‘Phil will be back’: Rory McIlroy softens stance on Mickelson controversy

Phil Mickelson walks down the fairway.

Phil Mickelson hasn't said when he'll make his next start.

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Ten days after Rory McIlroy called Phil Mickelson’s viral comments about Mickelson’s dealings with the proposed Saudi golf league “naive, selfish, egotistical and ignorant,” McIlroy has taken a more compassionate stance on the matter.

Since McIlroy last spoke publicly about Mickelson, on Feb. 20 at the Genesis Invitational, several sponsors have either paused or canceled their relationship with Mickelson, and even more pros have criticized him. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday at Bay Hill, McIlroy called the entire situation unfortunate.

“I think Phil has been a wonderful ambassador for the game of golf, still is a wonderful ambassador for the game of golf,” McIlroy said. “It’s unfortunate that a few comments that he thought he was making in confidence or off the record got out there and were — not used against him, but this whole situation is unfortunate. Look, Phil will be back. I think the players want to see him back. He’s done such a wonderful job for the game of golf, and he’s represented the game of golf very, very well for the entirety of his career.”

Mickelson has since issued a lengthy apology and said he plans to take some time away from the game. He did not say when he’d make his next start.

“Look, we all make mistakes,” McIlroy said. “We all say things we want to take back. No one is different in that regard. But we should be allowed to make mistakes, and we should be allowed to ask for forgiveness and for people to forgive us and move on. Hopefully, he comes back at some stage, and he will, and people will welcome him back and be glad that he is back.”

If this stance from McIlroy sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Just over a year ago, Justin Thomas was in hot water when Golf Channel microphones picked up an anti-gay slur he muttered after missing a putt. McIlroy, while not condoning the incident, defended Thomas’ character.

“I’ve gotten to know Justin really well and he is as good a guy as they come,” McIlroy said about a week later. “He’s got a lot of integrity, a lot of character. … Look, he made a mistake; he owned up to it, and he’ll be better because of it.”

McIlroy, the 2018 Bay Hill champ, is one of the favorites to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week. Here’s how you can watch all of the action.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining GOLF.com in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.

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