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Analysis: Is Rory McIlroy close to joining LIV Golf in a sensational $850m U-turn?

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 12: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland looks on from the fifth tee during the second round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 12: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland looks on from the fifth tee during the second round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

While the eyes of the golfing world were trained on the Masters this weekend, in the shadows a rumour that won’t go away was growing louder: that Rory McIlroy is close to joining LIV Golf.

The move would mark a stunning U-turn from one of the most vocal critics of LIV Golf – and represent a remarkable coup for the organisers of the Saudi-backed challenger circuit.

Two separate sources have told City A.M. that they believe a deal is close. It is claimed that LIV Golf chiefs have offered world No2 McIlroy an eye-watering $850m to join, plus around two per cent equity in the competition. It would make him LIV Golf’s biggest signing so far and it could be announced after the Masters, they said.

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It has not been possible to verify the claims. Spokespeople for the Northern Irish player and LIV Golf did not respond to requests for comment. It is also not clear where he would fit into the current league format if joining mid-season; all 13 teams have been filled so he would likely have to take one of the two wild card spots available. And McIlroy is currently listed as competing in next week’s PGA Tour event, the RBC Heritage.

But McIlroy’s hostility to LIV Golf has softened dramatically in recent months, having been one of its fiercest opponents and the poster boy for PGA Tour loyalists when the $2bn project first emerged in 2022.

The four-time major winner’s one-time agent Andrew “Chubby” Chandler talked up the chances of McIlroy moving to LIV Golf earlier this year, suggesting that his marked change in attitude might reflect a new openness to leaving the PGA Tour.

“If you were being cynical, you might say he’s going to sign for about £750m in a month’s time with LIV because he’s paving the way that LIV’s okay now, whereas it wasn’t,” Chandler told Bunkered in February. “He doesn’t need £750m but it’s odd what he’s done and I’m sure it’s a possibility. If he does it or not, I don’t know, but if [Jon] Rahm can do it, most guys can do it.”

McIlroy was coy when asked to respond to Chandler’s comments a few days later. “You never know, he might know a few things, who knows?” he said ahead of the Cognizant Classic. Asked whether there was a good chance or 10 per cent, he replied: “Somewhere in the middle maybe, who knows?”.

Eyebrows were raised on Thursday at the Masters when McIlroy had a surprising spectator following his group around Augusta National: LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman. Asked after the opening round whether he had known Norman was in close proximity, he said: “I did not. Didn’t see him.”

The thawing in feeling from McIlroy towards LIV Golf accelerated since Ryder Cup teammate Jon Rahm’s blockbuster move earlier this year. The Spaniard, who won the Masters last year, agreed a deal believed to be worth up to $560m (£450m) to become the highest-profile European player to jump ship from the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour continues to bar LIV Golf players from its events, despite ongoing talks between the two organisations over a pooling of resources following the announcement of an agreement in principle last summer.

McIlroy said the about-turn made him feel like “a sacrificial lamb” and he resigned from the PGA Tour board in November. A December deadline for the proposed merger was extended amid antitrust concerns in the US. The PGA Tour has since accepted investment from the Strategic Sports Group, a consortium led by Liverpool FC owner John Henry.