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Rory McIlroy’s stance over the LIV Golf series makes him the most important player in the world

Rory McIlroy may not get his first major win in eight years at St Andrews next week.

He may never win a major again. Right now, that doesn’t matter. The fact is, for a sport in crisis, he’s the most important golfer in the world. He’s the conscience of the game, the most outspoken and principled voice on the circuit.

Not just because he opposes the Saudi rebel tour, because a lot of players do that. But because he does so operating from the sport’s highest echelon and without flinching.

Rory McIlroy has not been afraid to vent his opinions over the controversial LIV Golf series

He never ducks a question, never misses an opportunity. He doesn’t care that he has got friends on the Saudi circuit, he is unconcerned at having been through titanic battles with them as Ryder Cup team-mates.

McIlroy calls it how he sees it. And how he sees it, almost always, is spot on.

This week, four of the rebel LIV Golf Series players won a legal fight to take part in this week’s Scottish Open.

Among them was Ian Poulter, a fourball partner of McIlroy’s at the Ryder Cup. The pair go back decades. McIlroy didn’t falter. ‘I think if you’ve gone over to play on another tour, go and play on that tour,’ he said.

‘You’ve left all your peers behind to make money, which is fine, but stay over there. Don’t try to come back. This whole having your cake and eating it is where the resentment stems from.’

He’s right, too. Having taken the Saudi money, Poulter and some other rebels now wish to return to the European and PGA Tours and collect from those pots, too. It isn’t fair. If the attraction of the Saudi tour is the fabulous rewards, why does Poulter, or Branden Grace, then need to compete for what is on offer in Scotland this weekend?

The Northern Irish star has not backed down on friends playing on the Saudi backed rebel tour, which has attracted major stars such as Ian Poulter, pictured at the Scottish Open on Thursday

The Northern Irish star has not backed down on friends playing on the Saudi backed rebel tour, which has attracted major stars such as Ian Poulter, pictured at the Scottish Open on Thursday

It isn’t the first time McIlroy has been the spokesman for golf as we knew it.

When the rebels were joined by Matthew Wolff, who had previously been acclaimed as one of the most promising young players on the circuit, it was the absolute embodiment of a malaise McIlroy had already identified.

Last month, he distinguished between rebel players who were approaching a career on the senior tour, and his contemporaries.

‘I believe that my best days are still ahead of me, and I think theirs are too,’ said McIlroy. ‘So that’s where it feels like you’re taking the easy way out. Nothing is guaranteed. You have to show up and play well to earn it.’

Well, you do on McIlroy’s tour. Wolff, at just 21, was ranked in the world’s top 20 having become the only golfer in 132 years to finish in the top five of his first two majors.

Many players have controversially departed existing tours to take part in the LIV Golf series

Many players have controversially departed existing tours to take part in the LIV Golf series

He has since dropped to world No 78. So, instead of fighting back, he has chosen the easy route: the guaranteed spoils from Saudi Arabia.

McIlroy swapped the European tour for the PGA but, when he did, he made his life harder.

There is no comparison between trying to take on the best at some of the world’s finest courses in the United States and taking lesser venues and a lesser field, but huge appearance money, no matter what it says on your card.

This is going to get nasty. The organisers of the Scottish Open had to let the quartet of rebels in, but have put them in two groups of two — the rest of the field goes out in threes — in graveyard slot tee times.

And while McIlroy’s criticisms are invariably measured, others are not so careful.

American golfer Billy Horschel referred to the rebels as ‘liars and hypocrites’. United States Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson has already said no rebel players will be selected for his 2023 team.

McIlroy's stance over the rebel tour has been echoed by greats including Tiger Woods

McIlroy’s stance over the rebel tour has been echoed by greats including Tiger Woods

There are few sports like golf for its history and traditions and this is what has been betrayed, for money. When Tiger Woods was asked about the breakaway, he was unequivocal. ‘I believe in legacies,’ he said. ‘I believe in major championships, big events, comparisons to historical figures.’

That is McIlroy’s point, too. What is golf if it is not taking place at venues like St Andrews, if you are not against the best, unless it bears judgment through the ages? And what is any sport unless the rewards are justly earned?

