Rory McIlroy insists he is not playing to prove a point after continuing his fine run of form with an opening round of 62 at the Travelers Championship.
The Northern Irishman took the clubhouse lead in Connecticut having won the Canadian Open a fortnight ago and contended at last week’s US Open – eventually finishing joint fifth. McIlroy’s resurgence comes as the PGA Tour faces the biggest threat in its history from the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series.
“I just think it so happens that the most protective of the PGA Tour are the best players in the world right now,” McIlroy said after his round. “I’m not going out to try to prove anything to anyone. I’m in a good run of form. I’m playing well.”
“Whether that gives me a little more confidence to speak up on certain issues, maybe,” McIlroy, a fierce critic of the new breakaway tour, added. “But I’m just going out there trying to play my game and trying to win some more tournaments.”
McIlroy’s eight-under-par was just ahead of the Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele and Scotland’s Martin Laird. The world No 2 also matched his best-ever opening round on the PGA Tour with Thursday’s bogey-free display at TPC River Highlands.
In response to the growing LIV threat which saw the four-time major winner Brooks Koepka decamp on Wednesday, the PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced a combined increased purse size of almost $60m (£48.9m) at eight tournaments next year. The schedule will also revert to a calendar year, with the FedEx Cup season now running from January to August.
McIlroy welcomed the changes and, asked whether he thought it would make a difference to players considering a switch to LIV, he added: “As he [Monahan] said, there’s only one reason that the guys are going to the other side, and it’s because they have an opportunity to make more money. Even though Scottie Scheffler has made £13m (£10.6m) this season and it’s only June.”
“There’s opportunities to make a lot of money out here but like everything always has been in golf, it has to be earned,” the 33-year-old McIlroy added. “Some of these changes to the schedule and some of these increases in prize funds, I’m sure [will cause] some guys to maybe reconsider their decision.”
McIlroy produced a brilliant round on Thursday, finding eight birdies despite hitting just seven of the 14 fairways. Starting on the back nine, he got his round going with a chip-in at the par-five 13th, and two more birdies saw him make 32 at the turn. He then rattled off four more in seven holes, but saved his best until the par-four last when he set up a final birdie with a 332-yard corner-cutting drive.
“I think the good thing is I’ve been playing well and you want to ride that wave of momentum you have,” McIlroy added in his post-round interview. “Coming in here I knew I was going to be a little bit tired, but whenever you are playing this well you just want to keep it going.”
Schauffele hit 18 greens in regulation despite a rushed start to his round after a mix-up over tee times meant his arrival at the course was slightly more rushed than usual. His bogey-free round of 63 was matched by Laird, who was pleased to finally find some form on the greens.
“I’ve been hitting the ball great pretty much all year, [but] struggling with my putting – just not seeing anything go in and it’s been frustrating,” said Laird afterwards “It is nice to finally see a result that’s closer to how I feel like I’ve been playing.”
Charles Howell III and Webb Simpson are a shot further back, in a tie for fourth place.