As he prepares to play his first event of 2021, Rory McIlroy has spoken out about the recent controversy surrounding fellow major champion Justin Thomas.
Thomas found himself at the centre of a storm after an on-course microphone captured him using a homophobic slur after missing a par putt during the third round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
The world No.3 immediately apologised for the remark but, on Friday, his apparel sponsor Ralph Lauren unceremoniously ditched him, describing what Thomas said as “entirely inconsistent with our values”.
McIlroy, who is a friend of Thomas, didn’t condone the word used by the American but did question whether the reaction to it had been somewhat over the top.
“I think he's already responded really, really well,” said the four-time major champ. “I think he realised he made a big mistake as soon as it was brought to him last week in Hawaii, and he completely owned up to it. He said he messed up, he's going to try to be better. And you know, Justin is true to his word. He will be.
“I've gotten to know Justin really well and he is as good a guy as they come. He's got a lot of integrity, a lot of character. Obviously it doesn't make what he said any better but you know, I think in this day and age, it's hard because it seems like you're not allowed to make a mistake anymore. Any mistake gets jumped on.”
McIlroy added: “He made a mistake, he owned up to it, and he'll be better because of it. He'll maybe not be as maybe ignorant to things that are sort of -- I'm trying to think of the right word here -- offend people, I guess.
“Obviously what he said was offensive to a large portion of the population, but again, he'll be better for it. He'll learn and he'll move on, and look, he'll be just as good a golfer as he's always been. If anything, it will probably just make him a better person than he already is, which is hard because he's already a great guy.
The world No.4 also responded to news that Tiger Woods is facing a race against time to be fit for The Masters after undergoing a fifth procedure on his back. McIlroy revealed that the surgery took place two days before Christmas and that he fully expects the 15-time major winner to make a full recovery.
“I think in his words, it was a small procedure,” he said. “Any time you're being cut into, obviously you try to avoid that as much as you can.
“But yeah, he was back on his feet the next day so I don't think we can read too much into it. I think they were just trying to clean a couple little bits up. Obviously he won't be playing for the next couple of months, but he should be back for the Masters, if not before that. So yeah, I think he'll be just fine.”