Rory McIlroy insists Phil Mickelson ‘can be forgiven’ as American skips PGA Championship title defense

Mickelson has not played since February, when he announced he would take a break from playing, following controversial comments regarding the Saudi-backed LIV golf series.

The 51-year-old suggested in an interview that he was ready to look beyond Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and use the threat of a breakaway as a way to leverage of the PGA Tour. In response, McIlroy described the quotes as “naive, selfish, selfish, ignorant”.

After winning the PGA Championship last year, becoming the oldest major champion, Mickelson will not be defending his PGA Championship in Tulsa this week after it was confirmed he had opted out.

Along with Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, Mickelson is one of those who have requested a release to compete in the first LIV Golf Series event next month, which will take place in the UK. The PGA Tour has rejected all requests it has received.

Speaking in Oklahoma ahead of the second major of the year, McIlroy adopted a more sympathetic tone towards the American and suggested he would be welcomed by the players if he returned.

“He made decisions and he had to live with some consequences of that,” McIlroy told Sky Sports.

“There have been actions, but for the most part they are words. I think people can be forgiven for the words. I came out a little strong against him early on, but my stance has definitely softened over the past few weeks.

“Phil Mickelson has been a legend in our game for 30 years and I certainly don’t think he should be kicked out of the game. Every time he comes back I think he should be a little kinder I guess.

“He said bad things and offended some people, but I don’t think it’s fair to exclude him from the game of golf.

“I think a lot of players will be happy to see him again, but it will all be at his own pace and wherever he decides to show up again – whether it’s in the US on the PGA Tour or if it’s a London in LIV [Golf Series] in a few weeks.”

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman admitted last week that Mickelson’s comments had hurt attempts to attract players, but plans appear set to go ahead with eight events scheduled and each benefiting from a price of £20.2 million.

The full list of competitors has yet to be announced, although all of the world’s top ranked have confirmed their intention to remain loyal to the PGA Tour.

McIlroy is one of those and he has once again confirmed that he has no plans to be part of the breakaway project.

“Now at this point it’s so toxic to talk about it,” McIlroy said.

“For me, it’s more about self-preservation. I don’t need to get involved, I’m not going to get involved.

“I like being my own boss, I certainly wouldn’t want Greg Norman telling me what to do, where to show up and when to be there!”

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