Phil Mickelson continues to pay a heavy price for chasing Saudi payday

Having withdrawn from the US PGA Championship, the reigning champion seems painfully aware of his pariah status

Bob Harig recalls the scene in the scoring tent at the end of the 2002 US PGA Championship in his outstanding new book Tiger and Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry. Rich Beem’s bogey at the 72nd hole seals a one-stroke victory against Tiger Woods. Fred Funk watches, puzzled, as Woods yells, “Yes.” When asked to explain his cryptic remark, Woods answers, “That’s Rich Beem one, Phil Mickelson zero.”

Lefty remains without a major championship. Mickelson and Woods’ enmity was exemplified by the latter’s unusual display of passion.

Over the ensuing years, relations between the most visible player and the person who had been in his shadow for so long had improved. Nonetheless, Woods and Mickelson are now on opposing sides of the continuing war for hearts and minds. Woods, who built most of his career on the PGA Tour, is a staunch supporter of the current structure. Mickelson is still way too involved with all things Saudi Arabia. Tiger vs. Phil, much like old times, but on an entirely unexpected premise.

Many people were surprised to learn that Mickelson will not defend the US PGA Championship at Southern Hills, which he won on Thursday. He has crept back into the public eye in recent weeks.

Although not entirely their fault, it is a setback for the PGA of America. Its incumbent champion, a player who won dramatically only weeks before his 51st birthday, has fallen so far from favor that was simply appearing at Southern Hills is allegedly too much for him.

Mickelson is a pariah 12 months after being swamped by adoring fans and proved there is life beyond 50 in sports. He has not played since controversial statements against Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations and attempts to use the kingdom’s public investment fund against the PGA Tour became public.

Whereas Woods’ return from a horrific automobile accident rightly dominated the headlines until Scottie Scheffler cruised to victory at the Masters, the second men’s major of 2022 makes one wonder what Mickelson will accomplish next.

Woods’ response to his former foe will be especially noteworthy in Tulsa. The gentler, more human Woods of today may easily beg forgiveness. He has, however, always had the ability to wound with a single statement gravely.

The Saudis are so anxious for high-profile golfers for their disruption strategy that they kept Mickelson on board, despite his admission that he is well-versed in the kingdom’s problems. Mickelson lacks the courage and the legal means to remove himself fully from Greg Norman’s equation. Theirs is a marriage of convenience that appears ridiculously fragile.

On the other hand, Mickelson entered Norman’s LIV Golf Series event in Hertfordshire in June. If the six-time major winner shows up at the Centurion Club, it will be a ticket business draw and an acknowledgment that Mickelson has lost competitive relevance.

Given the harm done by Norman’s effort to shrug away the slaughter of Jamal Khashoggi and the execution of 81 individuals in Saudi Arabia, the major tours may be content for Norman to keep talking. Perhaps the latest incident contributed to Mickelson’s decision to skip the US PGA.

Woods’ physical pain was palpable when he finished his fourth round at Augusta National last month. Woods has won the US PGA at Southern Hills, and the warm weather will help him, but he is far too inexperienced to contend for 72 holes. A more genuine aim is to prepare for the Open at St Andrew’s in July.

It will be intriguing to see if Scheffler can extend his incredible run by winning back-to-back majors. Jordan Spieth needs the US PGA to complete his career grand slam and raved about the location after visiting Justin Thomas.

“I enjoyed the course,” he stated. “The green complexes are ideal for the holes.” The PGA will be really hard and rapid. It will be one of the highest-scoring PGAs we’ve seen.

“Now, I played it with Justin in 35 mph winds, so I have seen its fangs, and that may alter.” But that was a great test. “I had a great time playing it.”

The defending champion will watch from afar, probably pondering what could have been. The chase of petroleum dollars comes at a high price.

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