Only last year, Phil Mickelson hosted the PGA Tour’s American Express for the third season in succession. That was before the two-time winner of the tournament created controversy with comments about both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf that led to his self-imposed exile from the game.
Mickelson was eventually confirmed as one of the marquee signings in the Greg Norman-fronted breakaway and was an ever-present in its inaugural season. However, while Lefty appears to have burned his bridges with the PGA Tour thanks to his inflammatory comments and subsequent defection, there is perhaps no starker reminder of that breakdown in relationship than his absence from this year’s tournament in California.
Mickelson has a rich history with the desert event, which he last won in 2004. Indeed, hailing from the area, his name was synonymous with it, and he would regularly tee it up at the event. The tournament will go on without him this week, and may even thrive with some of the world’s best players in the field, including Masters Champion Scottie Scheffler and Sentry Tournament of Champions winner Jon Rahm. However, Mickelson now appears to have put further distance between himself and the organisation that hosts it.
In the days leading up to the tournament, the 52-year-old liked a tweet that reads: “I’m pumped for the @SaudiIntlGolf. As far as I am concerned, it is the season opener for golf. The PGAT no longer interests me. #LIVGOLF #PHILTHETHRILL @PhilMickelson.”
I'm pumped for the @SaudiIntlGolf. As far as I am concerned it is the season opener for golf. The PGAT no longer interests me.#LIVGOLF #PHILTHETHRILL @PhilMickelsonJanuary 15, 2023
Mickelson is in the field for next month’s Saudi International, which is sponsored by the Saudi Public Investment Fund that bankrolls LIV Golf. Meanwhile, defending champion Harold Varner III, who also plays for LIV Golf, will join Mickelson, along with World No.3 Cameron Smith, who signed for the PGA Tour’s rival last August. Several other LIV Golf players will also appear.
Last year’s tournament was indicative of the players who would eventually sign for LIV Golf. Indeed, it was Mickelson’s final event before his sabbatical and subsequent return to the game with LIV four months later. Last week, it was reported that rising star Cameron Young was among the PGA Tour players who have been granted releases for the tournament despite the ongoing dispute between it and the controversial venture.
Whether the tournament will again offer clues as to who LIV Golf will target for its 14-tournament League, beginning just three weeks after the Saudi Arabia event, at El Camaleon Golf Club in Mexico, is yet to be seen. However, it appears as far as Mickelson is concerned, it is where the real action of the year begins and not the PGA Tour event where he previously enjoyed such a long and close relationship.
Mike has over 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on a range of sports throughout that time, such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance staff writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the game's most newsworthy stories.
He has written hundreds of articles on the game, from features offering insights into how members of the public can play some of the world's most revered courses, to breaking news stories affecting everything from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to developmental Tours and the amateur game.
Mike grew up in East Yorkshire and began his career in journalism in 1997. He then moved to London in 2003 as his career flourished, and nowadays resides in New Brunswick, Canada, where he and his wife raise their young family less than a mile from his local course.
Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.
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