Rory McIlroy believes the Ryder Cup absence of Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood will be felt more keenly by the LIV rebels than it will by the European team in Rome.
The trio have been stalwarts of the event for two decades but made themselves ineligible after joining the Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway and resigning their tour memberships.
Despite Garcia, the Ryder Cup’s all-time leading points scorer, making a forlorn late attempt to find a way back into the reckoning, McIlroy said the current side would not be dwelling on former team-mates.
‘I mean, it’s certainly a little strange not having them around,’ said the Northern Irishman.
‘But I think this week of all weeks it’s going to hit home with them that they are not here and I think they are going to miss being here more than we’re missing them.
Rory McIlroy believes the Ryder Cup absence of Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood will be felt more keenly by the LIV rebels than it will by the European team in Rome
Westwood (left), Garcia (right) and Poulter have been stalwarts of Team Europe in recent years
‘It’s just more this week is a realisation that the decision they made has led to not being a part of this week and that’s tough.
‘The landscape in golf is ever-changing and more dynamic, and we’ll see what happens and whether they will be part of it in the future.’
This summer’s surprise decision to merge LIV Golf into the PGA Tour is likely to offer a way back for all those players who initially defected, but there is plenty of negotiation and trade-offs to be done before that picture becomes clear.
But, having probably seen their Ryder Cup playing careers ended, Justin Rose, back after missing the record defeat at Whistling Straits, admits his former team-mates still have something to offer as members of the backroom staff.
‘Obviously Westy, Poults as captains or vice-captains or however they may or may not be involved in the future do have a lot to offer,’ said the Englishman.
‘But the more we can kind of blood the younger generation coming through, the quicker you’re going to kind of skip through that transition phase.
‘Maybe the transition started last time around at Whistling Straits and now we’re coming through that already.’
McIlroy is making his seventh Ryder Cup appearance, the most of any player at Marco Simone, and will be viewed as Europe’s leader on and off the course.
However, the world number two is keen to be viewed as just another regular member of the team and no hero figure.
‘I’m not there giving rallying cries and speeches. When we came on the practice trip I said to every guy – and some of these guys have watched me play on TV – I don’t want anyone looking up to me,’ he added.
‘I want them looking over to me. I want them to see me like I’m on their level and there’s no hierarchy on our team.
‘I guess that’s the one message I’ve tried to relay to some of the younger guys on the team.’
McIlroy will feel like he has a debt to repay after a paltry one-point return from a singles victory over Xander Schauffele in 2021, but he admits his game is in a much better place than two years ago.
‘I felt like I was searching a little bit. I didn’t feel in full control of my game,’ he said.
‘I got a lot of confidence and belief in myself that Sunday singles at Whistling Straits because I certainly wasn’t believing in myself at that time, but the rest of my team did believe in me and sent me out number one to go get a blue point on the board.
‘I realised that just being myself is enough. I think for a good part of 2021, I was trying to be something that maybe wasn’t natural to me.
McIlroy is making his seventh Ryder Cup appearance, the most of any player this week in Rome
Luke Donald’s (left) side are hoping to bounce back after the USA won 19-9 back in 2021
‘I think the last two years have sort of proved that’s the way I’m going to play my best golf so I certainly feel a lot better about things coming into this Ryder Cup and feel like I’m more than capable of contributing more than one point this time around.’
McIlroy was also asked about the behaviour of fans, particularly in the wake of Open champion and United States team member Brian Harmon being abused at Royal Liverpool this summer.
‘There’s certainly a line. Most fans that come out to watch golf are very respectful and they know what that line is,’ he added.
‘Someone said to me once,”If you want to be part of the circus, you have to put up with the clowns”.’