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McIlroy gives Gooch ‘benefit of doubt’ on Masters asterisk comments

Rory McIlroy has given LIV Golf’s Talor Gooch the benefit of the doubt after his dig at the legitimacy of a McIlroy Grand Slam, should he go on to win The Masters.

​​​​​​Gooch was criticising the lack of major exemptions available to LIV Golf players. Gooch himself was inside the world’s top 40 when he joined LIV Golf in 2022 but now sits 449th in the Official World Golf Ranking, despite winning three times on the circuit last year, with the LIV Golf League events being played without ranking points after having their bid rejected by the OWGR.

World ranking position is used among the exemption categories into all four majors, with the top 50 in the world at the end of the calendar year or the week before The Masters earning an invite into the opening major of the year.

Gooch has seen LIV Golf’s Joaquin Niemann earn a special exemption for Augusta National after three top-five finishes on the DP World Tour this season, including his Australian Open victory, but believes without more LIV players competing in the majors, if McIlroy “completes his [career] Grand Slam without some of the best players in the world, there’s just going to be an asterisk” and that is “just the reality”.

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After being asked about whether he has the hunger to face another 17 years on tour, McIlroy joked that he could walk away from the game if he won The Masters

Responding to the comments ahead of the Cognizant Classic, live on Sky Sports, McIlroy was willing to give Gooch the “benefit of the doubt” but reminded him that the reason Niemann got an invite to The Masters was due to form, something which he implied Gooch is yet to show.

“The asterisk, look, The Masters is an invitational and they’ll invite whoever they think warrants an invite,” McIlroy said.

“I think to be fair to Talor, if you read the entire – the question and then the answer – it’s not as if he just came out with that. I feel like whoever did the interview led him down that path to say that, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt there a little bit.

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Chile’s Joaquin Niemann sunk the second hole-in-one of this year’s Australian PGA at Royal Queensland

“He just agreed with what the interviewer asked. At the same time, Joaquin Niemann got an invite and I played with him a few weeks ago in Dubai, and he went down to Australia and won.

“He was in Oman last week. He has been chasing his tail around the world to get this, play his way into Augusta or show enough form to warrant an invite. I don’t know if the same can be said for Talor.”

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Ahead of a charity exhibition match at The Park golf course in Florida, McIlroy and Rose Zhang were joined by DJ Khaled in the warm-up! Credit: @cpthreeve

Mediate: What has Gooch ever done?

The comments from Gooch were met by outrage from six-time PGA Tour winner and 2008 US Open runner-up, Rocco Mediate who, speaking on SiriusXM, said: “So if Rory wins The Masters there should be an asterisk… I wonder why that is?! Everybody that belongs in The Masters, all the past champions that are on LIV are playing.

“Is it because he [Gooch] is not in? What has he ever done? What has he ever done?!

“The fact that he was the best player on LIV last year is an embarrassment. He’s won one tournament on the PGA Tour.

“Does that mean he can count that whenever the hell that was? No one cares.

“He just needs to be quiet, go about his business, take all his money. Just stop it. To say something about Rory, are you kidding me? Are you absolutely kidding me? It’s embarrassing.

“LIV should be going ‘dude, you need to shut up, just shut up, we’ll handle this’. All the guys who should be at Augusta National, guess what, they will be.”

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