Phil Mickelson brings 'Ryder Cup cauldron' to the boil with verbal grenade
PHIL MICKELSON pitched a verbal hand grenade at Rory McIlroy yesterday, shattering the peace of Ryder Cup week at Gleneagles.
Mickelson, praised earlier by US team captain Tom Watson as “a leader” in the locker room, fired a stunning incendiary out of the blue at Europe’s World No 1 during a media briefing.
Asked if the performance of the US team over the first two days of the 2012 Ryder Cup knocked down the theory Americans can’t play together, Mickelson retorted: “Well, not only are we able to play together, we also don’t litigate against each other and that’s a real plus, I feel, heading into this week.”
As some of the audience tittered, the European Tour media official hosting the conference blurted the word “Ouch!” and it was picked up by the microphone. “I couldn’t resist,” continued Mickelson, breaking into a goofy grin.
Clearly, he was referring to McIlroy’s bitter legal battle with former agents Horizon.
When Graeme McDowell, also a client of the Dublin Sports Management Company, was drawn into the Commercial Court action, it caused inevitable friction between the two.
In Ryder Cup week, Mickelson’s remark hit home with the impact of a declaration of war … and was widely interpreted as an attempt by the US team to ‘get at’ McIlroy before the first golf shots are fired in anger tomorrow.Mickelson's assertion of litigation between McIlroy and McDowell was mischievous and wildly inaccurate.
Ironically, the Californian had legal issues of his own this year. He was questioned at the Memorial Tournament in June by two FBI agents as part of an investigations into allegations of insider trading. Mickelson was exonerated.
Heading into his 10th successive Ryder Cup, Mickelson, 44, is the most experienced player in the US team and is widely acknowledged as one of the most intelligent of the world's elite golfers, lending even greater gravity to this barb.
European captain Paul McGinley did not respond last night to efforts to seek a comment, while neither McIlroy nor McDowell were contactable, though the Holywood star was unlikely to be unsettled by this pop from Mickelson.
Talking last week about issues with Tiger Woods in the run-up to his debut at Celtic Manor in 2010, McIlroy said: "Look, it's the Ryder Cup. You want to gain any sort of edge you can, whether that's physical or mental. You want to get inside someone's head. That's just the gamesmanship we play. I knew exactly what they were doing and, hey, it was fine with me."
It's a compliment to McIlroy as Europe's No 1 threat to Tom Watson's underdogs that Mickelson should fire such a blatant shot across his bow. However, some wondered if yesterday's remark was in response to McIlroy's recent suggestion that, metaphorically, the left-handed American icon and Woods were playing "the final holes of their career".
In the absence of Tiger Woods, Mickelson's very much the figurehead of this American team and should be fully aware of the consequences of his words.
Watson, 65, who led the US to their most recent victory on European soil at The Belfry in 1993, annoyed the home team on that occasion, unwittingly he said, by refusing to sign European player Sam Torrance's menu at the pre-tournament banquet.
He paid this eulogy to Mickelson yesterday: "Phil has been just a wonderful man in the locker room at the Ryder Cup. I've talked to the captains of the last four, maybe five, and Phil's been there as a leader.
"He's the guy that talks smack … he talks the way you're supposed to talk in the locker room … and he gets people talking back to him. That's what you have to do. It's a cauldron of pressure."
That cauldron is coming to the boil, thanks to the incendiary words of the US captain's left-hand man.