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Rory McIlroy softens stance on Phil Mickelson and players wanting to play Saudi-back LIV Golf Series

McIlroy chasing a fifth major victory and first since 2014 this week at PGA Championship, where Phil Mickelson has elected against returning to defend his title - watch throughout the week live on Sky Sports Golf

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Speaking ahead of the PGA Championship, former world No 1 Rory McIlroy says his stance towards those who want to play in the Saudi Golf League has softened and thinks the situation has become 'toxic'

Rory McIlroy admits he understands why some players would be tempted by the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series and believes Phil Mickelson will be welcomed back into the golfing world.

The PGA Tour rejected requests from players for approval to play in the inaugural event, taking place from June 9-11 in England at Centurion Club, explaining that the decision is in the "best interests of the Tour and the players".

Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood were among the players who had requested a release to compete in the rival event, which clashes with the RBC Canadian Open on the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour's Scandinavian Mixed.

McIlroy said in February that he felt the proposed breakaway league was "dead in the water" after several high-profile players pledged their allegiance to the PGA Tour, although the former world No 1 admits he has since softened his stance on the issue.

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"If you're getting to the latter end of your career, and you've got no guarantee of playing on the PGA Tour next year - it's hard to keep your card out here - and all of a sudden people are giving you the guarantee for the next three or four years of somewhere to play, to make some money, to basically have a job, I completely understand that," McIlroy told Sky Sports News.

"Yes, people are going to have an issue with who is financing it and all that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day they [Saudis] are in a lot of things and unfortunately, whatever way you want to think of it, it's the way of the world and that's not going to change.

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"They've got a lot of money, they're going to be in a lot of things and that's just way it is. I certainly don't want to stand in the way of anyone from making more money.

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"The like of some of those you're talking about, Ryder Cup teammates of mine, I understand where they're coming from and I certainly won't speak an ill word about them because they're friends of mine and they have to do what's right for them."

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The series - fronted by Greg Norman - is funded by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which has led to criticism of the huge prize purses coming via a government with history of alleged human rights violations.

When asked whether his view on potential participation changed, McIlroy added: "I think at the start it [the decision not to play] was a moral one. This [a breakaway series] has been floating around for the last seven or eight years. Now, at this point, it's just so toxic to talk about that for me, it's more of a self-preservation thing. I don't need to get involved and I'm not going to get involved.

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"I love being my own boss and I certainly wouldn't want Greg Norman to be telling me what to do and where to show up and when to be there! I'm happy to do my thing and be my own boss, and that's a big part of it."

Mickelson's request to play the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event came alongside entries for the PGA Championship and US Open, although the 51-year-old will not defend the Wanamaker Trophy this week at Southern Hills.

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Claude Harmon III shares his thoughts on Phil Mickelson following his withdrawal from the PGA Championship, of which he is the defending champion

The six-time major champion has been taking a break from golf since the fall-out from his explosive comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed breakaway spearheaded by Norman.

Mickelson's victory at Kiawah Island last May made him the oldest winner of a men's major championship, with McIlroy disappointed not to see him make a competitive comeback for his title defence.

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"He [Mickelson] has made decisions and has had to live with certain consequences of that," McIlroy told Sky Sports News. "People can say there were some actions, but for the most part they were words and I think people can be forgiven for words.

"I came out a little strongly against him right at the start, but my stance has definitely softened over the past few weeks. Phil Mickelson has been a legend of our game for the last 30 years and I certainly don't think he should be shut out of the game.

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Jon Rahm believes Phil Mickelson's legacy shouldn’t be tarnished despite his controversial comments and involvement in the LIV Golf International Series

"I think whenever he comes back, he should be maybe just a little more gracious. He said some bad things and offended some people, but I don't think that makes it right to completely shut him out of the game of golf.

"I think he will be welcomed back and I think a lot of players will be happy to see him back, but that will all be in his own time and wherever he decides to show up again. Whether that's in the States on the PGA Tour, or at LIV in London in a couple of weeks, that's his decision and it's more about where he is more comfortable showing up again."

Watch the 104th PGA Championship throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage of the opening round begins on Thursday from 1pm on Sky Sports Golf.

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