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Rory McIlroy has been at the center of the PGA Tour and LIV Golf saga since the start. Wednesday at the 2023 RBC Canadian Open, one day after his Tour merged with the DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, the world No. 3 was smack dab in the middle again fielding questions on a move that rocked the golf world and sports landscape at large.

A staunch supporter of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, McIlroy stuck his neck out for both his Tour and its leader on countless occasions over the last two years. He remained loyal while others defected for significant payouts and emerged as a leader helping his fellow players achieve greater purses and reduced schedules. 

While many of McIlroy's counterparts feel betrayal and a newfound distrust for Monahan in the wake of the merger announcement, the 34-year-old Ulsterman remained consistent in his viewpoint, looking at the move from a broader perspective.

"The one thing that was really misconstrued yesterday was all the headlines were 'PGA Tour merges with LIV.' And LIV's got nothing to do with this," McIlroy explained Wednesday. "It's the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund are basically partnering to create a new company. ... All I've wanted to do and all I've wanted in the past year, from basically this tournament, is to protect the future of the PGA Tour and protect the aspirational nature of what the PGA Tour stands for."

McIlroy continued: "If you look at the structure of how it's structured now, this new company sits above everything. Jay's the CEO of that. So technically, anyone that is involved with LIV now would answer to Jay. So the PGA Tour has control of everything. And one thing as well is, whether you like it or not, the PIF were going to keep spending the money in golf. At least the PGA Tour now controls how that money is spent.

"So, you know, if you're thinking about one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world, would you rather have them as a partner or an enemy? At the end of the day, money talks, and you would rather have them as a partner."

It's an important distinction McIlroy laid out -- this deal is not with LIV Golf, for whom McIlroy again expressed his disdain Wednesday: "I still hate LIV" -- but rather the Saudi Arabia's PIF, the financial backers of the league.

The Northern Irishman went onto confirm that, while he played no part in the deal, he was aware lines of communications had opened and conversations were taking place. Jimmy Dunne, the man who helped author the deal, called Mcilroy at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday to let him know it would be announced.

McIlroy is just one player of the PGA Tour -- an important one, no doubt -- but there are countless others who wear different shoes. The majority of players do so from far less secure positions. Early Tuesday evening at the RBC Canadian Open, those players (McIlroy included) were given a direct line to the commissioner in a players meeting.

"It was heated," McIlroy said. "People were surprised. People felt like they were in the dark about all this. Look, most of the gripes come from the guys that are, you know, trying to hold on to their cards. And they feel like things have already been taken away from them this year with the designated events and smaller fields and no cuts and weighted FedExCup points for the larger events with the stronger fields. So, they were already feeling somewhat vulnerable. 

"Then, whenever this news is brought about, there's only going to be one reaction to that. And I understand that. And honestly, it's hard for me to relate to those guys because I've never been in that position. I try to empathize with it, but it's hard for me to relate to them fully. But I certainly empathize with their point of view."

McIlroy may not wear the shoes of his PGA Tour peers, but he will continue to wear many different hats -- one of which is eternal optimist. Resigning to the fact that the PIF and its bottomless pockets were going nowhere, he has come to terms that the influx of capital -- no matter the source -- may ultimately help the game at large.

"The thing for me, and this is the one thing that I've always thought about: How can we get that money into the game but use it the right way?" McIlroy pondered. "And that's what this ultimately will do, hopefully. I mean, that's my hope."

Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter and Patrick McDonald to continue the discussion on the PGA Tour merging with the PIF and LIV Golf + previewing the RBC Canadian Open. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.