Friday's golf: Mickelson decides not to defend title at PGA Championship

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Associated Press

Phil Mickelson withdrew Friday from the PGA Championship, electing to extend his hiatus from golf following his incendiary comments he made about a Saudi-funded rival league he supports and the PGA Tour he accused of greed.

Mickelson authored one of the most stunning victories last year when he won the PGA at Kiawah Island, at age 50 becoming the oldest champion in 161 years of the majors.

Now, the popular phrase from a decade ago — “What will Phil do next?” — carries more intrigue than sheer excitement.

Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the fifth hole of the South Course at Torrey Pines during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament Jan. 26, 2022, in San Diego. Mickelson has said he has asked for a release from the PGA Tour for the option to play in the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational in England.

He has not played since Feb. 6 at the Saudi International and has been out of public view.

Mickelson met the deadline to sign up for the PGA Championship on April 25, though his manager said Lefty was unsure about playing but wanted to keep his options open.

The PGA of America announced his decision on social media.

He is only the third PGA champion not to defend his title in the last 75 years. Tiger Woods missed in 2008 while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, and Ben Hogan couldn't play in 1949 while recovering from his car getting struck by a bus.

Mickelson also will not play in the Senior PGA Championship, set for the following week, May 26-29, at The Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor. Tournament officials confirmed this week that Mickelson did not register before the deadline at the end of March.

The Senior PGA is the first of the year's major golf tournaments in Michigan, followed by LPGA Tour stops in suburban Grand Rapids and Midland in June and July, respectively, the PGA Tour stop in Detroit in July, and the Champions Tour stop in Augusta. The Epson Tour, the LPGA Tour's developmental tour, also will have tournaments in Ann Arbor and Harris in June and in Battle Creek in July.

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Mickelson has not played since Feb. 6 at the Saudi International, where he accused the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed” in an interview with Golf Digest.

Two weeks later, in an excerpt from Alan Shipnuck’s unauthorized biography to be released next week, Mickelson revealed how he had been working behind the scenes to promote the rival league funded by the Public Investment Fund and run by Greg Norman.

Mickelson dismissed Saudi Arabia's human rights atrocities, including the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, by saying it was worth it if it meant gaining leverage to get the changes he wanted on the PGA Tour.

Mickelson met the deadline to sign up for the PGA Championship on April 25, though his manager said it was more about keeping his options opened. He also entered the U.S. Open, and said he would ask for a conflicting event release to play the LIV Golf Invitational in London, the first of Norman's $20 million tournaments.

The tour said earlier this week it would not grant any releases.

Mickelson is the first major champion not to defend his title since Rory McIlroy at St. Andrews in 2015 because of a knee injury from playing soccer.

He is only the third PGA champion not to defend his title in the last 75 years. Tiger Woods missed in 2008 while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, and Ben Hogan couldn't play in 1949 while recovering from his car getting struck by a bus.

Mickelson's issues were self-inflicted.

“I personally think it’s an unbelievable mental challenge to come back and play after what he’s put himself through," six-time major champion and CBS analyst Nick Faldo said on Wednesday. "I don’t think it’s as easy as just getting back on the bike and arriving at a golf tournament and playing. The attention is going to be monumental.”

Now the attention shifts to whether Mickelson will defy the tour by playing in London in three weeks, or if he would go to the U.S. Open, the only major he has never won.

His last time playing in America was at Torrey Pines on Jan. 28. He missed the cut.

Shipnuck's book is scheduled to be released on Tuesday. Among the excerpt he already has published on his “Firepit Collective” site included Mickelson saying he recruited players to pay attorneys to write the operating agreement of a new league.

“We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. 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," Mickelson said.

He referred to the PGA Tour and Commissioner Jay Monahan as a “dictatorship.”

“I’m not sure I event want it to succeed,” he said of the Saudi league. “But just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the tour.”

Mickelson swiftly lost corporate sponsors such as KPMG and Amstel Light, while Workday said it would not be renewing its deal with him. Mickelson released a statement in which he described his comment as “reckless” and apologized for his choice of words.

Mickelson said in his statement he has felt pressure and stress affecting him at a deeper level over the last 10 years and he needs time away.

But he did not say if he would be taking a break from golf. He has not played since the Saudi International on Feb. 6. He is not playing this week. His statement concluded, “I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

“I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be," he said in February.

Mickelson was replaced in the field by former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.

PGA Tour

McKinney, Texas — Jordan Spieth thought the course for his hometown Byron Nelson would play more difficult after yielding more birdies in its debut than any other tournament on the PGA Tour last season.

The three-time major winner says he couldn't have been more wrong, and is frankly surprised over how little he thinks was done the first two days to make TPC Craig Ranch a stiffer test.

Ryan Palmer, one of the Dallas-area players in the shadow of Spieth and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, shot a 10-under 62 on Friday and was tied at 15 under with Sebastián Muñoz and 40-year-old tour rookie David Skinns.

Ryan Palmer cracks a smile after chipping to the ninth hole during the second round of the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament in McKinney, Texas, on Friday, May 13, 2022.

Muñoz, a Colombian who lives in the Dallas area and went to college at North Texas, was even through 13 holes coming off his second 60 of the season — a first on the PGA Tour — before birdies on three of four holes for a 69. Skinns shot 63.

Justin Lower, another older tour rookie at 33, was alone in fourth, a shot behind the leaders after a 66.