It is why at the Old Course next week, McIlroy would be the worthiest winner. But even if he is not, there is no one better for the game.

When Sergio Garcia was whining at one of his final Tour events it was McIlroy who shot him down. ‘Finally, we get paid what we deserve,’ said Garcia. ‘Sergio, we don’t deserve anything,’ replied McIlroy. ‘We play golf.’

Sergio Garcia was shot down by McIlroy after complaining over lack of pay at a recent event

Sergio Garcia was shot down by McIlroy after complaining over lack of pay at a recent event

Why Bazball doesn’t faze the Aussies 

There are precedents for what England’s players are doing in Test cricket.

Australia’s Victor Trumper changed scoring rates at the turn of the last century, but it was Michael Slater’s decision to treat the first over like the 50th that ushered in the modern scoring revolution.

So when Steve Smith is heard gently mocking Bazball, it is perhaps because Australia have seen it done before, with a much better team than England currently possess.

Equally, they have faced down many of the players who are at the heart of this rock ’n’ roll cricket — Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, even Ben Stokes — and emerged victorious.

Try it against Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, see how far you get, was the message.

And until England have, while this summer promises to be exhilarating and the transformation breathtaking, given what we witnessed in the West Indies, as much as we love it, the jury stays out.

The likes of Jonny Bairstow (right) and Joe Root (left) have taken well to the new attacking 'Bazball', scoring crucial runs in Test wins over New Zealand and India for England

The likes of Jonny Bairstow (right) and Joe Root (left) have taken well to the new attacking ‘Bazball’, scoring crucial runs in Test wins over New Zealand and India for England

Not hearing so much from Tracey Crouch (Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford) on governance and football, since the Government, and political party of which she is a member, descended into a shambolic, duplicitous mess. Never forget, these are the people who will get to decide who runs the game and the strongest case against a Government regulator has always been a cursory look at the Government. Nadine Dorries wants to clean up football but backed truth-averse Boris Johnson to the end. There’s no squaring that circle. 

Period problem shows FA care more about suits than stars 

Beth Mead, England’s matchwinner against Austria on Wednesday, says the players have discussed changing from an all-white strip over the anxieties of those who are on their periods.

There is a debate, in an age of some athletes free-bleeding in marathons and other events, over whether this should even be an issue. Yet it is and, in this case, it is easily resolved.

England do not play in all white. The national team colours are white, blue, white. All white is a construct of FIFA and UEFA’s marketing department because they think blocks of colour look better on television.

The FA, ever-desperate to impress in the hope of being flicked a crumb from the table, have slavishly adopted the white strip in tournaments, without thinking of the complications for women. Yet if England went back to their actual colours — worn since 1882 — the shorts would be navy and tensions eased. Depends who the FA are keenest to impress: their players, or men in suits.

Beth Mead has shared the concerns of England's womens players and competing in an all-white kit

England traditionally played in navy shorts, as seen worn by David Beckham at the 2006 World Cup

FIFA and UEFA rules have forced England to play in an all-white kit in recent years having traditionally competed in navy shorts through the previous multiple decades

Tuchel is the best thing about Chelsea, if he doesn’t want Ronaldo, listen to him 

Signing Raheem Sterling is a very good start for Todd Boehly and his new Chelsea regime. He’s a fine player, a good goalscorer and he immediately improves Chelsea’s great weakness last season: the potency.

Cristiano Ronaldo would, too. Even in a poor Manchester United team that failed to reach the Champions League, he scored 24 goals in 38 games. He would have been nine clear as Chelsea’s top goalscorer with that record. Indeed, if Romelu Lukaku converted at Ronaldo’s rate last season he would have scored approaching 30 goals and Chelsea wouldn’t have a problem.

Yet Ronaldo must be Thomas Tuchel’s call. We can all see what appeals to Boehly about him. It’s what attracted Manchester United, too. Yet where has it got them? With Ronaldo not joining their pre-season tour, there will be financial penalties linked to his absence.

That’s the issue with buying a player as much for his commercial impact as his footballing prowess. United are not getting value from Ronaldo either way. He couldn’t propel them into the Champions League without the right support, and United may now be hit financially if he doesn’t make the Far East.

