For the first time since 1997, three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson will not be around for the weekend at Augusta National.
Mickelson followed up a 76 in the first round with a 73 during Friday's second round, finishing five-over par and missing the cut. CBS Sports' Eye on Golf reported the rather surprising news:
Justin Ray of ESPN illustrates just how much he struggled in the first major of the year:
ESPN's Bob Harig provides Mickelson's thoughts after the disappointing showing:
Asked if he might watch the tournament over the weekend if not at Augusta National, Mickelson said: "Probably, yeah. It's an exciting tournament, I probably will. It (would) kind of be my punishment."
It would have been nice to see Mickelson bounce back at this familiar venue. A slow, injury-plagued start to the 2013-14 PGA Tour season saw the veteran tee it up at the Valero Texas Open for just the second time in his career.
Competitive reps are always important for Lefty leading up to a major, and he was seeking to get some valuable work in before pursuing a potential fourth green jacket. Unfortunately, the strategy didn't work out for Mickelson when he was forced to withdraw during the third round in San Antonio with a pulled oblique muscle.
Back problems previously plagued Mickelson, who otherwise felt great despite having to pull out of the event, per Golf Digest's John Strege:
My back's feeling great, my body's been felling great, I felt as good as I have all year. My speed is back, I was hitting the ball hard, driving it great. I pulled a muscle on my downswing trying to hit the ball hard on the second hole. It just killed and wouldn't subside for 10 or 12 seconds.
I'm going to go back to San Diego for a couple of days and have a doctor take a look at it, but there's really not much you can do for a pulled muscle. I hope I'll be OK to play the Shell in [Houston], but I just don't know.
Professional golf has taken some strange turns this season at the highest level thanks to the precarious health of some of the PGA's biggest stars. Jason Sobel of Golf Channel alluded to this once Mickelson walked off in the Alamo City:
It took a while for Mickelson, 43, to win his first major title. "Phil the Thrill" was considered the best player not to have won a major until his breakthrough at Augusta in 2004, which allowed Mickelson to continue his evolution as a golfer.
He's gone on to win four additional majors—including two more green jackets—since that triumph 10 years ago. Perhaps the most surprising win came when Mickelson captured his first Claret Jug at the 2013 Open Championship, featuring a phenomenal final-round 66 to win by three strokes.
With an aggressive approach and high-spin style of ball-striking, the Open Championship had never been kind to Mickelson, but the win proved that he was continuing to expand his game even well into his 40s.
Many close calls at the U.S. Open have prevented him from having the career Grand Slam, so all the focus for Mickelson moving forward has to be geared toward the 2014 tournament at Pinehurst No. 2.
The last time that venue hosted the event was in 2005 when Mickelson tied for 33rd. But before then, in 1999, Mickelson saw the late, great Payne Stewart drain a putt on the 72nd hole for a one-shot victory. It was one of the most iconic finishes in golf history—also one of six second-place finishes for Mickelson in the U.S. Open.
As long as Mickelson is fit enough to swing, his sensational short-game mastery around the greens should allow him to stay competitive, if not as consistently as he'd like. Galleries will still flock to see Mickelson as he continues his entertaining trek toward the twilight of his days on the PGA Tour, where he'll solidify his legacy as one of the best golfers of all time.
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