McIlroy: Mickelson’s PGA absence sad, disappointing

Rory McIlroy’s remarks of ‘sad, disappointing and it should be a celebration’ summed-up the mood of most that embattled Phil Mickelson has chosen to continue his golfing exile by not defending the PGA Championship, which starts tonight in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Mickelson is just the third player in this year’s 104th anniversary of the championship not defending one of the largest trophies in golf, and that’s the Rodman Wanamaker Trophy.

Rory McIlroy McIlroy last won the PGA Championship in 2014 (Credit: Anthony Powter)

Ben Hogan was the first in 1949 and Tiger Woods the second in 2008, and with each injured at the time. Hogan was recovering from a near fatal car accident while 14-years-ago, Woods was bed-ridden recovering from yet more back surgery.

In contrast, Mickelson has been underground since his highly-controversial remarks last February, missing out on the Masters and with suggestions he was advised by Augusta National’s green jackets to stay away for fear of a media circus.

And the now 51-year-old, who a year ago became the oldest winner of a men’s major in being handed the Wanamaker trophy for a second time in his career, has chosen to continue what will be a three months and 13-day exile when play gets underway this week on the Southern Hills course. His bio details also do not appear in the 316-page media guide.

No sooner had a very casually dressed McIlroy, in a black Nike t-shirt, shorts and track shoes, face the PGA Championship microphones and he was asked his thoughts on ‘Lefties’ absence.

“Unfortunate; sad. This should be a celebration, right?” McIlroy said.

“He won a major championship at 50 years old. It was possibly his last big, big moment in the game of golf. He should be — I think he should be here this week and celebrating what a monumental achievement he achieved last year.”

“It’s unfortunate. It’s sad. Yeah, I don’t know what else I can say”.

Mickelson’s absence also means missing a second straight ‘Former Champions’ Dinner and with the way things are headed, don’t be surprised Mickelson will be absent from a third dinner in two months time at St. Andrews.

McIlroy’s expression of regret for Mickelson’s absence in Tulsa, is very different to February when he slammed the American as being naïve, selfish, egotistical, ignorant” over his PGA Tour comments.

Then to continue a now ‘not so on the front foot’ viewpoint, the fourth question of McIlroy’s pre-PGA presser he was asked his reaction to LIV Golf’s CEO Greg Norman’s comments last week at the Centurion Club in London, when the Aussie responded ‘we all make mistakes’ to the Khashoggi killing.

“We do all make mistakes”, McIlroy responded. “I think Greg is in a very tough position because he’s taken the role of being the leader of something that is very divisive. Greg can sit with the media for five hours and give four hours and 50 minutes of pretty good answers, and the 10 minutes that he maybe drops his guard is what’s going to be picked up on.”

“I just think he’s in a no-win situation. He’s made that decision himself, and he has to deal with the questions that are being thrown at him. It’s certainly not a position that I’d like to be in.”

However, golfing politics and off-course controversies will not distract McIlroy in his preparations to help end what is now eight-years since he captured the 2014 PGA Championship in near darkness at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky.

And boosted by his second place finish at the Masters, and also what he’s seen of Southern Hills, it bodes well for his chances this week.

“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.”