Good friend Rory McIlroy insists Justin Thomas will be a better person following the controversy resulting from his homophobic slur during the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Both McIlroy and Thomas are competing at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the UAE capital.
“I think Justin has already responded really, really well,” said McIlroy. “He realised he made a big mistake as soon as it was brought to him out in Hawaii and he completely owned-up to it. He said he completely messed-up. He said he is going to try and be better and Justin is true to his word, as he will be. Justin is as good a guy as they come. He’s got a lot of integrity and a lot of character and while that doesn’t make what he said any better, I think in this day and age it’s hard because you’re not allowed to make a mistake anymore.
“Any mistake gets jumped on. He made a mistake and he owned-up to it and he will be better because of it. He may not be as ignorant to things … I’m trying to think of the right word … offend people, I guess. What he said was offensive to the large portion of the population but again, he will be better for it. He’ll learn and he will move on and he will also be just as good a golfer as he always has been. If anything it will probably make him a better person than he already is which is hard because he is already a great guy.”
McIlroy is returning to competition for a first occasion since sharing fifth place in last November’s Masters. It is also the first occasion he tees-up in a regular European Tour event since the 2019 DP Tour Championship in nearby Dubai. The current World No. 6 has been a regular visitor to Abu Dhabi since early in his pro career and, in fact, this week marks his 11th visit, however, it has been one tournament title to elude the Irishman having finished runner-up on four occasions.
“It’s good to be back,” he said. “I started my season in Abu Dhabi for eleven straight years, 2008 to 2018, and it’s worked well here for me as I have played well here. I enjoy playing in the desert, this style of golf.
“Obviously, last year was a different year and I didn’t travel back over to this part of the world and play, at all. But now with things, and we are still not where we want to be, I think we know a little bit more about what is going on in terms of how the virus is and how it affects you, or how it doesn’t affect you in some cases, so you can feel a little more comfortable travelling, so it’s great to be out here playing and a it’s a great way to start the New Year.
“It’s got some great players here, obviously ‘JT’ has made the trip over, as well. The Ryder Cup points start-up again, so a lot of guys will be looking to start well and get themselves off to a fast start in regards to that too. So, really pleased to be back. It’s a golf course I have done well on. I’ve done everything but win here and I will try again in whatever it is a 12th time and see if I can get the job done.”