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Amid Masters prep, McIlroy and DeChambeau among players agreeing that divided golf isn't ideal

DORAL, Fla. — (AP) — Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau will be the in the same place next week, when they head to Augusta National for the Masters.

They're saying the same things this week, albeit a golf world apart.

Sounding an alarm going into the year's first major, McIlroy and DeChambeau were among players from both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf League on Wednesday speaking out — perhaps a bit more forcefully than before — on a need for the game to somehow reunite or risk further eroding its fanbase.

“If you look at the TV ratings of the PGA Tour this year, they're down 20% across the board. That's a fifth. That's big,” McIlroy said. “I would say the numbers on LIV aren't great either in terms of the people tuning in. I just think with the fighting and everything that's went on over the past couple years, people are just getting really fatigued of it and it's turning people off men's professional golf. And that's not a good thing for anyone.”

DeChambeau was a bit more succinct: “It’s up to the guys up top to figure it out and figure it out quickly because we can’t keep going this direction. It’s not sustainable, for sure.”

Between the Valero Open in San Antonio and the LIV Golf League's stop this weekend near Miami, there are 43 golfers — 30 from the PGA Tour, 13 from LIV — playing one last time before heading to the season's first major. And the majors are one of the few places where players from the PGA Tour and LIV still play head-to-head, because of the divide that has fractured golf for the last couple years.

That means at the majors, and events like the Ryder Cup, the big names are all in one place. Otherwise, they're not, and they haven't been since LIV started luring players away — reigning Masters champion Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, DeChambeau and many more among them.

There have been talks about patching together the game again for months, going back at least to the agreement that the PGA Tour struck last June with the Public Investment Fund — Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund — in a deal that was supposed to be completed by the end of last year. It still isn't done, the tour has since come out with an equity program for players, and the divide continues.

“I think there’s room for both. It’s as simple as that,” Rahm said. “I think we have the opportunity to end up with an even better product for the spectators and the fans of the game, a little bit more variety doesn’t really hurt anybody. So, I think, properly done, we can end up with a much better product that can take golf to the next level worldwide, and I’m hoping that’s what ends up happening.”

LIV's ratings have been dismal, at best. According to Nielsen TV data from February, LIV Golf Mayakoba pulled in 432,000 viewers on the CW Network, its most ever. On the same day, a rerun of a PGA Tour round from Pebble Beach had 1.21 million viewers on CBS.

McIlroy said viewership numbers from the three majors besides the Masters — Augusta National, he said, is in an entirely different category from everything else, and he's not wrong about that — will show the impacts of the game's divide.

“If the numbers are better and you’ve got all the best players in the world playing, then there’s an argument to say, ‘OK, we need to get this thing back together,’" McIlroy said. "But on the flip side, if the numbers aren’t as good, it’s an argument to still say we need to put everyone back together because people are losing interest in the game if they don’t want to tune in to the four major championships.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf


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