"I was going through Twitter last night and it was like, 'Hold on here, did I say something bad here? I don't think I did,'" he said after opening with a 1-under 69 at the Tour Championship on Thursday. "I know Tiger and Phil really well. I get on really well with both guys. I've said much worse to Tiger before.”
During a pre-tournament news conference, McIlroy was asked about a field that didn’t include either Woods or Mickelson for the first time since 1992.
"They're just getting older,” he answered. “Phil's 43 or whatever he is and Tiger's nearly 40. So they're getting into the sort of last few holes of their career. And that's what happens. You get injured. Phil has to deal with an arthritic condition as well. So it obviously just gets harder as you get older. I'll be able to tell you in 20 years how it feels.''
After realizing the attention his comments received, McIlroy sent out a few clarifying tweets and reiterated those thoughts on Thursday.
"I felt like I had to clarify what I said. I thought I was very complimentary. I said the only reason Tiger wasn't here was he didn't have the opportunity (due to injury). ... I wasn't writing him or Phil off at all. Phil withdrew last week. It was a long stretch of golf for him. He battles an arthritic condition. It's just what it is. I didn't say anything out of line or wrong.
"I was trying to be funny at the end saying we'll see how I feel in 20 years. I think you guys know how it was supposed to come out. I think it was taken out of context.''