Rory McIlroy insists Justin Thomas will become 'better person', and Tiger Woods' latest surgery is not a big deal
"Justin 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 in this day and age, it seems like you're not allowed to make a mistake any more"
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 20/01/21 3:45pm
Rory McIlroy has backed his friend Justin Thomas to be "true to his word" in becoming a better person in the wake of the row over his homophobic slur last week.
Thomas attracted widespread condemnation during the opening event of the year in Hawaii, when his offensive remark was picked up by a greenside microphone during the third round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
The world No 3 offered no excuses for his actions in his apologies after both his third and final rounds, finishing just a shot out of a playoff for the title, managing to fire a closing 66 despite being distracted by the controversy of day three.
Thomas vowed to learn from his mistake and become a better person, although his apologies were not enough to prevent clothing sponsors, Ralph Lauren, from ending their partnership with the American.
McIlroy defended his friend and rival ahead of the return of the European Tour at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he has no doubt that Thomas will make up for his lapse at Kapalua.
"I think he's already responded really, really well," said McIlroy. "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 got 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 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.
"Look, he made a mistake; he owned up to it, and he'll be better because of it. He'll maybe not be as ignorant to things that 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 he'll be just as good a golfer as he's always been, and 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."
McIlroy also played down the significance of Tiger Woods undergoing another "minor procedure" on his back which has ruled him out of next week's Farmers Insurance Open and the Genesis Invitational, a tournament Woods hosts on behalf of his charitable foundation.
"I've known for a while, it happened on the 23rd of December," McIlroy revealed. "I'm obviously pretty close with him. I think in his words, it was a small procedure. Obviously any time you're being cut into, you try to avoid that as much as you can.
"But 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 of 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. I mean, I won the Masters with four back surgeries, so there's not much he can't do."
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