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Stephen Gallacher: I’m shocked Phil Mickelson won’t be at Augusta for the Masters

Three-time former Masters champion Phil Mickelson is set to skip this year's event
Three-time former Masters champion Phil Mickelson is set to skip this year's event

I am shocked Phil Mickelson has decided not to play in the Masters.

He is a three-time winner at Augusta and in 10 to 15 years from now he will be a starter alongside the likes of Tom Watson and Tiger Woods.

His controversial comments about the PGA Tour, which he labelled a dictatorship, and backing of the proposed Saudi-led breakaway league, led to a storm of criticism.

I looked at it as Phil being Phil. He has always been a maverick character, a man willing to say the first thing that comes into his head at times.

He has also done some unusual things on a golf course at times such as running after a putt and hitting the ball again before it has stopped during a tournament.

But I’ve never thought of it being anything other than him displaying some of his more eccentric traits.

His decision to take a break and reflect following the backlash to his remarks did not surprise me but I would have put him down as a nailed-on certainty to play at Augusta in two weeks’ time.

That is why I’m so surprised he won’t be there.

He’s the entertainer, a man with legendary status at the course, and a player who is given nothing other than 100% backing by his adoring public whenever he plays there.

His game suits the course perfectly and he always does something dramatic when he plays there.

What a shame then that he will be absent for the first time in 28 years next month.

Will Woods play Augusta?

Tiger Woods reacts as he wins the Masters in 2019

A big question mark remains over another iconic figure in Woods. Tiger’s name was noticeably absent from the list of former winners not taking part this year when published earlier in the week and it has led to speculation he is planning on playing.

From the comments I’ve seen and heard from Tiger so far he has said he has no problem hitting the ball but getting round a course has been challenging due to the injuries sustained in his car accident.

It’s too early to tell whether those struggles are temporary but if his time on the course is going to be limited then I would expect him to forego Augusta.

I say that as Augusta is the most physically demanding golf course I’ve played. Somewhere like St Andrews, which will be the hottest ticket in town this summer as host of the 150th edition of the Open, is flat and easy to navigate.

If 2022 turns out to be Tiger’s swansong – and that is by no means certain at this early stage – I’d expect him to move heaven and earth to be there, even if it means skipping a trip to Georgia.

One man who will definitely be there is Brooks Koepka. He has four major titles to his name but the Masters is one he wants to tick off his list.

A knee injury hampered his bid last year but he is back to full fitness and full of confidence as he gets ready to return.

Standard of Scottish Boys Open is incredible

Murcar Links Golf Club, host club of this year’s Scottish Boys Open

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw the handicap cut-off point for the upcoming Scottish Boys Open at Murcar Links was 1.0.

When I played in the event as a teenager the handicap cut-off was between eight and nine.

Clearly the standard of player taking part this year is going to be outstanding.

I have a degree of sympathy for the Scottish golfers how failed to make the 144-player field for next month’s tournament.

But if I was in their shoes I’d be using that disappointment to fuel my motivation for the rest of the season and make sure I made the field next year.

A record entry of 217 meant there was going to be a lot of under-18 players left disappointed but it does not surprise me to see how high the standard has become.

When I was starting out it was no surprise to see players using a set of their dad’s cut-down clubs but it’s all different these days.

You can get custom fit clubs for players as young as five. When I played it was not until I was a teenager and developing muscles that my focus really sharpened.

But young players today, thanks to technological advances, can work on their technique from day one.

It is hard on those still developing their game but for the game as a whole it is only going to raise the bar significantly.

Can Big Bob pull off another shock in the Match Play?

Bob MacIntyre.

Good luck to Bob MacIntyre after getting his WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play underway in Texas.

Bob pulled off a shock last year by beating Dustin Johnson on his way to winning his group.

He has been given another tough assignment this week after being drawn with world number two Collin Morikawa, Sergio Garcia and Jason Kokrak.

It’s a tall order and Bob is the underdog in his group but anyone in the top 70 in the world can beat another in match play on their day.

He has a huge challenge ahead of him but the beauty of this format is you still have two chances to turn things around even if you lose your first match.

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