Phil Mickelson not defending PGA Championship ‘sad’: Rory McIlroy

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TULSA, Okla. — In the wake of the inflammatory comments Phil Mickelson made about the PGA Tour and the Greg Norman-led Saudi-funded LIV Golf league back in February, Rory McIlroy was one of the first fellow players to sharply criticize the 51-year-old star lefty.

On Tuesday, in advance of this week’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills, where Mickelson is not defending the PGA title he won a year ago at Kiawah Island, McIlroy called his absence “unfortunate” and “sad.”

“This should be a celebration,” McIloy said of Mickelson defending the title he won to become the oldest player ever to win a major championship. “He won a major championship at 50 years old. It was possibly his last big, big moment in the game of golf. 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.”

Later, in an interview with Sky Sports, McIlroy had more to say about Mickelson, who hasn’t played a PGA Tour event since January. He last played in the Saudi International in February and has disappeared from public view since his controversial comments were made public by Mickelson biographer Alan Shipnuck, whom Mickelson said he was speaking to in a “private conversation.” Shipnuck denied the conversation was off the record.

Rory McIlroy during a PGA Championship practice round at Southern Hills in Tulsa on May 16, 2022.
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“He’s made a decision and has to live with certain consequences,” McIlroy said. “People can say there were actions, but for the most part they were words. And I think people can be forgiven for words.

“I came out a little strongly against him at the start, but my stance has definitely softened over the last few weeks,’’ McIlroy went on. “Phil Mickelson has been a legend in our game for the last 30 years and I certainly don’t think he should be shut out of the game. I think whenever he comes back, he should be … maybe just a little more gracious.

“He said some bad things and offended some people, but I don’t think that makes it right to completely shut him out from the game. I think he’ll be welcomed back and a lot of players will be happy to see him back. But that’ll all be on his own time. And whenever he decides to show up again, whether that’s in the States on the PGA Tour or whether that’s in London LIV (the first event in the rival tour’s series) in a couple weeks time, that’s his decision and it’s sort of more where he’s more comfortable showing up again.”

Mickelson is the first player not to defend a major championship since McIlroy injured his ankle playing soccer in 2015 and wasn’t able to defend his 2014 British Open title.

“It’s unfortunate,” Rickie Fowler said. “I know it’s been a rough go the last few months, a tough situation to be in. I haven’t talked to him a whole lot. But Phil has always been great to me. I’ve learned a lot from him. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t feel like it’s the place that he should be right now is here.”

Phil Mickelson after winning the 2021 PGA Championship.
Phil Mickelson after winning the 2021 PGA Championship.
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Viktor Hovland called Mickelson not at Southern Hills to defend his title “a bizarre situation.”

“It’s not often the defending major champion doesn’t come back to defend,” he said. “The only moment I can remember was when Rory got injured. So, it’s certainly a weird situation. I think we all would have liked to have Phil here and tee it up and see how he would have done. The way that he won it last year was pretty spectacular. So, it’s just a weird situation.”

When we see Mickelson return to golf is anyone’s guess.

“Phil has got to do what Phil has got to do,” Jon Rahm, a close friend of Mickelson, whose brother Tim recruited him to play for Arizona State when Tim was the coach, said Tuesday. “He’s a good friend of mine. I can’t remember the last time a major champion didn’t defend a title, but he’s got to do what’s best for him. As long as he’s doing what is best for him, I can’t truly say I’m unhappy.

“I would have liked to see him defend. I know he’s played good here in the past. But again, he’s got to do what he’s got to do.”

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