AUGUSTA, Ga. — After missing the Masters for the first time in 28 years in 2022, Phil Mickelson he’s back at Augusta National Golf Club for what he called his “favorite week.”

Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, did not play last year after his comments on the PGA Tour and the Saudi monarchy’s history of human rights abuses They were published by author Alan Shipnuck.

Augusta National Golf Club president Fred Ridley said last year that Mickelson was invited to the tournament and decided not to play.

“It’s great,” Mickelson said. “It’s fun to be back. Everyone has been wonderful.”

Mickelson has been at the center of the ongoing battle between the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf League for the best players in the world. The PGA Tour suspended Mickelson for recruiting players for the new circuit, which is being led by greg norman and funded by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. Mickelson was among the LIV Golf players who filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour; he later withdrew from the complaint.

Mickelson, 52, said he has been very well received in Augusta. Last year was the first time he had missed the first major of the season since 1994, when he was recovering from a broken leg he suffered while skiing. It will be his 30th participation in the Masters.

“Everyone here is so classy,” Mickelson said. “God, it’s fun to be here.”

PGA Tour star Rory McIlroywho has been one of LIV Golf’s most vocal critics, said he was happy to see Mickelson back at the Masters.

“I haven’t spoken to Phil, but it’s great to see him back,” McIlroy said. “You know, he’s a three-time champion here. We’re not even two years away from him doing what I think is one of the greatest feats in the game of golf, winning the [2021] PGA Championship at 51 or whatever. It’s good to have him back.”

Mickelson reportedly declined to speak to reporters at a formal news conference. He spoke to the media after playing a practice round Tuesday with other LIV Golf players. Talor Gooch and Harold Varner II. Mickelson said he, too, will not participate in Wednesday’s Masters Par 3 contest.

Asked if meeting with the media was the hardest part of the week, Mickelson said: “It’s not that hard. I’ve had worse in the last two years.”

Mickelson said he was looking forward to Tuesday night’s Dinner of Champions, which could create some awkward moments. Other past Masters champions including tiger forest and coupleshave criticized Mickelson for criticizing the PGA Tour. The couples called Mickelson a “wacko” at a breakfast before a PGA Tour Champions event in Newport Beach, California.

“Fred and I have been friends for a long time and have had many great experiences in the game of golf,” Mickelson said. “I think about his world, and I hope we get a chance to have more great experiences with him as well.”

Mickelson agreed with the reigning Open Championship winner cameron smithanother LIV Golf player, who said this week is important for the credibility of the league, which is in its second season.

“He’s probably right,” Mickelson said. “It would be nice to validate how much talent there is at LIV, and I think a lot of guys are playing really well early on. So I think it’s going to be fun to watch.”

After losing a lot of weight, Mickelson has had a lot of problems over the past two seasons with LIV Golf. He hasn’t finished better than 27 in three tournaments this year. He was ranked 41st out of 48 players at last week’s event in Orlando, Florida. He has dropped to 425th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel that way,” Mickelson said when asked if he thought he could win this week. “I also have to be realistic. I haven’t scored the way I want, but I see a lot of positive signs. I’m going to try to be patient, whether it’s this week or soon.” because things are about to click.”

Whatever happens, Mickelson is happy to be back at his favorite tournament of the year.

“It’s my favorite week, so to be here and be a part of it, and to be able to experience this great place and what it means is so much fun because as a kid you grow up dreaming of being a part of it.” Mickelson said. “You dream of winning it, of being in contention, and then when you’re actually a professional and you’re playing here, you’re like, ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this every year.’

“The best thing about winning here is that you are part of this event and part of the history. It’s something very, very special.”

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