McIlroy defends Tiger and Mickelson comments

When Rory McIlroy made comments about fellow golfers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson being on the “last few holes” of the careers, the wave of negativity crashed down on the world No.1’s head harder than a Hawaiian surfer at high tide.

However, McIlroy notes he was also complimentary of Woods and Mickelson, who have won 19 major championships and 121 PGA Tour titles between them – despite both players failing to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time since 1992.

"I was going through Twitter and it was like, 'Hold on here, did I say something bad here? I don't think I did,' ” McIlroy said on Thursday after an opening-round 69 at the Tour Championship. "I know Tiger and Phil really well. I get on really well with both guys. I've said much worse to Tiger before.

"I felt like I had to clarify what I said. I thought I was very complimentary. I said the only reason Tiger wasn't here was he didn't have the opportunity [due to injury]. ... I wasn't writing him or Phil off at all. Phil withdrew last week. It was a long stretch of golf for him. He battles an arthritic condition. It's just what it is. I didn't say anything out of line or wrong.

"I was trying to be funny at the end saying we'll see how I feel in 20 years. I think you guys know how it was supposed to come out. I think it was taken out of context.''

It was during a Wednesday news conference which preceded the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club that McIlroy made the controversial comment when asked if the absence of Woods and Mickelson signalled a changing of the guard.

McIlroy replied, saying: "Not really. Phil has played well in part this year. He came really close to winning the PGA. I feel like he's gotten better as the year has went on.

"But it's a lot of golf for him to play in such a short space of time. So you could see he was getting a little tired the last couple of weeks. And Tiger's not here just because he's been injured. He hasn't had the opportunity to play. But I think if he gets back and when he gets back to full fitness, you'll see him here again.

"They're just getting older. Phil's [44] or whatever he is and Tiger's nearly 40 [39 in December]. So they're getting into the sort of last few holes of their career. And that's what happens. You get injured. Phil has to deal with an arthritic condition as well. So it obviously just gets harder as you get older. I'll be able to tell you in 20 years how it feels.''