Rory McIlroy’s return to the top of golf’s world rankings could hardly be better timed.

The Northern Irishman is completing a stellar season, combining consistent excellence with his self-appointed ambassadorial role on behalf of the sport’s status quo as it battles the existential threat posed by the lucrative LIV Tour.

McIlroy reassuming his position at the summit of the game coincides with the climax of the inaugural LIV season and the most lucrative team event in the sport’s history.

Greg Norman’s breakaway circuit is set to trumpet its $50m (£44m) finale at Donald Trump’s Doral venue in Miami, starting on Friday. The winning team will split $16m.

McIlroy, 33, is the leading general in the unprecedented civil war that currently dominates the game. He tackles it from the front, using every opportunity to lob verbal grenades at Norman and his richly remunerated cast of recruits.

Most players seek to dampen outside noise, distractions that can deflect attention and concentration from their own games. Not McIlroy, who began last week’s CJ Cup by embracing the wider implications of a successful title defence.

He knew that victory in South Carolina would almost certainly take him above Scottie Scheffler and make him world number one for the ninth time in his career.

How long would he like to reign as the world’s best? No hesitation. “332 [weeks],’ said McIlroy. “I don’t know if I can, but that’s a number in my head.”

Why? Because that would take him past Norman and into second place behind Tiger Woods for spending the longest period as officially the world’s best player.

There is a long way to go, this is only his 107th week as world number one, but he again shows that beating Norman any way he can sits very much front of mind. He does not shy away from it.

This was also the case when he won the Canadian Open, the first of three victories this year. “Twenty-one PGA Tour wins, one more than somebody else,” was McIlroy’s immediate response.

Norman won on the American circuit on 20 occasions.

But the Australian has reason to be bullish this week, as his fledgling circuit completes its first season at the former US President’s place in Florida.

For all McIlroy’s campaigning, the influence of LIV’s millions has outstripped most expectations with the progress made with a tour that did not exist until last June. They were able to lure Open champion Cameron Smith and Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson.

And Phil Mickelson, their highest-profile recruit, claims that LIV is “trending up” while his former stamping ground on the PGA Tour is “trending down”.

McIlroy refuted this. “I don’t agree with what Phil said,” the four-time major champion stated. “It’s bold, but there is a lot of propaganda being used…I certainly don’t see the PGA Tour trending downwards at all.

“You have got 95% of the talent here.”

But Norman would argue that there are 50 million reasons this week alone to explain why LIV is on a progressive arc.

Here in Miami, I am expecting every one of their recruits to express no regrets at defecting while bolstering their bank accounts. And in these financial terms it is hard to argue.

Take the 40-year-old Swede Alex Noren as an example. Last week he completed his 137th PGA Tour event, banking just over $40,000, which took his career earnings past the $10m mark.

They are hard-fought earnings amassed over a decade competing against the best players in the world. No wins, but a very decent living by anyone’s standards.

Then look at 33-year-old American Peter Uihlein, who in just seven LIV events – with no wins in hand-picked 48-man tournaments – has amassed $11m, including a $4m bonus for finishing third in the overall standings.

Norman claims he is doing more than making a group of wealthy golfers even richer. He says he is revolutionising golf.

“LIV has revived the sport in record time during our beta-test season,” the Australian said. “Players are celebrating the team format, which is bringing new energy and audiences to golf that the game deserves.”

This week’s Team Championship is vital to the project. The 48-man field interestingly includes a return for Spain’s Adrian Otaegui fresh from winning the Andalucia Masters on the DP World Tour.

His inclusion, having earlier played only three LIV events, will cause consternation among officials of the European tour because it indicates LIV’s continued pulling power.

Otaegui joins the “Torque” line-up led by the exciting Chilean Joaquin Niemann, with the field split into four-man teams. The idea is that these groupings develop into franchises attracting investment and therefore a long-term return on the Saudi billions ploughed into the project.

“It’s fitting that we tie a bow on this historic year with a dramatic and innovative team championship that will propel us into a team-focused league from 2023 onward,” Norman stated.

This is the crucial aspect for LIV. They bill it as driving the team concept to truly change the sport forever, but it is also core to making this colossally expensive tour financially viable.

Traditionalists will say the Ryder Cup will always reign supreme as golf’s greatest show and that the best way to display team golf is already firmly in place.

They would argue that confected line-ups such as Ian Poulter’s “Majesticks”, a team that includes Stenson and Lee Westwood, will never stir emotions in the way that Poulter, Stenson and Westwood in European colours once did.

Indeed, the last Ryder Cup left McIlroy in floods of tears, such was the impact of Europe’s hammering by the United States at Whistling Straits. Genuine emotion from real sport, not something manufactured for millions.

A year on, McIlroy was understandably shedding tears of joy because of his individual prowess.

On top of the golfing world, he is also perfectly placed to continue fighting the establishment’s cause as it comes under continued pressure from Norman’s insurgents.



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