Rory McIlroy took the high road when asked on multiple occasions — ahead of the Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches at PGA National — about the comments from Talor Gooch, in which the former PGA Tour member claims a victory at The Masters in 2024 for McIlroy would come with an “asterisk” because of the limited presence of LIV Golf at Augusta National.

“If Rory McIlroy goes and completes his (career) grand slam without some of the best players in the world, there’s just going to be an asterisk. It’s just the reality,” Gooch told Australian Golf Digest. “I think everybody wins whenever the majors figure out a way to get the best players in the world there.”

Gooch, who won the season-long individual competition in LIV in 2023, is not in the 2024 Masters field, though numerous LIV members will be at Augusta — including defending champion Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, and Bryson DeChambeau — due to past success at various tournaments while on the PGA Tour.

Players who finished 2023 in the top 5o of the Official World Golf Ranking or end up in the top 50 one week before the Masters begins on April 11 gain entry. LIV Golf is not recognized by the OWGR, causing players to tumble down the rankings. Of course, LIV defectors knew that major qualification would be challenging when they took millions to join the Saudi-backed enterprise.

Another outspoken critic of the majors' stance on LIV, Joaquin Niemann — clearly a top-50 player — was chosen as a special invite last week. Unlike Gooch, though, Niemann has entered Asian Tour and DP World Tour events — and played well — over the past several months to get the attention of Augusta National. In offering their invite to Niemann, the Masters did not note his success with LIV — only his work in other worldwide competitions.

“It’s not surprising,” Gooch said. “I think the majors have kind of shown that they’re not getting on board with LIV. ‘Jaco' went outside of LIV and played some great golf and they rewarded him for that. So hopefully the day will turn when the majors decide to start rewarding good play on LIV. Hopefully that’ll be sooner than later.”

McIlroy, clearly not interested in punching down into a petty beef as the pre-Masters Florida swing begins, ultimately gave Gooch the “benefit of the doubt.”

“Look, the Masters is an invitational and they’ll invite whoever they think warrants an invite,” McIlroy said at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “I think to be fair to Talor, if you read the entire — the question and then the answer, it’s not as if he just came out with that. I feel like whoever did the interview led him down that path to say that, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt there a little bit. He just agreed with what the interviewer asked.”

Still, McIlroy referenced the fact that Gooch hasn't completed a non-LIV event since last year's Masters, where he finished T34.

“At the same time, Joaquin Niemann got an invite, and I played with him a few weeks ago in Dubai, and he went down to Australia and won,” said Rory. “He was in Oman last week. He has been chasing his tail around the world to get this, play his way into Augusta or show enough form to warrant an invite. I don’t know if the same can be said for Talor.”

McIlroy, 34, will be gunning for his first green jacket in 16 appearances at Augusta. Gooch is currently ranked 449th in the OWGR.