Mickelson saga takes another sad turn: He’ll skip the Masters

Here it is just two weeks out from the Masters and there is a better chance of Tiger Woods, unseen in competition since mangled in a rollover crash in early 2021, showing up to the first tee than Phil Mickelson.

It’s more than probable that neither of the two most popular champions of the past two decades will be competing in April. In Mickelson’s case, he drove his ego off the road and into a wall in February while flirting with a Saudi golf league. The list of dumbest ways to self-destruct just got a new entry, up high.

Throw in some comments that made him look more like a Dickensian villain than good ol’ loveable Lefty, and the result was substantial injury to both image and psyche.

Monday, the Masters included Mickelson on its list of “past champions not playing.” His name’s sandwiched between CBS commentator and knight of the realm Nick Faldo and ceremonial starter Gary Player. And a few places down from 2009 Masters champion Angel Cabrera, currently doing jail time in his native Argentina for domestic abuse.

Any way you look at it, that list is no good place for a 51-year-old who is otherwise healthy and just 10 months removed from making history by winning the PGA Championship as a certified quinquagenarian. This will be the first Masters played without three-time champion Mickelson in 28 years. A big piece of Masters history has been redacted here, but somehow we’ll carry on.

Even Woods is not yet included on that list, which may be more wishful than revealing. Walking the slopes of Augusta National is hardly an ideal rehab program. But Woods has right up until the Wednesday of tournament week to declare his intentions.

When Phil Mickelson is too toxic for the Masters that is the ultimate sign of a reputation in flames.

Sponsors have dropped him. Peers have chided him (Rory McIlroy, who unlike Mickelson has the benefit of a working moral compass, branded some of Lefty’s worst comments as “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant”). He may or may not be suspended from the PGA Tour – they never release such news from behind the cashmere curtain. And now, he is stepping away in apparent shame from the one place and one tournament that he most cherishes. An event that in turn has revered him above most others. You can even call it a tragedy, a minor one, so long as you keep it in proportion.

Mickelson’s first miscalculation was thinking he could incite a revolution among the comfortable, attempting to lead fellow players to the LIV Golf Invitational Series, a Saudi attempt to buy its way into legitimacy. Not surprisingly, coups don’t gain much traction among those with full bellies and fuller brokerage accounts.

Then Mickelson said the wrong thing to a writer, words that bloomed and spread in our modern petri dish. While acknowledging the various brutalities of the Saudis, Mickelson said, “Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

Just like that the image of smiling Mickelson, giving his cheering fans a thumb’s up at every turn was replaced by the hard face of a greedy opportunist who would deal with any devil in order to enrich himself and settle old grievances. All those who suspected Mickelson of being a phony were given a fresh stock of ammunition.

Mickelson went away after that, saying he needed to get his life back in order. It’s a bit of a surprise that he didn’t use this Masters as a gateway back to polite golf society. It would have been the perfect place to launch his reputational comeback, populated by a respectful, supportive gallery and a normally polite and well-managed press conference setting.

It may have been a perfect chance for Mickelson to brave the criticism. But either he couldn’t screw up the courage to do it or he was encouraged to stay away (the Tour itself couldn’t keep Mickelson from competing, as the Masters is its own kingdom).

After all, Woods reemerged from his tawdry adultery scandal at the Masters, making the 2010 tournament his return to the public eye. He survived. Even the plane that flew insulting banners overhead – read one, “Sex Addict? Yeah. Right. Sure. Me too” – was grounded by the FAA that week. Civility is strictly enforced around there. This ain’t the Waste Management Open.

One could well envision Mickelson, stripped of many of the usual logos but resolute nonetheless, touring Augusta National and bathing in the support of all the patrons who have been sedated by the beauty of the place. The distractions of Mickelson’s own making would find so many useful counterbalances out among the azaleas and pine.

But as long as he’s on that past-champions-not-playing list, there would seem some wounds so deep and fresh that not even the Masters can heal them.