World number three Rory McIlroy says he was “taken aback” by the extent of the criticism he received for playing golf with US President Donald Trump.
McIlroy, who returns to the PGA Tour in Mexico this week after nearly two months out with a rib injury, says he was called “a fascist and a bigot”.
“It’s not as if we were talking foreign policy out there,” said the Northern Irishman. “We were talking golf.”
McIlroy also met Tiger Woods, and said the American was “in a good place”.
Former world number one Woods has been plagued by injury in recent years, and has not played since pulling out of the second round of February’s Dubai Desert Classic because of back spasms.
McIlroy said the 41-year-old could still play in the Masters – which he has won four times – in April.
“It’s a possibility,” said McIlroy, who had lunch with Woods last week. “Mentally, he’s in a good place.
“He struggled with his body over the past couple years and it’s unfortunate because it just won’t allow him to do what he wants to do.”
‘I was just doing what I felt was respectful’
McIlroy was speaking at a news conference streamed on the PGA Tour’s Facebook page.
Asked about his round with Trump at the president’s Trump International course in Florida last week, he said: “I was just doing what I felt was respectful.
“The president of the United States phones you up and wants to play golf with you. I wasn’t going to say no.
“I don’t agree with everything he says but it is what it is. I’m not an American. I can’t vote. Even if I could vote I don’t think I would have.”
McIlroy said he had a “good time” and seeing “30 secret service and 30 cops and snipers in the trees” was “a surreal experience”.
‘It’s been a little tough for me’
McIlroy is preparing to compete in the WGC-Mexico Championship, which begins on Thursday.
And he hopes his injury lay-off is actually “a blessing in disguise”.
The former world number one, who won the last of his four majors in 2014, said: “I feel like I’m probably stronger now than I was in November, December last year.”
McIlroy can reclaim top spot in the rankings if he wins at the Club de Golf Chapultepec and Dustin Johnson finishes in a two-way tie for third or worse.
“I don’t think we make too big a deal of it,” he said. “It’s not as if I earn any more money as the world number one, it’s just nice to be able to say you’re the best in the world at what you do.
“It’s been a really great group of guys that have won the last few weeks and it’s been a little tough for me.”
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