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'egotistical statement’ Phil Mickelson slammed for ‘dangerous motherf***ers’ Saudi comments as McIlroy posts 69 at Riviera

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Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy was six shots behind Chile's Joaquin Niemann in the Genesis Invitational as the PGA Tour reeled in the aftermath of Phil Mickelson's reasons for potentially supporting a breakaway tour backed by "dangerous motherf***ers" Saudi Arabia.

Niemann shot an eight-under 63 to lead by three shots from last week's maiden winner Scottie Scheffler, three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, Cameron Young and defending champion Max Homa at Riviera Country Club.

McIlroy made four birdies in a two-under 69 to share 22nd with the likes of world No 1 Jon Rahm with Séamus Power tied 43rd after a one-under 70.

But the opening day was overshadowed by headline grabbing comments by Mickelson to author Alan Shipnuck about his involvement with a potential new Super Golf League (SGL) backed by Saudi Arabia.

"They're scary motherf***ers to get involved with," Mickelson said in the call last November for a forthcoming, unofficial, biography of the left-hander.

"We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights.

"They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.

"They've been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse.

"As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won't do what's right.

"And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I'm not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour."

While the likes of Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott and others are believed to be listening to the Greg Norman's LIV Golf Investments, who are set to graft the breakaway tour or league onto their $300 million investment in the Asian Tour, players like Tiger Woods, Rahm, Collin Morikawa and McIlroy are against the move.

On Wednesday, McIlroy said it was a huge risk for young players to sign up and risk their careers, having already said in the lead up to the tournament that he would not tarnish his reputation for more cash.

"Look, I've lived it - for the top guys, all that money really isn't going to change their life," McIlroy said.

"I'm in a way better financial position than I was a decade ago and my life is no different. I still use the same three, four rooms in my house.

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"I just don't see the value in tarnishing a reputation for extra millions."

McIlroy added: "I understand the financial part of it for guys that are later on in their career.

"You look at the people that have already said no, Rahm, No. 1 in the world, Collin Morikawa, myself.

"Like you've got the top players in the world are saying no, so that has to tell you something."

American Justin Thomas, whose four-under 67 left him tied sixth overnight at Riviera, was frank in his reaction to Mickelson's comments and his efforts to change it by using the SGL as leverage.

"Seems like a bit of a pretty, you know, egotistical statement," Thomas said. "I don't know, it's like he's done a lot of great things for the PGA Tour, it's a big reason it is where it is, but him and others that are very adamant about that [the SGL], if they're that passionate, go ahead. I don't think anybody's stopping them."

Asked if it was time for the potential 'rebels' to get off the fence, Thomas said: "I'm way past that. I've heard way too much talk about a lot of players that are so done with everything, but they keep hanging around, so clearly they're not too done."

Niemann became the ninth player to open with an eight-under 63, matching the likes of Pádraig Harrington (2007) and the controversial Mickelson (2009) with the lowest opening round in the event's history.

"I think it's got to be one of my best days on the golf course, especially in a place like this with this history," said the world number 32, whose lone win came in A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in 2019.

"You always know that you're never going to have these days four days in a row, but it's a good way to start."

McIlroy birdied the easy, par-five first but bogeyed the eighth after missing the green from 93 yards to turn in level.

He birdied the driveable 10th and par-five 11th to get to two-under, bogeyed the 13th after another poor iron shot but birdied the par-five 17th to post a 69.

Power could not hide his disappointment after opening with a one-under 70.

The world number 45 knows he must play well in his next four events to consolidate his place in the world's top 50 and secure his Masters debut.

But he headed straight for the driving range after a round where he followed a birdie four the first with eight pars before compiling a rollercoaster back nine.

"It was a bit so-so all day long," said Power, who missed the Riviera's iconic 303-yard 10th well to the right, plugged his second in a bunker in front of him, put his third in the bunker on the far side and did well to make a five-footer from the fringe for a double-bogey six.

He bounced back by firing a 262-yard approach to 11 feet to set up an eagle at the 587-yard 11th, then knocked in a 44-footer at the 12th to get to two-under-par.

But he three-putted the 13th from 17 feet, failed to get up and down from sand at the short 14th before holing a 22-footer from the fringe at the next.

"It was a bit frustrating, but one-under, all in all, is not too bad, I guess. I didn't really do anything well, made a couple of mistakes in all parts of my game, so I have a bit of work to do this afternoon to get it back to where I want.”

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