TULSA, Okla. – In February Rory McIlroy was tough on Phil Mickelson in the aftermath of the first reported comments attributed to the Hall of Fame golfer related to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments, saying “I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant.’’
The four-time major winner backed off those words a few weeks later, and this week at the PGA Championship, McIlroy acknowledged that the entire episode is regrettable, as Mickelson is not defending his title at Southern Hills.
“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 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.’’
Mickelson, 51, won the PGA at Kiawah Island, South Carolina a year ago for his sixth major title and 45th PGA Tour victory. The win made him the oldest major champion in the game’s history.
When McIlroy won his second PGA and fourth major at Valhalla in 2014, Mickelson was one of the players he held off Sunday afternoon.
But now Mickelson is embroiled in a controversy that dates to February when two interviews he gave were reported in which he was highly critical of the PGA Tour and heavily involved in the LIV Golf venture, where Greg Norman is the CEO and commissioner.
That caused an immediate backlash, and several players who were said to be considering joining the potential rival league backtracked. McIlroy said it was “dead in the water,’’ comments he said Tuesday were premature.
“I might have been a little presumptuous at that point,’’ he said. “It seems like it’s still going. Greg and everyone behind it are very determined. I think we’re just going to have to see how it plays out. Guys are going to make decisions.
“Honestly, it’s going to shape the future of professional golf one way or another, so I think we’re just going to have to see how it all shakes out.’’
LIV Golf has pivoted to a series of eight events this year, the first of which is June 9-11 at Centurion Club outside of London.
The 48-player field has yet to be announced and the PGA Tour has said it will not grant conflicting-event releases to those who have asked, setting up a situation where some members will defy Tour rules to play.
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