Manager Thomas Tuchel must make the final call on whether Chelsea sign Cristiano Ronaldo

Manager Thomas Tuchel must make the final call on whether Chelsea sign Cristiano Ronaldo

Manchester City’s owners were interested in him, too, last summer but backed off when it became clear Pep Guardiola had reservations. Guardiola was unsure how Ronaldo would fit into his game plan, and thought his arrival would undermine the message about putting the team before all. If Guardiola asks Kevin De Bruyne to play right back, or come off at half-time, he does what is best for the team. Guardiola felt it would be hard to make that case while indulging a man apart like Ronaldo.

Tuchel’s philosophy is little different. He has played Callum Hudson-Odoi at full back. He expects Timo Werner to be tireless in his pressing. When Lukaku let him down, he left him out, regardless of status and reputation.

So it has to be Tuchel’s decision on Ronaldo, too. And if he needs persuading — Guardiola never said an outright no, he just raised numerous issues — then Boehly should back off. Tuchel is the best thing about Chelsea right now. He knows what his team needs. Listen to him. That has been United’s mistake for too long.

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo has interest from new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly

Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo has interest from new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly 

Fry’s got it right: batter is better

Stephen Fry, the new president of the MCC has been addressing the language of cricket — in particular the idea that it has been consumed by the woke. He said using terms such as batter rather than batsman, and googly rather than Chinaman is simple politeness and he is right. The Chinaman in cricket — slow left arm spin, turning right to left — was not meant in a racist way but if it is causing offence, simple politeness dictates that we change.

The golliwog on Robertson’s preserves was not intended in an overtly racist way, either, but do we really miss it?

For me, batters play baseball and rounders and a batsman plays cricket. I’ll probably continue using the term because it still feels right in the men’s game. But in any writing on women’s cricket, it is a batter at the crease. Women aren’t batsmen. Times change and, as Fry says, it is rude otherwise.

Tariq Lamptey has chosen to play for Ghana despite having represented England at youth level (above)

Tariq Lamptey has chosen to play for Ghana despite having represented England at youth level (above)

Why Tariq Lamptey has to go with Ghana 

Tariq Lamptey has elected to play for Ghana at the World Cup in Qatar, and who can blame him?

Born in Hillingdon, Lamptey is a very good player who has represented England at every age group from Under 18.

But he is a right back. As such, he is already behind Reece James, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

And while Walker and Trippier will not be around for ever, when Lamptey turns 22 in September he will be the same age as James. Alexander-Arnold will be 23. So it is hard.

Lamptey qualifies for Ghana through his parents and this is, in all likelihood, his only way to a World Cup. No one should begrudge that opportunity. 

Time to get tough over line disputes 

Technology was supposed to put an end to arguments in sport, yet at Wimbledon this summer we have seen several occasions when players appear to challenge a point, even after Hawk-Eye showed where the ball landed.

Nick Kyrgios still chirps despite most of his calls suggesting he needs a white stick as much as a racket. Yet Joe Salisbury and his doubles partner Rajeev Ram excelled themselves, threatening to go on strike unless Hawk-Eye was switched off in their quarter-final match against Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. They claimed the equipment had been wrongly configured and only returned when a supervisor promised to investigate.

If there was nothing wrong, they should have been disqualified.

Tennis is too accommodating of those with an overweening sense of entitlement. That is why there are so many of them.

Joe Salisbury and his doubles partner Rajeev Ram were left furious with Hawk-Eye technology

Joe Salisbury and his doubles partner Rajeev Ram were left furious with Hawk-Eye technology

More the messier for FIFA in 2026 

It is not that hard, organising a football tournament, it is just that FIFA, the governing body, makes it look so. What a mess the World Cup in 2026 is becoming. Sheer greed dictates this is a 48-team tournament but that does not easily reduce.

Plan A had 16 groups of three, with two progressing, but was wide open to final game carve-ups, with the team not playing powerless on the sidelines. Now there is talk of 12 groups of four delivering the top two plus eight third-placed teams into the knockout stage meaning that, like the European Championship, it will be harder to get eliminated than to qualify.

In this system it takes eight matches to win the competition, in Qatar it will need seven. So more matches, more money, more obtuse calculations, more demands on the players, more of everything: except quality. 

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