Lynch: The tedious carping about Rory McIlroy lacks one crucial perspective — his

Time is a pressing subject in professional golf this week, whether it’s a player who takes too much of it, another who bemoans an excess of it on his hands, or one who uses it to prioritize life outside the game.

Patrick Cantlay has faced sustained criticism for his pace of play in the final round of the Masters, which was charitably described as “brutally slow” by the luckless competitor behind him, Brooks Koepka. It was news but not new. Slow play is a chronic disease on the PGA Tour and Cantlay is a Typhoid Mary whose presence blights the innocent.

Cantlay did mount a reasonable defense: Augusta National’s combination of fast greens and pins cut on slopes make players more ponderous. The prosecution would counter that Cantlay is laggardly regardless of where he’s playing. Others may be graced with a pass in testing conditions, but he has long since exhausted any goodwill.

One golfer who might welcome the privilege of dawdling behind Cantlay late in a tournament is Jediah Morgan. He won the Australasian Tour’s order of merit in 2022 and now plays the LIV Golf League. Just not frequently enough, apparently. “There’s obviously quite a bit of time off with the LIV stuff at the moment, which is a little bit frustrating,” he said on the eve of the Saudi-financed circuit’s stop in Australia. “I think a lot of the guys would like to see it grow to 18 events.”

One can’t fault Morgan for wanting to maximize grifting opportunities before the Crown Prince draws his purse strings closed, but the 23-year-old’s eagerness to expand the schedule is at odds with his semi-retired or almost-knackered colleagues who said that LIV’s appeal was being able to spend more time with their families. At least Morgan will have less idle time in the coming weeks with a roster of events that will take him from Adelaide to Singapore to Tulsa.

Every scheduling decision an elite golfer makes has consequences, though not always proportionate. On Monday, Rory McIlroy withdrew from the RBC Heritage, the second time this year he has skipped one of the PGA Tour’s new designated events. Participation in the elevated tournaments isn’t mandatory in 2024, but it is in ‘23, at least for top players who want to collect the remaining 25 percent of their bonuses from last season’s Player Impact Program.

McIlroy’s WD was announced soon after a disappointing missed cut at the Masters, which fueled criticism that was both speculative and specious, primarily that he’s pouting about his poor performance in Augusta and that he considers himself above honoring the changes to the Tour schedule he helped create. One click-hungry chucklehead even suggested he was embarrassing himself and starting to “reek of hypocrisy.”

Because he took a week off work.

Heading the parade of those eager to offer their tuppence was Chubby Chandler, who McIlroy fired as his manager a dozen years ago. He told a British tabloid that his former client is a mere mouthpiece for the PGA Tour, that he screwed up by doing a walk-and-talk interview during the Masters broadcast because Jack and Tiger would never have done it, and that he’s surrounded himself with pliable people on payroll.

Thus died irony. Being lectured by Chandler on wrongdoing, mismanagement and running one’s mouth is akin to being called out for poor dining etiquette by Hannibal Lecter.

So much of the brickbats aimed at McIlroy are a rush to judgment. He will have known that withdrawing from the RBC Heritage would hand a cudgel not only to the LIV bros and bots, but to anyone skeptical of the Tour’s changes. He will have grasped that his decision could mean a significant financial penalty – a slew of breathlessly repetitive articles had his outstanding PIP bonus at $3 million, which is admittedly pocket change for him. Lastly, he will have understood that he’d disappoint a sponsor deeply invested in the Tour, one that underwrites the Canadian Open he has won in its last two stagings.

Knowing all of that, McIlroy chose to remain at home. To a reasonable observer, that doesn’t suggest he’s sulking about the Masters or exhibiting a lack of commitment to the new schedule. It means that there’s simply something more important in his life right now, and that something wasn’t going to be addressed by competing in Hilton Head.

At the Players Championship last month, I had a conversation with McIlroy about the distractions over the last two years as he became the most prominent advocate for the PGA Tour and his role in reshaping it to stop more player defections to LIV. While it hasn’t manifested in his results, he admitted to struggling with balancing the sacrifices – missed time with family because he’s on calls or in day-long board meetings, less time devoted to practice, having to backburner other interests. It’s been a price worth paying, but not indefinitely. A cost-benefit analysis must happen eventually.

McIlroy didn’t provide a reason for his withdrawal this week. Perhaps he will volunteer one when he appears at the Wells Fargo Championship in a couple of weeks. Or he might not. He owes no one an explanation for his decision or the circumstances that influenced it. But whatever else he gains from this week at home, he knows now that being open and accessible with both fans and media didn’t spare him from conjectural criticism simply for exercising his right to occasional privacy.