The Nelson was the only 2020-21 tournament with more than 2,000 birdies (2,007). There were 38 eagles in the first round Thursday, the most for a single round this season.

Charl Schwartzel had one of the Friday eagles in a round of 65 that put him at 13 under. The 2011 Masters winner drove into a greenside bunker on the 316-yard, par-4 14th and holed out from there.

The top-ranked Scheffler, who came in with four wins in six individual events capped by the Masters victory, shot a 68 and was 9 under after two rounds alongside his fellow former Texas Longhorns in Spieth and Lee.

Palmer, who finished his opening round with an eagle on the par-5 18th, started on the back nine and birdied six of the last seven holes on that side, then added four more on the front in a bogey-free round.

The 45-year-old hasn't won an individual event since 2010 in Hawaii. Palmer lives in nearby Colleyville and is a member at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, where the tour returns in two weeks after the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.

Palmer had a two-shot lead halfway through his last Texas stop in San Antonio in early April before shooting 7 over on the weekend. He is a four-time winner, including the 2019 Zurich team event in New Orleans with Jon Rahm.

Skinns, an Englishman with no top-25 finishes in 20 PGA Tour appearances spread out over nearly a decade, had five consecutive birdies starting on the par-3 seventh in his career-best round.

The ninth-ranked Spieth and No. 17 Joaquin Niemann, also at 12 under, lead the list of 10 among the world's top 30 in the field.

No. 13 Hideki Matsuyama was 11 under, a shot better than eighth-ranked Justin Thomas, who spent the first two days in the group ahead of Spieth, his good friend and house guest for this week.

No. 11 Dustin Johnson was 7 under, and 12th-ranked Xander Schauffele rallied from 3 over for the tournament early in the second round with eight birdies over 10 holes to make the cut on the number at 5 under.

The rest of the top 30 players missed the cut: 10th-ranked Sam Burns, the runner-up to Lee at the Nelson last year; Will Zalatoris (28th), another player in his hometown event; and Kevin Kisner (30th).

LPGA Tour

Clifton, N.J. — Minjee Lee flirted with posting the best round of the year on the LPGA Tour before settling for a 9-under-par 63 and took a three-shot lead halfway through the second round in the $3 million Cognizant Founders Cup Friday.

Lee, who has six career wins, was 10 under after a birdie at No. 15 on the Upper Montclair Country Club. However, the Australian bogeyed the 16th and parred in to finish with a 36-hole total of 14-under 130, one shot off the tournament record.

First-round leader Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden and Lexi Thompson shared second. Sagstrom, who had a late 63 Thursday, posted a 70 in failing to build off her momentum. Thompson, who has not won since 2019, had a 66 to finish at 11 under.

Sanna Nuutinen, a 31-year-old Finnish veteran playing her first season on the LPGA Tour, had a 68 and was alone in fourth at 135. Carlota Ciganda of Spain and Megan Khang, who was a shot behind Sagstrom after the opening round, were tied for fifth at 136.

Andrea Lee lines up a putt on the fourth green during the second round of the LPGA Cognizant Founders Cup golf tournament, Friday, May 13, 2022, in Clifton, N.J.

Many of the first-round leaders had afternoon tee times Friday, including Nasa Hataoka of Japan (65), Bianca Pagdanganan (66) of the Philippines, Giulia Molinaro (66) of Italy and Ally Ewing (67).

Two-time defending champion Jin Young Ko had an opening-round 69.

While she has not won this year, the 25-year-old Lee has competed in six tournament, posting two top 10s and nothing worse than a tie for 23rd. She tied for second in the HSBA Women's World Championship in March and shared third in the Los Angeles Open last month.

The 27-year-old Thompson has won 11 LPGA titles, including a major, but she has not won on tour since the ShopRite Classic in New Jersey three years ago.

PGA Champions Tour 

Birmingham, Ala. — Steve Stricker shot a 4-under 68 to maintain a two-stroke lead Friday over Scott McCarron and Padraig Harrington in the second round of the Regions Tradition, the first of five PGA Tour Champions majors.

Stricker, who has won and finished second the last two trips to Greystone Golf & Country Club, is continuing his comeback from a health scare that landed him in the hospital for nearly two weeks last year.

He had only his first bogey of the tournament on the par 5 fifth hole but never lost his lead. He was at 11-under 133.

McCarron shot a 65, and Harrington had a 66.

World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els was three shots back after his second straight 68. Els finished with a birdie after bogeying a pair of par 3s, Nos. 4 and 17.

John Daly was disqualified for failing to sign his scorecard after a 72. He had opened with a 68.

McCarron, who started on the back nine, had a five-birdie, six-hole stretch before his only bogey of the round on No. 18.

During his comeback after undergoing ankle surgery last August, he hadn't finished higher than 34th or under par over his first eight events of the year.

Harrington closed out his 66 with birdies on 17 and 18

Miguel Angel Jimenez, Stuart Appleby and Steven Alker were 7 under.

Jimenez, the 2018 champion, eagled No. 15 to highlight a 70 after joining Wes Short Jr. in second place after the first round. His tee shot was stopped short when it struck Els' ball. Alker, the Charles Schwab Cup points leader, shot 69 despite making three straight bogeys, matching Appleby's Day 2 score. Alker has two wins and a second-place finish in his last three events. Short fell back with a 73.