World number two Rory McIlroy insists he is not playing to prove a point with the PGA Tour facing the biggest threat in its history from the LIV Golf Invitational Series.
The Northern Irishman won the Canadian Open a fortnight ago and contended at last week’s US Open – eventually finishing joint fifth – before equalling his lowest opening round on the American tour on Thursday with a bogey-free 62 at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
His eight-under-par score gave him the early clubhouse lead, just ahead of Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele and Scotland’s Martin Laird, and maintained his recent good form but the 33-year-old dismissed suggestions the ructions caused by the Saudi-backed breakaway had helped him up his game.
“I just think it so happens that the most protective of the PGA Tour are the best players in the world right now,” he said.
“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, but I’m just going out there trying to play my game and trying to win some more tournaments.”
On the eve of the tournament, and in response to the growing LIV threat which saw four-time major winner Brooks Koepka decamp on Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced a combined increased purse size of almost 60million US dollars (£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 making the 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 (world number one and Masters champion) Scottie Scheffler has made 13 million USD (£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.
“Some of these changes to the schedule and some of these increases in prize funds I’m sure (will cause) some guys that were thinking about it to think twice and maybe reconsider their decision.”
McIlroy produced a brilliant round at TPC River Highlands with eight birdies despite hitting just seven of 14 fairways.
Starting on the back nine he got his round going with a chip-in at the par-five 13th having blasted his greenside bunker shot into the far fringe.
Two more birdies saw him turn in 32 but he then rattled off four more in seven holes – including a 48-footer on the seventh.
However, he saved his best until the par-four last when he cut the corner with a 332-yard drive to leave him 44 yards to the pin and chipped up for a tap-in birdie and get to eight under.
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 for a couple months,” said Laird after recording his lowest PGA Tour round in nearly two years, when he last won a tournament.
“It is nice to finally kind of see a result that’s closer to how I feel like I’ve been playing than how my scores have been recently.”
Leona Maguire insists she’s over Sunday’s playoff defeat in the Meijer LPGA Classic and looking to notch her first major by defeating the “beast” of Congressional in the KPMG Women’s PGA.