PGA back in Southern Hills as Mickelson debates return



FILE – Phil Mickelson speaks after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course, May 23, 2021, at Kiawah Island, SC Mickelson has not been heard from for three months. It is uncertain whether he will defend his title in Southern Hills from May 19-22. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)


Anticipation has been building in recent weeks for the PGA Championship, as it has for the Masters. And just like the last major, it’s more about who plays than who has a chance of winning.

There are differences, of course.

Social media followed Tiger Woods’ private jet heading to Augusta National a week before the Masters, raising hopes he could play just 14 months after a car crash in Los Angeles left his leg and ankle mutilated straight. Sure enough, Woods walked and played well enough to make it to the weekend.

Phil Mickelson hasn’t heard from him in almost three months.

A defending champion of historic proportions, Mickelson signed up for the PGA Championship on April 25, a matter of procedure. His manager said in a brief statement that it was about Lefty keeping his options open.

Will he show up in Southern Hills next week to defend the title he won last year at age 50?

“If he’s there, great. You defend. I think about this historic victory,” said Nick Faldo, six-time major champion and CBS analyst. “Personally, I think it’s an incredible mental challenge to come back and play after what he’s been going through. I don’t think it’s as simple as getting back on the bike and arriving at a golf tournament and playing.

“The attention is going to be monumental.”

Woods hasn’t said for sure he’ll play another major, though he was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last week to play — and walk — a practice round, and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t. was not playing. Woods won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills the last time he was there in 2007.

For Mickelson, it’s not just about golf.

His public image took a hit like never before in February when Alan Shipnuck, whose unauthorized Mickelson biography is due to be published next week, posted an excerpt in which Mickelson described his involvement in a rival Saudi-funded league. saudi.

He was dismissive when talking about the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, saying it was worth getting involved if it meant gaining leverage to change the operation of the PGA Tour. He even said he recruited three other players to pay lawyers to draft the new league’s operating agreement.

Major sponsors dropped him, Mickelson released a statement that sounded more like an explanation than an apology, and he said he “desperately” needed time.

Now it comes down to whether the PGA Championship is the time to return, one of many major subplots that are sure to spark intrigue before the first blow is even struck.

Woods was the last PGA champion not to return in 2008 because he was recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. Before that was Ben Hogan in 1949 as he recovered from much worse injuries when his car was hit by a bus in West Texas.

Mickelson’s wounds were self-inflicted.

Facing the public and the press could be more daunting than trying to tackle the Southern Hills greens which architect Gil Hanse has reworked in a restoration project aimed at making the course a modern test without losing the charm of its original design by Perry Maxwell.

Woods and Mickelson have been such a huge part of golf for so long that they may yet eclipse the generation that looks to have a better chance of hoisting that 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy.

It starts with a pair of Texans heading across the Red River to chase different versions of the Grand Slam.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler still has a long way to go, and while he rarely thinks of anything but the next move, he probably knows that only three players over the past 20 years have won the first two major tournaments in the year.

Still, he’s grabbing everyone’s attention with his four major titles in the past four months that have propelled him to the No. 1 spot in the world.

“He’s setting the bar pretty high right now and he’s the guy to chase for all of us,” Will Zalatoris said. “What he does is borderline Tigeresque. It’s pretty cool to see.

Jordan Spieth is aiming for a career Grand Slam. This is his sixth shot at the Wanamaker Trophy since winning the second leg at the 2017 British Open, and it may be his best chance. His swing is approaching one he can trust, and his confidence was boosted by his playoff win at Hilton Head a month ago.

Spieth and Justin Thomas stopped by Southern Hills earlier this week. Spieth last played him in 2009, when he lost in the playoffs for the final four match play spots in the US Amateur. He shot 75. He was 16 years old.

And so much has changed, especially with Southern Hills.

The most notable part of the restoration was the edges of the greens to direct shots away from the putting surface. Spieth felt the targets were smaller than they looked. And with a hydronic system under the greens that allows better control of turf firmness, Spieth expects an accurate test.

“I think it’s going to be one of the most successful PGAs we’ve seen,” he said.

Southern Hills is hosting its eighth major since 1958 – three US Opens – and the last five champions are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

It wasn’t supposed to host the PGA until 2030. This year’s championship was scheduled for former President Donald Trump’s course in Bedminster, New Jersey. But four days after the violent Jan. 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol as Congress certified the presidential election, the PGA of America voted unanimously to move it to Southern Hills.

He avoided what might have looked like a circus. Now he has one of a different variety.


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