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Mexico City (AFP) - Rory McIlroy on Tuesday defended his recent round of golf with US President Donald Trump as he prepared for this week's WGC-Mexico Championship.
The Northern Ireland star said he was taken aback by the scale of the criticism he had received for his round with Trump, insisting he had put politics to one side for the occasion.
McIlroy had already addressed the issue in a statement last week following criticism but faced renewed questioning on Tuesday ahead of this week's event at Club de Golf Chapultepec.
"I just approached it, as I said in my statement, as a round of golf," McIlroy said.
"Anyone's beliefs or politics or whatever, just put that to one side for a minute. To go there and see 30 secret service and 30 cops and snipers in the trees, it's just – I mean, it was just a surreal experience for me to see something like that. That was part of the reason I wanted to go and play.
"If it had been Obama I would have gone to play. I've played golf with President Clinton, I've spent time with President Bush ... I just wanted to have an experience that I might not ever get (again); play golf with a sitting president.
"You can respect the guy, not respect the guy, I don't care, but if someone has a chance to play in that scenario and just sort of experience the whole thing," added McIlroy who said he had spent the round talking golf with Trump.
- Hard to turn down -
"I think he was happier to talk golf than anything else that he has to do these days," McIlroy said, adding that he understood the criticism about being associated with Trump.
"I get the divisive rhetoric and everything that was said. It's a tough place to be in, a tough position. Maybe if I look back on it, I put myself in a position where I was going to get that from either side, one way or the other.
"I just felt I was doing what was respectful, and the president of the United States phones you up and wants to play golf with you, I wasn't going to say no. I'm sorry if I sort of, I don't know, pissed people off. But I felt I was in a position where I couldn't really do anything but say yes."
McIlroy is making his first appearance in seven weeks after suffering a fractured rib. McIlroy, who last played in the South African Open in January, has missed tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Los Angeles and Florida in the weeks since.
McIlroy said he expected this week's field would find it tricky adapting to the thin air of Mexico City, where the course venue is around 7,600 feet above sea level, a factor likely to complicate club selection.
"Judging distances is going to be really tough," McIlroy said.
"I was hitting eight irons today 210 yards. It's so hard to get used to and trust in your mind that that club is going to hit the ball that far."