Six-times major champion Phil Mickelson returned from a self-imposed hiatus from golf at the first event of the breakaway inaugural LIV Invitational Series on Thursday but refused to be drawn into the power struggle engulfing the sport.
The 51-year-old American batted away questions about the PGA Tour’s suspension of 17 players who teed off in the first round at The Centurion Club north of London.
Left-hander Mickelson, a lifetime member of the PGA Tour but who will now be unable to play on it because of his decision to commit to the controversial Saudi-backed series, carded a tidy one-under 69 to be tied seventh after the first of three rounds.
Mickelson, who stepped away from the sport after a backlash over his comments in an unauthorised biography about the LIV Series in which he described the Saudi regime as “scary”, would not bite on persistent questions over the storm brewing in golf.
“Any PGA Tour matters I’m not going to discuss publicly at this time,” Mickelson, who will be allowed to play in next week’s US Open, told reporters.
“It was fun for me to get back out playing. I struck the ball really well but didn’t putt very well. “Now that I’ve had my first competitive round back after a few months, I think I’m ready to kind of relax and put it together rather than force it and have a good round tomorrow.”
Mickelson was four shots behind first-round leader Charl Schwartzel who led by a stroke from fellow South African Hennie Du Plessis of the Stinger team — one of 12 teams of four also contesting a team competition.
The winner of the individual competition will pocket an astonishing $4 million — the highest prize in golf history.
Asked if the 54-hole tournament featuring a shotgun start and no cut felt different, Mickelson said: “It seemed awfully fun. The people were fun and I hit some good shots. “I drove the ball straight so that was different, and nice.”
Mickelson, who is receiving a reported $200 000 to take part in the LIV series, confirmed he would play in all eight events this year and 10 in 2023.
With $25 million in prize money this week, the pressure to make the cut has been removed, which for American Andy Ogletree was a good thing after a 12-over round of 82.
In normal circumstances the 24-year-old would be booking a flight home and looking at a loss for the week but even finishing dead last on Saturday will guarantee $120 000.