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Slimmer, rejuvenated Phil Mickelson 'embarrassed' by play last year

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Confident that he has put a disappointing year behind him, Phil Mickelson claims that he is close to recapturing the form that saw him win the 2021 PGA Championship.

Speaking ahead of the Asian Tour’s Saudi International, his first event in three months, the 52-year-old Mickelson was asked almost exclusively about his game and fitness. He told reporters that he’s trimmed down to his old college weight and still believes he is capable of accomplishing “special things” in the game’s biggest events.

“I’m embarrassed with how I played last year,” he said in Saudi Arabia. “I’m going to put that behind me and have a really good year.”

Full-field scores from the PIF Saudi International

A fixture in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Mickelson has tumbled all the way outside the top 250 (No. 254) after a year in which he made just two cuts in OWGR-sanctioned events. One of the headliners for the breakaway LIV tour, he didn’t fare well against the limited fields, either, finishing 35th or worse in four of his six individual appearances. 

It was all part of a chaotic year in which the Hall of Famer took an extended leave from the game following his controversial comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudis.

“I have to look at last year as an anomaly and just let it go,” he said of his performance. “I wasn’t ready to play at the start. I wasn’t ready to play during. And this offseason, I’m ready to play. I’ve been playing really well at home, and I’m ready to bring my game back out here and compete. I’m optimistic to see a whole different outlook, a whole different game, a whole different competitiveness.”

Mickelson said that, for his first time as a pro, he is back down to his college weight (he didn’t get into numbers) and that the lighter load has allowed him to recover quicker from round to round with less inflammation. He expects to play roughly 20 events this year and remains exempt into the majors for at least the next three years, by virtue of his win at Kiawah in 2021.

“Nobody has really had the opportunity to do some special things with the game at this age because they haven’t been injury free,” he said. “Like, they would get hurt, and they had some struggles when they got older, and I’ve been able to play injury-free throughout my career and be in good shape at 52, and I know how to play at a high level. Now, I just have to get that up.

“I’m trying to address the areas that are challenging as we get older and do something that’s unique and create a life experience that occurred at Kiawah just a year and a half ago. That’s my motivation.”

It’s clear that he’s feeling rejuvenated – Mickelson has even logged back onto social media after going “dark” last year amid the disruption at the game’s top level. Over the past week he called out Sam Ryder’s joggers, weighed in on the final two rounds in Dubai and claimed that it was easier to win on the PGA Tour than LIV.

“I have to be very careful,” he said. “I can’t say all the things I want to say yet. But maybe this year I’ll be able to. I’ll have that freedom when some of these things going on off the course get settled and become more transparent. I have to be a little bit guarded right now, but later this year, when things are much more transparent, I’ll be able to be more engaging.”

Mickelson predicted that, after a hearing next week, LIV rebels will continue to be able to play on the DP World Tour, which could produce the same sort of compelling theater that unfolded in Dubai with Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed vying for the title.

“I thought it was great for the game, to have that type of interest – that’s a really good thing,” Mickelson said. “[After the UK arbitration hearing], there’s a very good chance that you’ll have more showdowns, more head-to-head competitions like you saw last week in Dubai, and I think that would be a really good thing for the game.”