During LIV Golf's two-year assault on the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy, a staunch defender of the Tour and its traditions, began to criticize both LIV itself and the players who took millions of Saudi Arabian dollars to join it. McIlroy's criticism was relentless, but he never backed down.

Things changed. McIlroy softened his attitude towards LIV Golf and its players. In a wide-ranging interview on the Stick To Football podcast, McIlroy discussed the origins of the LIV Golf-PGA Tour dispute and expressed regret for the way he handled his side of the debate.

McIlroy said the main problem with the LIV-PGA Tour split was the "huge turmoil" that divided golf into two camps. "Golf is a small enough sport," he said. "It's not like soccer, which has billions of fans, so if you start splitting eyeballs in professional golf, it's not good for anybody. It will cannibalize itself."

It's an important point, and one missed by many PGA Tour players clamoring for astronomical, LIV-compliant paychecks.

After a few months of reflection - and with the knowledge that the PGA Tour left itself exposed by striking a deal with the Saudis without his input - McIlroy is now more willing to point out how the LIV may have positively impacted the game, or at least exposed flaws in the Tour's business model.
Rory McIlroy tempered some of his criticism of LIV Golf. 

"We're all supposed to be independent contractors and be able to pick and choose the tournaments we want to play," McIlroy said. "But I think what LIV and the Saudis have come up with is that you want millions of dollars to sponsor these events and you can't guarantee the sponsors that the players will come. I can't believe the PGA Tour has done so well for so long."

McIlroy's disputes with LIV Golf players and figures - particularly LIV CEO Greg Norman - have become deeply personal over the past few years. He now regrets that approach, at least to some extent.

"I might have been a bit judgmental of people who went to LIV Golf in the beginning and I think that was a bit of a mistake on my part because now I realize that not everyone is in my position or Tiger Woods' position," he said. "We all go pro to make a living from the sport we do and I think that's what I've realized in the last two years. I can't judge people for making that decision. If there's one thing I regret, it's that I was probably too judgmental in the beginning."

However, he still can't fully sympathize with the LIV players who have taken the PGA Tour by storm. "I don't condemn anybody for going and taking the money and doing something different, but don't go and try to burn the place down," he said. "That's my attitude because some people are happy to play in the current structure and that's fine. But I think it's just created a divide and I hope it ends soon because I think it's the best thing for golf."

McIlroy also praised Jon Rahm, who moved to LIV in December. "I think Jon is a smart guy and he sees that at some point things are going to work out," he said. "It's a smart business move. It's an opportunistic move. I think he sees things coming back together and he's in a fortunate position. He has an exemption for all the majors. There's not a single person who wouldn't want him on our Ryder Cup team because you know how good he is. He was in a great position where there wasn't too much risk for him to go."

Although the PGA Tour and LIV Golf's financial backer, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, have extended the deadline to reach an agreement, McIlroy seems to accept that Saudi money will have a place in the game going forward and that some form of reunification is likely.