PGA Championship desperate to avoid Phil Mickelson 'circus' as title defence looms

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PGA Championship desperate to avoid Phil Mickelson 'circus' as title defence looms - AP
PGA Championship desperate to avoid Phil Mickelson 'circus' as title defence looms - AP

Speculation that Phil Mickelson is indeed serving a ban on the PGA Tour has intensified after Seth Waugh, the man in charge of next week’s PGA Championship, outlined the media plan should the left-hander be “allowed” to defend the Wanamaker Trophy.

Mickelson has not played competitively in more than three months, but Waugh - the chief executive of the PGA of America, the body that oversees the male game’s second major of the season - is desperate for the 51-year-old to appear at Southern Hills, Tulsa.

Last year at the age of 50, Mickelson made history by becoming the oldest major winner and it would obviously cheapen this year’s renewal if the record-breaker is not among the 156 who will do battle in Tulsa.

Mickelson was in the final field that was released on Monday but he has up until the first round to withdraw. However, Waugh seemed to infer that it was only Mickelson’s choice to make.

Certainly the PGA Tour had grounds on which to suspend the six-time major champion. During Mickelson’s by now infamous rant, in which he called the Saudis' “scary motherf------ to deal with”, but figured he could so in order to gain leverage over the Tour in his fight for greater control of media rights, Mickelson admitted to helping to pay for lawyers working to set up of the breakaway circuit.

Sawgrass HQ has not confirmed or denied whether he has been punished for “working against the best interests of the Tour”, but Waugh is extremely close to commissioner Jay Monahan and in normal events, the PGA of America would respect the Tour’s sanctions.

Waugh revealed to the “5 Clubs” podcast that he had spoken to Mickelson about his possible return and discussed the inevitable media scrutiny he would encounter.

It was during this passage when he intimated that Mickelson might need permission to play. “I hope what we can do is have that [the press conference] before the flag goes up,” Waugh said.

“The idea is, if he does play, and if he’s able to and allowed to... he would certainly have to face the media. But I hope it’s Monday or Tuesday... What we’re trying to do is deliver a major championship, not a circus.”

Tiger Woods is also on the list and the sense is growing that he will appear, despite suggesting at the Masters - where he played his first competitive tournament in 17 months - that his body might not recover from the exertions in time.

There are 10 Englishmen who have qualified, with Laurie Canter and Sam Horsfield sneaking in. The PGA Championship usually goes down only as far as 100th place in the rankings, but this time Canter and Horsfield, 107th and 110th respectively, were deemed to have done enough. It will be Canter’s first major appearance in America.