McIlroy will welcome Mickelson return; eyeing big week at Bay Hill

John Craven

Rory McIlroy (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy is fully convinced Phil Mickelson will return to the game of golf, believing ‘Lefty’ has enough credit in the bank from his years of service to the Tour that he’ll be welcomed back into the locker room.

Speaking ahead of this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, McIlroy was asked for his take on the speed with which Mickelson’s sponsors have been looking to disassociate themselves from the six-time Major champion, and if he thought the whole situation was just one big unfortunate mess.

“It is unfortunate,” McIlroy said, who previously didn’t hold back on his thoughts about Mickelson’s Saudi comments, declaring his words to be “naive, selfish, egotistical and ignorant”.

“I think Phil has been a wonderful ambassador for the game of golf and still is a wonderful ambassador for the game of golf. It’s unfortunate that a few comments that he thought he was making in confidence or off the record got out there and were – not used against him – but this whole situation is unfortunate.

“Look, Phil will be back. I think the players want to see him back. He’s done such a wonderful job for the game of golf, and he’s represented the game of golf very, very well for the entirety of his career.

“We all make mistakes. We all say things we want to take back. No one is different in that regard. But we should be allowed to make mistakes, and we should be allowed to ask for forgiveness and for people to forgive us and move on.

“Hopefully he comes back at some stage, and he will, and people will welcome him back and be glad that he is back.”

In 2018, McIlroy ended an 18-month winless drought when laying claim to the famous red cardigan awarded to champions at Bay Hill. Twice a winner on tour last season at the Wells Fargo and the CJ Cup, McIlroy hasn’t exactly been abstaining from the winner’s circle but with five consecutive top-10s at the tournament, he’ll clearly fancy his chances of claiming a first victory of the season this week in Florida.

“It’s one of these courses that I don’t feel like I have to do anything special on to compete,” McIlroy said.

“I can play within myself. You take care of the par-5s here. You play conservatively the rest of the way, especially how the golf course here has been set up the past few years. You play for your pars, and then you try to pick off birdies on the par-5s and some of the easier holes. If you just keep doing that day after day, you’re going to find yourself around the top of the leaderboard.

“It’s been a course that’s fit my eye from the first time I played here, and just one of those courses that I enjoy coming back to and feel like I can contend at.”

McIlroy has been further boosted this week with his coach Michael Bannon on site as the pair look to tweak a golf swing now very much in preparation mode for next month’s Masters.

“We’re just trying to get the club a little more neutral at the top, trying to feel like I sort of have more awareness of what my left arm is doing in the backswing instead of why I felt like I’ve got so right-sided in my thoughts recently,” McIlroy explained of their work together.

“So trying to initiate the backswing with the left arm, the club going back and just letting that left arm sort of rotate up onto the plane. That’s sort of what I’ve been trying to feel.”

And if McIlroy does find himself draped in that famous red cardigan at Bay Hill on Sunday, don’t expect to see him wearing it outside the winner’s ceremony given his 2018 prize has remained stashed in the wardrobe back home for four years – not that he wouldn’t love to get his hands on another.

“It’s in my wardrobe. I have not broken it out since then. It’s a little scratchy. It wouldn’t be that comfortable on the skin, but it’s obviously very, very nice to have in the wardrobe,” McIlroy said.

“The tradition of the cardigan, I think it’s one of the coolest trophies that we have in golf. I wish Arnold [Palmer] would have been around to be with me on the 18th green then. That would have been the icing on the cake.

“But I got to spend a couple of years with him here in 2015 and 2016, and I’ll always appreciate those times that we did spend together.”

Joining McIlroy in the Bay Hill field is Seamus Power and Padraig Harrington.

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