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Rory McIlroy makes U-turn on LIV Golf stance after Tyrrell Hatton, Jon Rahm join Saudi circuit

Rory McIlroy revealed conversations with Tyrrell Hatton ahead of his Ryder Cup team-mate joining Jon Rahm in switching to the LIV Golf League; McIlroy returns to PGA Tour action at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, live on Thursday from 4.45pm on Sky Sports

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Rory McIlroy admits he has 'changed his tune' by saying returning LIV Golf players should not be punished

Rory McIlroy has continued to soften his stance on players switching to the LIV Golf League and believes they should be offered a punishment-free pathway back to the PGA Tour.

McIlroy admitted ahead of the new season that he had been "too judgemental" in his views about players switching to the Saudi-backed circuit, having frequently spoken out in support of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour launched in 2022.

The four-time major champion has seen Ryder Cup team-mates Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton join the Saudi-backed circuit in recent weeks, with talks ongoing to finalise the Framework Agreement between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund - who bankroll LIV Golf.

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McIlroy hopes to see a framework in golf where at the very top level is a Champions League style tour where the very best can compete

Rahm and Hatton are banned from featuring on the PGA Tour for switching to LIV Golf, joining stars like Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, with McIlroy believing the opportunity for players from both circuits to go head-to-head more frequently is "great for golf".

"I think life is about choices," Mcllroy told reporters ahead of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. "Guys made choices to go and play LIV, guys made choices to stay here. If people still have eligibility on this tour [PGA Tour] and they want to come back and play or you want to try and do something, let them come back.

"I think it's hard to punish people. I don't think there should be a punishment [for returning]. Obviously, I've changed my tune on that, because I see where golf is and I see that having a diminished PGA Tour and having a diminished LIV Tour or anything else is bad for both parties.

"It would be much better being together and moving forward together for the good of the game. That's my opinion of it. So to me, the faster that we can all get back together and start to play and start to have the strongest fields possible I think is great for golf."

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McIlroy added: "I've come to the realisation I'm not here to change people's minds, I'm here to just try - especially when I was at the board level - to give them the full picture of where things are at and hopefully where things are going to go.

"They can do with that information what they want. At the end of the day I think I'm done with trying to change people's minds and trying to get them to see things a certain way or try to see things through my lens because that's ultimately not the way the world works."

The PGA Tour is reportedly closing on an investment deal with the Strategic Sports Group, a consortium of US-based investors which includes Boston Red Sox and Liverpool owner John Henry, with an announcement expected in the coming days.

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"I feel like this thing could have been over and done with months ago," McIlroy added. "I think just for all of our sakes that the sooner that we sort of get out of it and we have a path forward, the better."

McIlroy supports Hatton's LIV Golf switch

Hatton was due to be a team-mate of the Northern Irishman in the inaugural TGL, a high-tech golf league fronted by McIlroy and Tiger Woods that was postponed until 2025 after damage to the tournament venue.

McIlroy revealed that he had multiple conversations with the Englishman ahead of the world No 16 officially being confirmed as a LIV Golf League player on Tuesday, three days before the start of their season, with the 34-year-old open to Hatton still having a TGL future.

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Hatton has become the latest player to sign a deal to join LIV Golf as he links up with Ryder Cup team-mate Jon Rahm

"Everyone needs to do what's right for them," McIlroy explained. "I had a long talk with Tyrrell [Hatton] on Sunday, completely understood where he was coming from. I've talked to him quite a bit about it over the past month.

"It got to the point where they negotiated and got to a place where he was comfortable with, and he has to do what he feels is right for him. I'm not going to stand in anyone's way from making money and if what they deem life-changing money, like absolutely.

"I think that the delay of TGL was a blessing in disguise. I think 10 months is a long time, especially in the game of golf right now. You know, who knows what the landscape's going to look like in 10 months' time.

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"I think at this point all I see is opportunity. I certainly think that there's tons of opportunity within the game to do great things. Who knows, Tyrrell might still play TGL in 10 months' time depending on what happens."

Thomas on latest LIV signings: 'It is what it is'

Hatton and Rahm are the high-profile name to switch from the PGA Tour ahead of the new season, with the LIV Golf League announcing their full roster for the 2024 season on Wednesday before the opening event at Mayakoba in Mexico.

Adrian Meronk and Lucas Herbert are among the other names expected to be confirmed as LIV Golf League players, with Justin Thomas unconcerned by the volume of players who have moved tours ahead of the new season.

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"I feel like at this point, it's just kind of it is what it is," Thomas said. "I've definitely found that out over this whole process, that people obviously are going to think about it differently than others, but there's just people that they're going to make decisions for what they think is best.

"I might disagree with maybe some of them, but I think at the end of the day, if that's what Tyrrell thinks is best for him, then that's what he's got to do. Obviously, I'm bummed, and I wish he wasn't [joining LIV Golf], but it's not like I'm going to call him and give him some spiel about how he shouldn't.

"At least from what Greg [Norman] said [about prospective 2024 signings], they haven't gotten anything close to what he's kind of said. It sounded like they were going to sign 10 or 15 people and haven't.

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"I don't really know enough about what's going on to even kind of give a storyline. I think at the end of the day, the guys that are out there [LIV Golf League] that are still if you want to call it kind of in their prime or can still play their best golf, I would say that their priorities are still set on the majors versus their season out there."

Watch the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Featured Group coverage live on Thursday from 4.45pm on Sky Sports Golf ahead of full coverage from 8pm. Stream the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LPGA Tour and more on NOW.

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