Considering his unfortunate history at the one major he’s never won, Mickelson has long been the center of attention at the U.S. Open, but this year’s spotlight was shaded differently. After years spent criticizing the PGA Tour’s control of players’ media rights, his support of what became known as LIV Golf — and his willingness to downplay the human-rights violations committed by its Saudi backers — became public knowledge in February. That led to an extended absence: Mickelson’s last PGA tour event was in late January. He missed the Masters for the first time since 1994 and did not show up to defend his PGA Championship victory from 2021.
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When he emerged earlier this month for LIV’s inaugural event outside London, he was bearded and dressed in black, a look he carried to the Country Club this week. And while he fielded a number of tough questions from reporters at a Monday news conference about taking Saudi money, the fans at the Country Club seemed delighted to see him, even as he dragged himself around a course on which he could not compete.
Mickelson’s second round on Friday was better than his first on Thursday — when he bogeyed three of his first five holes, double-bogeyed the sixth and finished at 8-over 78 — but it wasn’t nearly enough to get him to the weekend. After starting with three pars, Mickelson reeled off three straight bogeys, and by the time he carded his second birdie of the tournament with a long putt from off the green at his 14th hole, he already was double digits over par. He hit another long putt for birdie on the hole that followed, but it still didn’t matter.
Mickelson’s missed cut isn’t exactly a surprise at a tournament in which he’s had a tortured history. He’s finished second at the U.S. Open six times, which trails only Jack Nicklaus’s seven second-place finishes at the British Open in grand-slam runner-up finishes. The difference? Nicklaus also won the British Open three times, while the U.S. Open remains the only major to elude Mickelson. And in his eight U.S. Opens since his most recent runner-up in 2013, Mickelson has no finish better than a tie for 28th, with three missed cuts.
Since his stirring run to the 2021 PGA Championship title, when at 50 he became the oldest player to win a major, Mickelson has missed the cut in two of the three majors he’s played and finished a noncompetitive 62nd in the other. His results on the regular PGA Tour weren’t much better, and he finished tied for 33rd out of 48 at the first no-cut LIV tournament.
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Still, Mickelson’s renown was such that LIV’s Saudi backers thought it wise to reportedly pay him more than $200 million simply to join the league, which he had lifted into existence by helping pay for the lawyers who wrote its operating agreement. He will be the face of the franchise, even if his best years on the course are behind him.
His future in non-LIV events is less certain. The PGA Tour suspended all the players who joined the breakaway circuit but has no say about who can compete in golf’s majors, which are operated by outside entities. As a past winner of the Masters and the PGA Championship, Mickelson has a lifetime pass to those tournaments — assuming Augusta National and the PGA of America do not change their rules — and he gets free entry into the British Open as a past champion until the age of 60. Plus, Mickelson has three more years of automatic U.S. Open qualification by virtue of his PGA Championship win last year.
But apart from that, Mickelson seems destined to spend his golden golf years playing mostly against lesser competition on a lighter schedule for easy money on the LIV tour.
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