Mickelson makes Masters return: ‘Fun to be back’

Mickelson makes Masters return: ‘Fun to be back’

AUGUSTA, Ga. — After missing the Masters for the first time in 28 years in 2022, Phil Mickelson is back at Augusta National Golf Club for what he called his “favorite week.”

Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, didn’t play last year after his comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s history of human rights abuses were published by author Alan Shipnuck.

Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley said last year that Mickelson wasn’t uninvited to the tournament and that he chose not to play.

“It’s great,” Mickelson said. “It’s fun to be back. Everyone has been wonderful.”

Mickelson has been at the center of the ongoing battle between the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf League for the best players in the world. The PGA Tour suspended Mickelson for recruiting players to the new circuit, which is being fronted by Greg Norman and financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Mickelson was among the LIV Golf players who filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour; he later removed himself from the complaint.

Mickelson, 52, said he has been warmly welcomed back to Augusta. Last year was the first time he had missed the first major of the season since 1994, when he was recovering from a broken leg he suffered while skiing. It will be his 30th start in the Masters.

“Everybody here is so classy,” Mickelson said. “Gosh, it’s fun to be here.”

PGA Tour star Rory McIlroy, who has been among the most vocal critics of LIV Golf, said he was happy to see Mickelson back at the Masters.

“I have not spoken to Phil, but it’s great to see him back,” McIlroy said. “You know, he’s a three-time champion here. We’re not even two years removed from him doing what I believe is one of the greatest feats in the game of golf, winning the [2021] PGA Championship at 51 years of age or whatever it was. It’s good to have him back.”

Mickelson reportedly declined to talk to reporters in a formal news conference. He did talk to the media after playing a practice round Tuesday with fellow LIV Golf players Talor Gooch and Harold Varner III. Mickelson said he also won’t participate in Wednesday’s Masters Par 3 Contest.

Asked whether meeting with the media was the toughest part of the week, Mickelson said, “It’s not that hard. I’ve had worse the last couple years.”

Mickelson said he was looking forward to attending Tuesday night’s Champions Dinner, which could create a few uncomfortable moments. Other past Masters champions, including Tiger Woods and Fred Couples, have called out Mickelson for criticizing the PGA Tour. Couples called Mickelson a “nutbag” at a breakfast before a PGA Tour Champions event in Newport Beach, California.

“Fred and I are longtime friends, and we’ve had a lot of great experiences in the game of golf,” Mickelson said. “I think the world of him, and I hope we have a chance to have more great experiences with him as well.”

Mickelson agreed with reigning Open Championship winner Cameron Smith, another LIV Golf player, who said this week is important for the credibility of the league, which is in its second season.

“He’s probably right,” Mickelson said. “It would be nice to validate the amount of talent that is over there on LIV, and I think a lot of guys are playing really well heading in. So I think it will be fun to watch.”

After dropping a lot of weight, Mickelson has struggled mightily over the past two seasons with LIV Golf. He hasn’t finished better than 27th in three tournaments this year. He was 41st out of 48 players in last week’s event in Orlando, Florida. He has dropped to 425th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel that way,” Mickelson said when asked whether he thought he could win this week. “It’s also, I’ve got to be realistic. I haven’t scored the way I want to, but I do see a lot of positive signs. I’m going to try to just be patient, whether it’s this week or soon, because things are about to click.”

Regardless of what happens, Mickelson is happy to be back at his favorite tournament of the year.

“It is my favorite week, so being here and being a part of it, and being able to experience this great place and what it means is so fun because, as a kid, you grow up dreaming about being a part of this,” Mickelson said. “You dream of winning it, being in contention, and then when you actually are a pro and you are playing here, you’re like, ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this every year.’

“That’s the coolest thing about having won here is that you’re a part of this event and part of the history. It’s a really, really special thing.”

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