Controversy swirling over the upstart LIV Golf series got "a little more personal" when 11 LIV rebels sued the US PGA Tour this week, Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy said Wednesday.
McIlroy and fellow US PGA Tour pro Justin Thomas both welcomed a judge's ruling that denied a request by three LIV Golf players for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed them to play in the St. Jude Championship this week, the first event of the US PGA Tour's season-ending playoffs.
The three players qualified for the playoffs were among 11 golfers who filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the US Tour challenging the indefinite suspensions imposed by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan upon those who played in any of the Saudi-backed LIV tour's first three events.
McIlroy, who has been a critic of the new series offering stunning $20 million purses for its 54-hole events as well as signing bonuses reportedly worth tens of millions for some stars, said he believed golfers had the right to choose the new tour -- but the US PGA Tour also had the right to exclude those who made that decision.
"Guys are going to make their own decisions that they feel is best for them and that's totally fine," McIlroy said after playing a pro-am round at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee.
"I don't begrudge anyone for going over to play LIV or taking guaranteed money.
"I think where the resentment comes from from the membership of this tour is the fact that they want to try to get their way back in here with no consequences, and anyone that's read the PGA Tour handbook or abided by the rules and regulations, that would feel very unfair to them."
As a PGA Tour board member, McIlroy has even-handedly fielded questions about LIV Golf -- spearheaded by Australian Greg Norman -- for months.
But he acknowledged that the lawsuit hit close to the bone.
"I certainly have a little more respect for the guys that haven't put their names to the suit," McIlroy said. "It's become a little more personal because of that."
The fact that Australian Matt Jones and Americans Talor Gooch and Hudson Swafford weren't given temporary relief from their suspensions to compete in the playoffs was, McIlroy said, "a good day for the Tour and for the majority of the membership."
He noted, however, that it remained to be seen how the full lawsuit would play out.
"It's like you birdied the first hole, but you've still got 17 holes to go," he said.
Thomas said he's not looking too closely at what promises to be a protracted legal battle.
"The only thing I really care about is this golf tournament and trying to play well and trying to win the FedExCup," Thomas said. "And to be honest, I just don't care about all that stuff that's going on.
"However it's going to happen is going to happen. I may have an opinion here or there, but at the end of the day, once it gets to this point, it's way out of my hands in terms of getting to lawyers and judges and things of that nature.
"So I just want to play golf and stop worrying about it," added Thomas, who described being asked about the controversy at a wedding he attended recently.
That said, Thomas agreed with McIlroy that the lawsuit, and the demand of LIV rebels that they be allowed to return to the PGA Tour, intensified feeling around the issue.
"You can have your cake, but you don't need to eat it, too," he said. "And they got their fair share of a large, large amount of cake and go eat it on your own means. You don't need to bring it onto our tour."