Phil's WD at Memorial part of long history of making statements on Tour

Phil’s WD at Memorial part of long history of making statements on Tour

Mickelson withdrew from the Memorial following a first-round 79.
Fred Vuich/SI

DUBLIN, Ohio — Let's sum it up. Phil Mickelson plays three tournaments in a row — Wells Fargo, The Players and the HP Byron Nelson Championship. On his off week, he takes wife Amy to Paris and Italy for her 40th birthday. (Sorry about announcing that in print, Amy. You still look 29.)

Phil flies back across the Atlantic Ocean, does a lucrative corporate outing Tuesday on Long Island and then tees it up at Muirfield Village on Thurdsay, which played like a combo platter of challenging Masters and U.S. Open conditions.

The Memorial Tournament has never been one of his favorite stops, even though he's managed two top-five finishes here since 2006. Phil has skipped five of the past 12 Memorials, and that's not counting this one, which maybe should come with an asterisk since he withdrew after shooting a shoddy 79 Thursday. It was his worst score in 43 rounds at the tournament. His withdrawal was only the third of his 456 career starts.

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He blamed mental fatigue. He made only one putt longer than five feet during his round and some of his short misses were so bad, you may have wondered if they were intentional.

Phil's actions put the focus on his dilemma: Is it better to support a tournament when you're either not ready or willing to give your best effort, or, is it better to be honest and not show up at all and risk insulting tournament host Jack Nicklaus? As one of the world's top two marquee golfers, Mickelson is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

Note that Mickelson did not violate any PGA Tour policies. Basically, a Tour player's commitment to a tournament is play nine holes. If he withdraws during a tournament or after a round, he doesn't need an excuse. It's only if he pulls out before the tournament begins that he needs a valid exemption.

His explanation Thursday was, "I probably went a little bit overboard last month… I need to get rested to play my best for the Open. I wasn't able to focus from the last month."

Phil won't rest Monday, either. He's got another corporate outing. Mickelson's poor play and quick withdrawal prompted a lot of speculation. Especially with storms forecast Thursday night and Friday morning, when they halted play for over an hour. He was already out of here before the bad weather hit.

Also, Mickelson had been upset about the number of fans wielding cellphone cameras during his round. Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson tweeted this: "Me suspects the Mickelson WD was more about sending a message than fatigue. Just a hunch. #cellphonepolicy."

Keep in mind, this is the same Mickelson who's made a habit of making his point in strange ways. There's a players' walkway bridge from the scoring cabin and media area that goes above an area where fans congregate to try to get autographs, and ends at the clubhouse. It is known as Phil's Bridge, and it is rumored to have been installed at Mickelson's suggestion (some would say insistence) so he could minimize security issues involved with being swarmed over by fans. A similar walkway bridge was installed, supposedly at Mickelson's request, at Bay Hill.

In 2010, Mickelson was a vocal critic when Jim Furyk was disqualified from the Barclays, the kickoff of the FedEx Cup series, because he overslept and missed his pro-am tee time. Mickelson met with Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who then suspended the pro-am rule for the rest of the year. The next week, Mickelson withdrew from the pro-am at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

The irony was, Mickelson was the reason for the original pro-am rule in the first place. It was created after he made a habit of skipping pro-am events during the early 1990s. Tour rules officials had long called it The Phil Rule.

Mickelson made a statement during the square grooves issue too. After John Daly and Dean Wilson used older Ping Eye2 wedges with square grooves, Mickelson put them in his bag at Riviera, prompting fellow player Scott McCarron to liken it to cheating. It also didn't thrill Phil's equipment sponsor, Callaway, that Phil famously used another company's wedges for the week.

As a star player, Mickelson's actions always draw more attention than journeymen and most other pros. His move Thursday didn't seem to engender a lot of sympathy. Tweeted former PGA champ Steve Elkington: "Phil shoots 79, WDs and takes a knee after a GRUELING stretch. #golfhumor."

Mickelson's playing partners were more understanding. Rickie Fowler said, "You could see Phil was a little fatigued and having trouble blocking it out a bit." Fowler was referring to the frequent cellphone camera clicking during their practice swings.

Bubba Watson, the third member of the group, said that phones have been a problem ever since the PGA Tour gave up trying to stop fans from bringing them in. Fans are not allowed to take pictures using them but they do because there aren't enough volunteer marshals to police it.

"When they make these marquee pairings, more people are going to follow them and more people want to take pictures, so it makes it very difficult," Watson said. "Ever since they made that rule that cellphones are allowed, it's just not fun playing. It took Phil out of his game. It's sad. It's sad that cellphones can make or break a championship."

It is Mickelson's contention that he needs rest to prepare for the U.S. Open in two weeks, and he said he'd probably visit swing coach Butch Harmon for a tune-up in the interim.

In unrelated news, Erik Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient, didn't appear to have a problem with mental fatigue Thursday. He shot an opening-round 67 and played on Friday morning after a rain delay.