Phil Mickelson punts on controversy, ‘engaged’ during Masters practice

AUGUSTA, Ga. – One by one, Phil Mickelson fielded questions Tuesday afternoon at Augusta National. He spoke carefully, seemingly cognizant as to not provide too much headline material that could potentially be misconstrued.

If there was an outlet to avoid answering a tough question, he took it – or took the high road.

Probably a smart decision.

Did he expect a different reception in his Masters return after skipping last year? “No. Everybody here is so classy. Gosh, it’s fun to be here.”

Was he planning on playing the Par 3 Contest on Wednesday? “Not tomorrow. I’m going to end up using it as kind of like preparation and getting my game sharp.”

If a LIV member wins a green jacket on Sunday, would the other 17 LIV guys in the field hang around to congratulate and hug the champion on the 18th green? “I don’t know. It’s possible. I hadn’t really thought about it.”

What about Tuesday night’s Champions Dinner, where he’d share a table with Fred Couples, who just a few weeks ago called Mickelson a “nutbag” on his radio show? “Fred and I are longtime friends and we’ve had a lot of great experiences in the game of golf. I think the world of him, and I hope we have a chance to have more great experiences with him as well.”

Did he expect any other awkwardness? “We’ve had friendships, relationships for a long time. I don’t see it being an issue. I really don’t.”

How was his game? “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel that way. It’s also, I’ve got to be realistic. I haven’t scored the way I want to, but I do see a lot of positive signs. I’m going to try to just be patient, whether it’s this week or soon, because things are about to click.”

Perhaps Mickelson’s most lively response was discussing Scottie Scheffler’s menu: “I always fight the weight demons, and that cookie, skillet cookie with ice cream, that’s going to be tough for me to pass. But I got to do it. I can’t be doing that right now.”

It was a masterclass in not saying anything incendiary, as Mickelson instead chose to dish on the wet conditions and how they’d require him to chip more, how he’d likely be laying up on No. 13, the more nerdy golf talk that Mickelson loves.

As Mickelson stood at one microphone, surrounded by about a dozen reporters, Harold Varner III, who played alongside Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Talor Gooch, was a couple podiums to Mickelson’s left. Varner was playfully steaming after he and Gooch lost their game against Mickelson and Johnson.

“It was the jackets versus the no jackets,” Varner quipped. “And if I play like that, I won’t have a jacket.”

Full-field tee times from the 87th Masters Tournament

But Varner did notice some positive signs about Mickelson, who could be seen smiling often during his practice round while interacting and even fist bumping fans between holes.

“He’s super engaged right now,” Varner said. “I don’t know if that’s because it’s Augusta, but super helpful. I don’t know, when we’re playing LIV events, we’re usually just talking smack.”

That continued Tuesday as well. Prior to walking off the final green, Varner overheard Mickelson saying aloud, “We’re going to eat in the Champions Locker Room in a second.”

Added Varner: “That’s about as bad as it can be.”

Mickelson still has some humor. He just saved it for the golf course on this day.