup-based, same with Poulter, Westwood.”
The PGA Tour and the PIF have a deadline of December 31, 2023, to finalize their framework agreement into an official pact. Once that happens, we’ll finally get a good idea of how the new deal with impact the 2025 Ryder Cup.