Rory McIlroy at the US PGA Championship: Paired with Tiger Woods, says Phil Mickelson absence “sad”

The Northern Irishman’s diplomacy skills were to the fore again ahead of the second Major of the year at Southern Hills.

Rory McIlroy will begin his quest for a first Major triumph since 2014 alongside Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth in Thursday's first round of the PGA Championship.

In last week's opening episode of the BBC podcast All About The Open, the 33-year-old said that he hasn't given himself enough chances to win majors in the last seven years.

"If you keep putting yourself in those positions, if you keep knocking on those doors," he said, "sooner or later one of them is going to open."

He's right. Being in contention matters.

In the 21st century 85 of 88 Major Champions were tied sixth or better heading into the final round, but since the start of 2015 McIlroy has been in that position just five times in 27 starts.

Speaking to the press on Tuesday McIlroy said: "I think the most consistent way to (gain) chances to win Majors is to adopt Tiger's conservative strategy.

"Okay, he had a couple of huge wins in there, but a lot of times he was conservative with his strategy, letting other guys make the mistakes. Pars are pretty good in Majors. That's sort of the philosophy that I believe in going forward.

"Over the past few years, what's stopped me getting in contention or being able to win Majors is big numbers and shooting myself out of it sort of early.

"I can even think back to Augusta (last month). I finished three behind in the end and I went bogey, double bogey on 10 and 11 on Friday. You go par-par there and all of a sudden there's those three shots. It doesn't take much in Majors, it's tiny margins."

Thinking back to having set a fast pace over the first 36 holes in three of his four Major wins he said: "It's not as if I went out with the mindset I'm going to go out and shoot 65 the first two days and let them all come and catch me. It just sort of happened. I'd love to go out, get a lead and build on it, but that unfortunately isn't going to happen all the time."

McIlroy is being increasingly seen as one of his sport's leading diplomats, able to eloquently state his own case and offering empathy for those whose feet end up in their mouths.

Asked about Phil Mickelson's absence at Southern Hills he said: "Unfortunate. Sad. This should be a celebration, right?

"He won a Major Championship at 50-years-old. It was possibly his last big moment in the game of golf. I think he should be here this week and celebrating what a monumental achievement he achieved last year."

And what of Greg Norman's "mistake" kerfuffle regarding the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi?

"We do all make mistakes," he said. "I think Greg is in a very tough position because he's taken the role of being the leader of something that is very divisive. He can sit with the media for five hours and give four hours and 50 minutes of pretty good answers, and the 10 minutes that he maybe drops his guard is what's going to be picked up on.

"I just think he's in a no-win situation. He's made that decision himself, and he has to deal with the questions that are being thrown at him. It's certainly not a position that I'd like to be in."

McIlroy on Southern Hills

"Yesterday was the first time seeing the golf course. I really liked it. I don't know what this place was like before Gil got his hands on it, but I think he's done a wonderful job with it. Love the green complexes and I love that he gives you options off the tee.

"I think you're going to see a lot of different strategies this week, guys hitting driver where maybe other guys aren't and vice versa. It's a really good track.

"I did a little bit of digging online (before I came) and it seemed pretty apparent that approach shot and short game are going to be really important this week.

"One of the things I loved is the way they've cut the run-offs. It's very hard to putt from off the greens. They're trying to get wedges in hand. At Pinehurst in 2014 you could putt from everywhere but this is actually forcing you to get a wedge in your hand. I really like that."

McIlroy on his form being a fit for the test

"I've led Greens in Regulation the last two tournaments I've played. That's something that hasn't quite been there, and that's something you need to do around here.

"You hit greens here, you're going to give yourself birdie chances. The targets are pretty small, pretty limited with where the hole locations will be, so you hit it into the middle of the greens here, you're going to have decent chances.

"I'm feeling pretty good about that part of the game.

"Short game has been there, as well. I focused a lot on iron play and chipping and putting last week in practice because I knew that was basically sort of going to be the key to having a good week this week.

"I feel good about it all. I'm certainly in a better place with my game than where I was this time last year going into Kiawah. Happy about that."

READ MORE: How the PGA Championship triumphs of Phil Mickelson and Collin Morikawa broke with recent history

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