In his recently published and excellent book Tiger and Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry, Bob Harig describes the scene in the scoring tent at the end of the 2002 US PGA Championship. Rich Beem doing nothing worse than a bogey on the 72nd hole secures an upset one-shot victory over Tiger Woods . Fred Funk looks on, bewildered, as Woods yells, “Yes.” Asked to clear up his dark outburst, Woods says, “That’s Rich Beem one, Phil Mickelson zero.”

Lefty was left without a major title. The scale of antipathy between Mickelson and Woods was illustrated by the latter’s odd display of emotion.

The intervening years have seen relations soften between the highest-profile player and the individual who for so long stood in his shadow. However, Woods and Mickelson now sit on opposite sides of the ongoing battle for hearts and minds. Woods, who has created much of his legacy through the PGA Tour, is a strong supporter of the existing ecosystem. Mickelson remains too involved in all the Saudi affairs. Tiger v Phil, just like old times, but on a basis no one could have anticipated.

Friday night’s announcement that Mickelson will not defend the US PGA Championship at Southern Hills beginning Thursday came as a surprise to many. It had slipped back into the public consciousness in recent weeks.

Although not on his own initiative, it is a blow to the PGA of America. Their current champion, a player who won in such dramatic style just weeks shy of his 51st birthday, has suffered such a fall from grace that even showing up at Southern Hills is apparently too much to bear.

Twelve months after being hounded by adoration galleries, proving that there is a sporting life after 50, Mickelson is an outcast. He has not played since infamous comments related to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and attempts to leverage the kingdom’s public investment fund against the PGA Tour entered the public domain.

Where, at the Masters, Woods’ return from a serious car accident understandably dominated the narrative until Scottie Scheffler cruised to victory, the second-biggest men’s of 2022 gives cause to ponder what the heck Mickelson does next.

Woods’ reaction to his old adversary will be especially interesting in Tulsa. The gentler, more humane forests of this day and age may well beg for mercy. However, he has always retained the ability to seriously injure even with a single sentence.

The Saudis so desperately need status golfers for their disruptive plan that they kept Mickelson on board, despite admitting he knows all about the kingdom’s troubles. Mickelson has neither the courage nor the legal mechanism to completely remove himself from the Greg Norman equation. Theirs is a marriage of convenience that seems ridiculously flimsy.

Mickelson has always been wildly popular in America, but it will be interesting to see if the public is willing to forgive his transgressions. Photograph: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

However, Mickelson entered Norman’s LIV Golf Series event in Hertfordshire in June. If the six-time Grand Slam champion were to appear at the Centurion Club, it would provide a box office item, but also an admission that Mickelson has foregone as competitive relevance.

Major tours, so opposed to the Saudi scheme, may be glad that Norman is still speaking out given the damage caused by his attempt to sideline the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the execution of 81 men in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps that recent controversy added to Mickelson’s feeling that this US PGA is best avoided.

When Woods completed his fourth round at Augusta National last month, the scale of physical strain was perfectly clear. Woods won at Southern Hills, the 2007 US PGA, and the warm temperatures will help him, but surely he is still too light to compete in 72 holes. Building towards the St Andrews Open in July is a more legitimate goal.

It will be interesting to see if Scheffler can continue his extraordinary streak of winning back-to-back majors. Jordan Spieth needs the US PGA to complete a Grand Slam in his career and praised the place visiting him in the company of Justin Thomas.

“The course was fantastic, I loved it,” he said. “The green complexes fit the holes perfectly. It’s going to be a really tight, fast PGA. It’s going to be one of the highest scoring PGAs we’ve ever seen.

“Now, I played in 35mph winds with Justin, so I saw the teeth and that could change. But it was a great test. I really enjoyed playing it.”

The reigning champion will watch from afar while wondering, presumably, what could have been. Searching for pounds of oil comes at a high cost.



Reference-www.theguardian.com

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