Column: Tiger’s back, but Lefty is nowhere to be found

Augusta, Ga. ( Associated Press) — Tiger Woods is getting ready to tease it at Augusta National.

Phil Mickelson is nowhere to be found.

This scenario was unimaginable a few months ago, when Woods was still recovering from a horrific wreck, while Mickelson’s enormous popularity grew after becoming golf’s oldest major champion.

But the lefty’s fondness bested him again, leading to a surprising fall from grace, even as autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia find plenty of willing partners for their sportswashing plans.

Now the big question is, can Mickelson make a comeback of his own?

Of course he can, but who knows he’ll want to tie things up with the PGA Tour and his fellow players.

The more perplexing issue is why Mickelson took this path in the first place—one of the richest athletes on the planet, with a win just shy of his 51st birthday at the 2021 PGA Championships, an upstart, Saudi-backed golf tour. While also acknowledging the country’s grim record on human rights.

These wounds were completely inflicted on myself.

“Their scam, frankly, is bizarre,” said Mike Lewis, a marketing professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “It’s not just a scam, it’s a head-scratcher. You’re like, ‘Did I read that right?'”

In short, Mickelson – whose net worth is estimated at $800 million – accused the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed.” Not long after, golf writer and author Alan Shipnk published part of his forthcoming biography on Mickelson, which provides further insight into Lefty’s involvement with Greg Norman and the Saudi-funded “Super Golf League”.

Tiger Woods catches a golf ball from his caddy on the 12th tee box as he prepares for tee-off during a practice round for the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

Mickelson said the Saudis were “fearful mothers (devoid of),” referring specifically to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the country’s anti-LBGTQ laws.

Then, without skipping a beat, Mickelson said it was worth going to bed with the Saudis if it meant replacing the PGA Tour—which was essentially code for cashing in on big paychecks, a particularly important consideration, Apparently, their livelihood for someone in the twilight.

“Why would I believe it?” He poses to Shipunk. “Because this is a one-time opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour operates.”

In an understandable reaction to the lefty’s spot-on impersonation of Mr. Burns, Mickelson lost most of his big-money sponsors and became a handicap to a large part of the golfing world.

He called off his career saying he “extremely needed” some time to re-evaluate his priorities, and withdrew from Masters – via text message, as we told Augusta National Chairman Fred Learned from Ridley.

Ridley insisted it was Mickelson’s decision to withdraw, not a club pressuring him. It is the first time since 1994 that the three-time champion has missed the Masters.

“We didn’t reject Phil,” Ridley said. “Phil reached out to me, I think at the end of February or the beginning of the match, and told me he didn’t intend to play. That was via a text. I thanked him for his courtesy in telling me I told him that we definitely appreciate it. I told him that if he wanted to, I was definitely ready to discuss it further with him.”

Other than that brief exchange, there is no evidence that Mickelson discussed the matter with anyone beyond his inner circle. Not even with the golfers he’s close enough to, like Bryson DeChambeau.

It has been a completely vanishing act.

“I’ve tried to reach out, but it’s been dark,” DeChambeau said this week. “There is no contact.”

While Mickelson’s association with the Saudis took everyone by surprise, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Lefty has repeatedly demonstrated that his bank account will always be his No. 1 priority, an insider trading scandal he was lucky enough to avoid with only a slap on the wrist, while in his grip on high taxes in his native California. Living a life of immense luxury.

Mickelson has always pitched himself as the People’s Champion, but the only people he really cares about are the ones that can make him even richer.

In this regard, he has comrades with many leading sports organizations of the world.

The most recent Winter Olympics were held in China, which has been accused of a genocidal campaign against the Uyghur minority. The football World Cup will be hosted at the end of the year by Qatar, which has a long record of human rights violations. Formula One has looked the other way when awarding races to authoritarian regimes across the Middle East. World Wrestling Entertainment (not an actual sport, but worth mentioning) hosts an annual pay-per-view event in Saudi Arabia.

Mickelson and the Saudi Golf League are just another offshoot of a rapidly changing world, where ethics has become a very gray issue when you’re talking about that green.

“As Americans, we grew up thinking that America is the center of the universe,” Lewis said. “What has happened over time with globalization is that money has really shifted. … These other countries represent most of the world’s audience.”

In Lewis’s eyes, the Saudi-backed golf tour is not unlike an effort by some of Europe’s most prominent soccer clubs to create their own Super League, which would completely upend the traditional structure of that sport within national boundaries.

“Phil put his mouth in this,” Lewis said, “but this is where everyone is going. Football is the Super League. The NBA (soccer governing body) wants to be a global brand like FIFA.

No one knows where Mickelson goes from here.

Turning back may not be an option.

“The world is in a massive debate about human rights,” Lewis said. “But globalization has made it more complicated.”

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Paul Newbery is a national sports columnist for the Associated Press. It can be downloaded from pnewberry(at)ap.org or at . write on https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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More Associated Press Golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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