Rory McIlroy admits he’s disappointed that this week’s U.S. PGA Championship at Southern Hills will tee-off on Thursday without its defending champion, Phil Mickelson.
McIlroy was speaking from Tulsa in his pre-tournament press conference where he was asked what he made of Mickelson’s absence from an event the American won in historic fashion 12 months ago, breaking the record as the oldest ever winner of a Major championship at Kiawah Island aged 50.
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“Unfortunate, sad,” McIlroy said as he considered his words. “This should be a celebration, right?
“He won a Major championship at 50-years old. It was possibly his last big, big moment in the game of golf and I think he should be here this week and celebrating a monumental achievement that he achieved last year.
“It’s unfortunate, it’s sad and yeah, I don’t know what else I can say.”
McIlroy had previously condemned Mickelson’s outspokenness with regards to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational and his apparent efforts to disrupt the PGA Tour that have ultimately contributed to his absence from this week’s event.
“I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down obviously, but I thought (Mickelson’s comments) were naïve, selfish, egotistical, ignorant,” McIlroy said back in February. Still, time moves on and despite Mickelson’s misgivings, few expected him to sit out his PGA Championship defence.
Exactly when Mickelson will return to action remains to be seen with many observers predicting ‘Lefty’ will be one of the first names on the tee-sheet when the Greg Norman-led LIV Golf Series tees off in London next month for its first $25 million tournament. For McIlroy, he wouldn’t touch the LIV Golf series with a barge pole.
“I think at this point it’s just so toxic to talk about that for me it’s a self-preservation thing,” he told Sky Sports.
“I don’t need to get involved. I’m not going to get involved. And I love being my own boss. I certainly wouldn’t want Greg Norman to be telling me what to do and where to show up and when to be there. I’m happy to do my own thing.”
McIlroy won’t be distracted by the LIV Golf sideshow given the task at hand this week, one that presents him an opportunity to re-enter the Major-winning enclosure some eight years since the now 33-year old last collected one of golf’s big four prizes. Key to making that happen this week will be a fast-start for McIlroy who admits he’s been left stuck in the traps too often in recent Major outings.
“I think over the past few years, the things that have stopped me from getting in contention or being able to win these majors is big numbers and shooting myself out of it sort of early,” McIlroy said despite finishing second last month at the Masters.
“I can even think back to Augusta, I finished three behind in the end, and I went bogey, double bogey on 10 and 11 on Friday. You go par-par there and all of a sudden there’s those three shots. It doesn’t take much in major championships; it’s tiny margins.
“Look, I’d love to go out those weeks and get a lead and build on it, but that unfortunately isn’t going to happen all the time. I think the most consistent way to get yourself to be able to have chances to win these major championships is to sort of adopt that conservative strategy.
“Tiger did it most of his career, and okay, he had a couple of huge wins in there, but a lot of times being conservative with his strategy, letting other guys make the mistakes – pars are pretty good in major championships – that’s sort of the philosophy that I believe in going forward.”
In terms of preparation, McIlroy got his first look at Southern Hills on Monday and he’s liked what he’s seen so far, both from the test the course is set to present to how his own game is shaping up ahead of Thursday’s opening salvo.
“I feel good about my game. I’ve done some good work,” McIlroy said. “One of the things I’ve tried to work on and I’ve done well, I’ve led greens in regulation the last two tournaments I’ve played. That’s something that hasn’t quite been there, and that’s something you need to do, especially around here.
“I focused a lot on iron play and chipping and putting last week in practice because I knew that was basically sort of going to be the key to having a good week this week. I feel good about it all. I’m certainly in a better place with my game than where I was this time last year going into Kiawah. I’m happy about that.”