Whispers of leaving for LIV? Masters asterisks? Rory McIlroy smiles at first

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on Wednesday on the 7th hole at PGA National.

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Rory McIlroy’s thoughts on his former agent wondering if his former player was considering a jump to LIV Golf? 

And McIlroy’s reaction to LIV Golf’s Talor Gooch saying a potential McIlroy Masters victory would need an asterisk?

To both queries on Wednesday, McIlroy smiled at first.

The reaction, and his ensuing answers, followed a stretch where he didn’t play a tournament — he did compete Monday in the ninth iteration of the Match, though — yet his name was noted in headlines. And it was connected to LIV, the Saudi-backed tour he once said he hated.  

But McIlroy’s position on the league has softened of late. And Chubby Chandler, McIlroy’s former agent, wondered about that. 

“Rory is of the ilk that he’ll say something because he likes to have an opinion, but he’s quite happy to apologize for it and that’s what he’s done,” Chandler told bunkered.co.uk in an article published last Friday. “If you were being cynical, you might say he’s going to sign for about 750 million in a month’s time with LIV because he’s paving the way that LIV’s OK now, whereas it wasn’t. 

“Who knows? He doesn’t need 750 million, but it’s odd what he’s done and I’m sure it’s a possibility. If he does it or not, I don’t know, but if [Jon] Rahm can do it, most guys can do it.

“I think number one, there’s a 10 percent possibility he’s favoring his way to sign for LIV, but he realizes that the whole bickering and fighting is no good for golf. The man in the street must find it appalling the sums of money being spoken.”

Three days later, via an article published by Australian Golf Digest, Gooch also talked about McIlroy — and the Masters, where a victory would complete the career grand slam for McIlroy. 

But a win could potentially come without Gooch and other players on LIV, as the league playing its third season has limited avenues for its pros to be invited to the Masters. (LIV winners, unlike PGA Tour winners, do not receive invitations, and LIV currently doesn’t receive world-ranking points for its events — and world ranking is one way to gain a Masters invite.) Notably, LIV’s Joaquin Niemann was recently invited to the tournament, though the announcement spotlighted his success only outside of LIV. (Part of the note read this way: “He has top-five finishes in each of his three DP World Tour starts this season, including winning the Australian Open in a playoff last December.”)  

In the Australian Golf Digest story, Gooch, LIV’s 2023 player of the year, voiced his frustration. For clarity, the following was written:

Jon Rahm talks with Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club Fred Ridley during the Golden Bear Pro-Am prior to the Memorial Tournament
Surprise Masters announcement revealing for what it omitted
By: Alan Bastable

Assuming Gooch doesn’t receive a late invitation to the Masters, it would be one of the rare instances in four decades of the OWGR that a leading golfer has been overlooked. Given the apparent animosity toward LIV Golf by golf’s establishment, Gooch told Australian Golf Digest he wasn’t expecting a Masters invitation. 

“It’s not surprising. I think the majors have kind of shown that they’re not getting on board with LIV. ‘Jaco’ went outside of LIV and played some great golf and they rewarded him for that. So hopefully the day will turn when the majors decide to start rewarding good play on LIV. Hopefully that’ll be sooner than later.”

In an ominous portent to Augusta National, Gooch said: “If Rory McIlroy goes and completes his [career] grand slam without some of the best players in the world, there’s just going to be an asterisk. It’s just the reality. I think everybody wins whenever the majors figure out a way to get the best players in the world there.”

Two stories, two mentions of McIlroy. So what did he think of it all?

At his media availability ahead of this week’s Cognizant Classic, McIlroy was first asked about Chandler. The exchange went like this:

Reporter: “Rory, I’m wondering the last time you spoke to Chubby Chandler.”

Here, the reporter and an observer in the background laughed, and McIlroy smiled. The reporter then continued.  

Reporter: “And what did you think motivated him to say what he said other than making headlines?

McIlroy: “I think he’s writing a book, so there is that. I spoke to Chubby — I might have saw him in the Middle East actually, at the start of the year. So you never know — he might know a few things. Who knows?”

Here, McIlroy laughed. The reporter then asked a second question. 

Reporter: “Well, he started by saying there’s a good chance you’d go to LIV, and then he’s — at the end, it was 10 percent. So is there a percentage that …”

McIlroy, after a drink of water: “Somewhere in the middle maybe. Who knows.”

McIlroy smiled again. 

At the end of the session, McIlroy was asked about Gooch. The exchange went this way:

Reporter: “Kind of a two-parter about Augusta. I can’t say it’s next month yet because it’s not next month until Friday.”

McIlroy: “Not quite.” 

Reporter: “At what point does it start occupying the majority of your headspace when you get to that time of year? And secondly, did you have any reaction to the asterisk comment about that?”

McIlroy smiled again, answered about his Masters preparation, then appeared to be ready to exit when he said:

“Oh, and the asterisk.”

He then continued. 

“Look, the Masters is an Invitational and they’ll invite whoever they think warrants an invite. I think to be fair to Talor, if you read the entire — the question and then the answer, it’s not as if he just came out with that.

I feel like whoever did the interview sort of led him down that path to say that, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt there a little bit. He just agreed with what the interviewer asked.

“But at the same time, Joaquin Niemann got an invite and I played with Joaquin down in Dubai a few weeks ago, and he went down to Australia and won. He was in Oman last week. He’s been chasing his tail around the world to try to get this. Either play his way into Augusta or show enough form to warrant an invite. And I don’t know if the same can be said for Talor.”

At that, McIlroy’s press conference ended. 

Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.