“Frankly, I thought he was going to play and I was as surprised as a lot of people when he decided he was not going to play,’’ Palmer said. “Well, he’s not (in the field) obviously, and I was surprised. I thought that he would play.
“I’ve had conversations — brief conversations with him some time ago, not recently — about his playing. For some reason I got it in my mind that he would be playing, but that, obviously, is wrong. What his reason or reasoning is, I don’t know, and I’m not going to worry about it.’’
McIlroy, who plays a limited schedule compared to most PGA Tour players, has never played in Palmer’s event, which traditionally draws a strong international field. He last played at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral two weeks ago and is not scheduled to play again until the Masters.
Palmer also delivered some strong words about Tiger Woods, saying, “I think right now looking at him and watching him play as I have recently, he looks probably as strong and as good from a golf perspective as I’ve ever seen him.
“I think his swing and his posture and his attitude is far better than it’s been in some time, and it takes me back to when I first played with him at Augusta when he was a rookie.’’
Asked if he thinks Woods (who has 14) can break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, Palmer said, “I give him a chance to (break) the record. I suppose that every year it’s a little more fleeting, however, and he’ll have to really work hard to keep himself up and keep his mental attitude if he’s going to do it.’’
Palmer said he believes Woods will break Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record of 82 wins (Woods has 76). “Can Tiger do that? I don’t think there is any question about the fact that he can win that many tournaments. I think he can and I think he probably will.’’
Palmer was at his frank best when answering a question about advice he gave to Woods when he first met him.
“I think he’s done pretty well … with a couple of exceptions,’’ he said, obviously referring to Woods’ 2009 scandal which led to his divorce.
Palmer was direct with his opinions on anchored putters and whether there should be a different set of rules for amateurs and pros.
“I don’t think that golf has a place for two sets of rules,’’ Palmer said. “I think one of the reasons that the game has progressed in the way that it has over the years is the fact that the amateurs and the pros all play the same game and they play under the same set of rules. I feel like that is very, very important.
“It may be the key to the future success of the game of golf, just the fact that there will be one set of rules and we’ll all play by them.’’
On the anchored long putter, Palmer said, “I’ve objected to that from the beginning. I only think that we don’t need a long putter. That’s not part of the game of golf. To attach it to your body in any way is taking a little bit away from the game.
“We do not need a contraption to play the game of golf. I would hope that we’d play under one set of rules, and those rules would include a ban on the long putter hooked to the body in some way, shape or form.’’
As Woods was in the process of winning for the seventh time at Bay Hill a year ago, Palmer, 83, missed the end because he was in an ambulance en route to a local hospital because his blood pressure had become too high.
“I was sort of a little incapacitated at that point, so I didn’t see all of the shots,’’ Palmer recalled. “I saw a couple of them, but I was getting blood pressure taken and all of that stuff. So I really missed a lot of the shots that he played.’’
- Tiger closes in on Rory No. 1 world ranking (espn.go.com)
- Tiger cuts No. 1 Rory McIlroy’s lead in world rankings by half (gantdaily.com)