Mickelson, who joined the Saudi-funded circuit in a deal worth $200m, declared last week that he “is so glad to be on the winning side”. Yet on the eve of the CJ Cup, in which 15 of the world’s top 20 are playing, McIlroy poured scorn on the notion that LIV boasted superiority in golf’s civil war.
“I don’t agree with what Phil said,” McIlroy stated. “I understand why he said it because of the position he is in, but I don’t think anyone with a logical view can agree with it. It’s bold, but there is a lot of propaganda being used… I certainly don’t see the PGA Tour trending downwards at all. You have got 95 per cent of the talent here.”
Jon Rahm, the world No 5, agreed. The Spaniard is close to Mickelson, having been coached by his brother Tim at college, but is bemused by the statements from the six-time Major winner. “I love Phil, but I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Rahm said. “Changes don’t necessarily mean trending downwards.”
McIlroy is defending the CJ Cup in South Carolina, looking to get back to world No 1 for the first time in over two years.
This week’s PGA Tour start and next month’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai offer FedEx Cup holder McIlroy the chance to end 2022 as World No 1 and the leading player on both sides of the pond.
“Yeah, two events left and still I feel like I have a little bit to play for,” said McIlroy, who will go back to No 1 if he wins this week and world leader Scottie Scheffler finishes worse than a two-way tie for second.
“I’ve put myself in a nice position to try to get back to No 1 in the world and trying to finish off the European Tour title over there, too. Still plenty of motivation this time of the year.”
While he’s been waiting eight years for that elusive fifth Major, getting back to World No 1 would tell McIlroy he’s on the right track again after falling to 16th last year before rebounding from a poor Ryder Cup with victory in the CJ Cup in Las Vegas.
“I got to No 1 in the world after I won the Honda Classic in 2012,” said McIlroy, who could also go back to the summit if he finishes solo second and Scheffler finishes 35th or worse. “It had been a goal of mine for maybe six months up until that point, but I remember waking up the next morning and being like, is this it?
“You work towards a goal for so long and then you wake up the next day and you don’t feel any different after having achieved it, so I think then it’s a matter of having to reframe your goals and reframe what success looks like.
“I think that’s one of the great things about this game; no matter how much you’ve achieved or how much success you’ve had, you always want to do something else, there’s always something else to do.
“I guess the cool thing about it is you get to No 1 and it feels great in the moment. The bad thing is you maybe have to work harder to stay there. I think if I get back to No 1 this week, it’s my ninth time. It sort of illustrates you can have your runs and you can stay there, but I think the cool part is the journey and the journey getting back there.
“It’s sort of like a heavyweight boxer losing a world title and it’s a journey to get that title back. That’s the journey I’ve sort of been through over the past 12 months.”
McIlroy is paired with Tom Kim and Rickie Fowler for his first visit to Congaree, where six of the world’s top 10 and 30 of the top 50, including 21st-ranked Shane Lowry and 46th-ranked Séamus Power, are in action.
On the DP World Tour, Jonathan Caldwell and Cormac Sharvin play the Mallorca Golf Open, where second-ranked Ryan Fox continues his quest to catch McIlroy and deny him his fourth DP World Tour Rankings win.
“I want to give those guys a run,” the New Zealander said of McIlroy and second-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick. “I’ve got to do something pretty impressive at the back end of the year to get past Rory and Fitz, but stranger things have happened and I’ll just be doing my thing, not trying to do anything different because it’s worked pretty well for me this year.”
Meanwhile, Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow are competing in the LPGA’s BMW Ladies Open at Oak Valley in South Korea.
Mallorca Golf Open, Sky Sports 1.0 The CJ Cup, Sky Sports 8.0