Golf legend Arnold Palmer has openly criticised US Open champion Rory McIlroy for skipping his annual invitational tournament in Florida.

McIlroy has opted to spend the week practising and watching girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play tennis in Miami rather than play in the Bay Hill Invitational which gets underway Thursday.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson lead the field in the $6million event but there’s no sign of McIlroy or Luke Donald, the man who replaced him as world number one last weekend.

The 22-year-old Ulsterman wrote to Palmer explaining why he would miss the event but that has cut little mustard with the American hero.

“I’m disappointed that they are not here, no question about it,” said Palmer on the eve of the tournament.

“I’m certainly not happy that those fellas chose not to come this year. We are doing everything we can to entice them to come and play.”

Seven-time Major winner Palmer did admit his disappointment that McIlroy did not enter.

“I had a letter from Rory seeking my consultation and he told me he wasn’t coming. And of course that made me feel great,” Palmer said. “And if you believe that, I’ll talk to you outside afterwards.

“When I think back over the years, when back in the early years of the PGA tour and I went to the British Open to kind of enhance or to create additional interest in international golf; and to think that those people are now the top international players in the world, we like to have them here.

Palmer did express some praise for the way McIlroy has handled himself as a champion.

“I think he has handled himself very well. I don’t know him really well but I know him and have talked to him a little bit,” Palmer said.

“I think he has done a wonderful job with 22 years old and starting a career like he has just gotten launched on to.

“I had a letter from him as I mentioned earlier, and talking about coming up and having a talk with me. I’m not sure that I know exactly what he wants me to tell him or what he wants to hear from me, but I look forward to seeing him and talking to him. He also mentioned in the letter that he will be here to play in the years to come.”

Rory McIlroyGetty Images