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Phil Mickelson Withdraws From PGA Championship Amid LIV Golf Controversy

Phil Mickelson, who became the oldest player to win a major championship when he won the PGA Championship a year ago, has withdrawn from next week’s tournament at Southern Hills.

Mickelson, 51, has been embroiled in controversy over his comments about a Saudi-backed rival golf league called the LIV Golf Invitational Series and headed by Greg Norman.

Mickelson has not played since Feb. 6, the final round of the Saudi International tournament.

The PGA of America announced the decision via a statement on Twitter and said “we would have welcomed him to participate.’’

It will be the first time a defending champion has missed a major since Rory McIlroy had to skip the 2015 Open at St. Andrews due to an ankle injury suffered while playing soccer.

Tiger Woods is the last defending champion to miss the PGA, doing so in 2008 due to knee surgery that kept him out for nearly nine months. Prior to that—Ben Hogan in 1949, who missed the PGA after a serious auto accident that occurred in February of that year.

Mickelson has been in self-imposed exile since February, when he made critical comments about the PGA Tour as part of his dealings with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.

He later issued an apology in which he said, “I have often failed myself and others too. The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.’’

In the aftermath of comments made to Golf Digest and author Alan Shipnuck, Mickelson was dropped by several sponsors, including KPMG and Workday. His long-time club company, Callaway, said they would be taking a break.

Mickelson would otherwise have returned to the PGA Championship next week at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma still reveling in his unlikely victory at The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, S.C.

In holding off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen, Mickelson at age 50 became the oldest major champion in the game’s history, surpassing a 53-year-old record set by Julius Boros, then 48, at the 1968 PGA Championship.

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The win was viewed as a career-capping achievement for Mickelson, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012. It was his sixth major title—he joined Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo at that number—and gave him 45 career PGA Tour titles, a number surpassed only by Tiger Woods (82) among active players. The next closest currently to Mickelson is Dustin Johnson with 24.

Mickelson’s comments about the Tour’s “obnoxious greed’’ and his willingness to join forces with the Saudi-backed golf endeavor in order to gain leverage with the Tour has caused him considerable grief.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in March that a conversation with Mickelson would need to take place before a return would happen, although he declined to say if Mickelson had been suspended and if he was welcome at the Players Championship.

A few weeks later, Mickelson was a no-show for the Masters, the first time he missed the tournament in Augusta since 1994, when the three-time champion had to skip due to an injury suffered while skiing. It would have been his 30th Masters.

“We did not disinvite Phil,’’ Masters chairman Fred Ridley said during his annual pre-Masters news conference. “Phil is a three-time Masters champion and is invited in that category and many other categories; he’s the defending PGA champion.

“Phil reached out to me and let me know that he did not intend to play. That was by way of a text. And I thanked him for his courtesy in letting me know. 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. And he thanked me and we had a very cordial exchange.’’

PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said last week said he had spoke with Mickelson and at the time a decision had not been made. He, too, suggested that Mickelson was welcome to play, as the organization’s statement on Friday said.

Last month, Mickelson’s agent, Steve Loy, issued a statement in which he said Mickelson had entered the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open, but that it did not mean he would compete in either tournament. He also said that Mickelson had requested a release from the PGA Tour in order to play in next month’s first LIV Golf event outside of London.

This week, Monahan denied any PGA Tour member a release to play in that event.

Now a familiar marketing slogan associated with Mickelson has even more meaning: What will Phil do next?

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