Back on the PGA Tour schedule for the first time since 2019 following a COVID-19-forced hiatus, first-round play at the Canadian Open began under dark clouds of rain as the feud between the two Tours escalated.
Moments after golfers teed off at the LIV debut event at the Centurion Club outside London on Thursday, the PGA Tour dropped a bombshell by issuing a statement saying it would suspend those, including major winners Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, who have signed on with the big-money breakaway series.
The Tour’s hardline response was greeted with enthusiasm by players at the Canadian Open with PGA Championship winner Thomas applauding the move.
“I’m pleased,” said Thomas, who was among the earlier starters. “They took that risk going into it, whether they thought it was a risk or not.
“Like I’ve said the whole time, I have great belief and great confidence in the PGA Tour and where we’re going and continuing to grow to, and those guys just aren’t going to be a part of it.”
During his pre-tournament news conference on Wednesday, McIlroy reaffirmed his support for the PGA Tour, saying he was waiting to see what the consequences would be for those signing up with the LIV venture.
The Northern Irishman did not have to wait long as news of the suspension broke midway through his opening round.
“All he (PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan) is doing is basically going by the book,” said McIlroy, who opened the defence of his Canadian Open title with a four-under 66.
“I think that the majority of the membership that are here this week and that haven’t went and played elsewhere really appreciate that.
“He’s done the right thing because these guys have broken rules and done things outside of the tournament regulations, and because of that, there are going to be consequences.”
Under PGA Tour rules players are allowed a limited number of releases to play tournaments outside the United States. The Tour does not grant exemptions for events in North America.
The LIV Series is offering super-sized prize money totalling $255 million for eight events of which five are in the United States.
The decision by the PGA Tour, which does not run golf’s four majors, came after the United States Golf Association said it would allow LIV golfers to play in next week’s U.S. Open if they are exempt or had already qualified.
That is expected to raise tensions further with players like Mickelson and Johnson mingling with stout backers of the PGA Tour such as McIlroy and Thomas.
“I’m sure it will be awkward,” said Thomas. “When I saw D.J. last week, I didn’t know what to say, if it was a congrats or a bye.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)