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Masters official says Phil Mickelson was invited but chose not to play

“He’s been a big part of our history,” the chairman of Augusta National said of Phil Mickelson. “I certainly and we certainly wish him the best, sort of working through the issues he’s dealing with right now.” (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The head of the Georgia club that stages the Masters said Phil Mickelson told him several weeks ago that the three-time champion would not be participating this year.

Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley was asked during a Wednesday news conference whether the Masters had “disinvited” Mickelson, who caused a furor in February with comments in which he disparaged the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian backers of a nascent golf circuit he was helping to get off the ground. In the wake of major blowback from fans and fellow professionals, Mickelson lost several sponsors and issued a statement of regret, saying he “desperately” needed to step away from the game.

Mickelson shared that statement Feb. 22, and Ridley said Wednesday that he received a text message from the golf superstar sometime in late February or early March. Mickelson “let me know that he did not intend to play,” Ridley said.

“I told him that we certainly appreciated that and told him that I was certainly willing to discuss that further with him if he’d like,” the Augusta chairman continued. “He thanked me, and we had a very cordial exchange.”

After Mickelson’s name did not appear last month on the tournament’s list of active players for this year’s field, the Palm Beach Post cited multiple sources in reporting that Masters officials had discouraged him from coming to Augusta.

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“I would like to say we did not disinvite Phil,” Ridley said. “Phil is a three-time Masters champion and is invited in that category and many other categories — he’s the defending PGA champion.”

Mickelson, 51, became the oldest winner of a men’s major last year when he topped the field at the PGA Championship. That triumph gave Mickelson his sixth major title, tying him with Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino for 12th most all-time, and his first since 2013. The crowd-pleasing victory also reaffirmed Mickelson’s status as arguably the second-most-popular golfer of his era, behind only Tiger Woods.

However, the scandal involving his comments on the Saudi-backed golf venture, which he made last fall but surfaced in February, did major damage to Mickelson’s standing within the PGA Tour. He was criticized publicly for his greed by, among others, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka. The firestorm appeared to doom the venture’s hopes, at least for the time being, of using lucrative, guaranteed purses to lure some of the sport’s biggest stars away from the PGA Tour.

Mickelson has not played a tour event since January, and it is not clear when he might return to competition. He has made 29 starts at the Masters, and this year will mark the first time he has not participated since 1994, when he was recovering from a broken leg suffered in a skiing mishap. Mickelson, who won the Masters in 2004, 2006 and 2010, reportedly was not in attendance Tuesday at the annual champions’ dinner.

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

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Last month, the new venture with which Mickelson was linked announced it would begin play in June. Called the LIV Golf Invitational Series and fronted by golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman, it promised to differ from the traditional model by staging 54-hole tournaments with 48-player fields, no cuts and shotgun starts.

“If [PGA Tour players] want to play, then the door is wide open and the door is also wide open for Phil Mickelson,” Norman said in March. “I spoke to him last night and had a good, long conversation. There’s not a person on this planet that hasn’t said something that they wish they could take back.”

Asked Wednesday about Augusta National’s stance on potential rivals to the PGA Tour and whether the Masters would ban a player who defected to such a venture, Ridley said: “Our mission is always to act in the best interests of the game, in whatever form that may take. I think golf’s in a good place right now. … We’ve been pretty clear on our belief that the world tours have done a great job of promoting the game over the years. Beyond that, there’s so much we don’t know about what might happen or could happen that I just don’t think I can say much more beyond that.

“In Phil’s case, he made a personal decision, and I don’t know anything beyond that. I know that Phil has been a real fixture here at the Masters for many, many years. He’s been a big part of our history. I certainly and we certainly wish him the best, sort of working through the issues he’s dealing with right now.”

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