Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy says forthcoming changes to the PGA Tour season were driven by the rise of LIV Golf
Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy says forthcoming changes to the PGA Tour season were driven by the rise of LIV Golf AFP News

Rory McIlroy admitted on Tuesday that the PGA Tour's top golfers were reaping the benefits of the emergence of the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf circuit.

McIlroy, one of the staunchest defenders of the PGA Tour in its bitter feud with LIV over the past year, said the launch of the upstart tour had forced the US-based circuit to innovate.

The Northern Ireland star was speaking ahead of this week's Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, which will tee off on Thursday without its reigning champion Cam Smith -- who has since defected to LIV.

The PGA Tour has responded to emergence of the lucrative LIV circuit by introducing its own money-spinning no-cut events starting in 2024.

McIlroy acknowledged on Tuesday that those changes would probably not have happened had it not been for the rise of LIV Golf.

"I'm not going to sit here and lie; I think the emergence of LIV or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf," McIlroy told a press conference.

"I think when you've been the biggest golf league in the biggest market in the world for the last 60 years, there's not a lot of incentive to innovate.

"This has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour. What was quite, I would say, an antiquated system is being revamped to try to mirror where we're at in the world in the 21st century with the media landscape.

"The PGA Tour isn't just competing with LIV Golf or other sports. It's competing with Instagram and TikTok and everything else that's trying to take eyeballs away from the PGA Tour as a product.

"LIV coming along, it's definitely had a massive impact on the game, but I think everyone who's a professional golfer is going to benefit from it going forward."

McIlroy's remarks were mirrored by world number one Jon Rahm, who agreed that the momentum for change on the PGA Tour had been driven by LIV Golf's emergence.

"Without a doubt," Rahm said. "Without LIV Golf, this wouldn't have happened.

"So to an extent, we should be thankful this threat has made the PGA Tour want to change things. I wish it didn't come to the PGA Tour being under fire from somebody else to make those changes and make things better for the players, but I guess it is what we needed.

"So, yeah, it is because of LIV Golf. Otherwise, we wouldn't have seen any of this."

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan meanwhile defended the introduction of no-cut events from 2024, noting that the PGA Tour had held similar format tournaments in the past.

"The players that are competing in our events in this new format next year will have earned the right to compete in them and they will have earned it through top-50 position in the FedExCup this year," Monahan said.

"The PGA Tour has always had limited-field, no-cut 72-hole stroke play events. In fact, Jack Nicklaus won 17 times in that format. Arnold Palmer won 23. Tiger Woods won 26.

"To me, those wins, the format did not diminish those accomplishments as we sit here today. I think as we look out to 2024, 2025, 2026, the same will hold true."

LIV Golf held its inaugural season in 2022, luring a slew of PGA Tour players and major winners with huge signing bonuses and 54-hole tournaments offering purses which dwarf the richest events on the PGA Tour.

The tour faced stinging criticism from human rights groups however who say the circuit is "sports washing" by Saudi Arabia in an attempt to improve the kingdom's international image.