Yewti- Tiger Woods got a five-minute standing ovation when he limped up to the 18th green on his way to missing the cut at St Andrews on Friday. Phil Mickelson got half-empty grandstands and half-hearted applause in the softening evening sunlight.

If this was his last visit to The Open, no one seemed to care. The seagulls made more noise than the spectators.

Phil Mickelson birdied the 18th to finish six over for the day and the tournament. So he was going home for the weekend, which was probably a relief for him and the R&A, who didn’t want him here in the first place.

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson

tiger woods

That’s what happens when you play like a drain at a regular tournament. If this were LIV Golf, shooting 77 would get you a boatload of cash. No cut and no jeopardy there. Party on, dude.

Phil Mickelson ambled off the 18th, taking care to observe the usual pleasantries with his playing partners. A kid in the grandstand asked if he could have his ball.

Phil Mickelson chucked it up to him. The kid dropped it. It fell down on to the Tarmac path and bounced skittishly on to the green, which gave it an edge on Mickelson’s approach play.

When he said on Thursday that he was planning to play great golf here, he may not have anticipated finishing two shots behind John Daly, who looks more and more like he got lost on the way to a Grateful Dead concert and played in a pair of bright orange trousers branded by Hooters, which is where he was last seen by major golf fans. He hangs out at the Augusta branch of the ‘eaterie’ during Masters week.

After the kid dropped his ball, Mickelson went to hand in his scorecard. It is normal that when players are requested for interview after their round, they head to a small media tent the other side of the practice putting green.

One of the officials said Mickelson had declined the invitation.

‘It was a firm ‘no’,’ she said. A firm ‘no’ might have been a better option when LIV came calling. Or when someone told him to put it all on red rather than black. But that’s ancient history.

Phil Mickelson, 52, did show up in the media tent on Thursday. Come to think of it, that might have been why he didn’t show up on Friday. When he stood on the dais, he wore the haunted appearance of a man who has looked deep into his soul and didn’t much like what he saw.

He did not whisper ‘the horror, the horror’ but there were times when it felt like he came close. It was like Dorian Gray forgot to leave his portrait in the attic and brought it with him to The Open.

He looked like he had been kissed by the wilderness. He stood there with a rictus smile and said: ‘I couldn’t be more excited and ecstatic with where I’m at.’ Really? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look less ecstatic my whole life.

He was asked a couple of times about the reasons for his absence from the four-hole challenge for Open winners on Monday and a celebratory dinner the following night and he quickly grew impatient with the line of questioning.

‘Let it go, dude,’ he said. ‘Let it go. That’s three times you’ve asked the same question. I don’t know what to tell you. I couldn’t be happier.’ Or more ecstatic, presumably.

The thing is, Mickelson is supposed to be the face of LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed venture that has plunged the sport into a civil war and yet his face is the face of a thousand regrets.

He should be on a lap of honour for a glorious career. He should have been one of the most feted at the dinner on Tuesday. He should have been cheered to the rafters on the 18th, like Tiger.

He used to be popular. He used to be one of the players who drew the biggest galleries. He used to be golf’s great entertainer.

I walked round with his group at St Andrews on Friday and hardly anyone was following him. Some people pointed him out, as if he were a curiosity. Some people even shouted out encouragement because they recognised him. But it’s still a sad way to go out.

Mickelson’s one of the greats. It was only last year he became the oldest man to win a major when he won the USPGA Championship at Kiawah Island at the age of 50. It was his sixth major victory and seemed to have cemented his place in golf’s pantheon. And now he’s torched it all.

Yes, the argument between the golf establishment and LIV is more nuanced than it appears.

The PGA and the DP World Tour object mainly to the threat to their ability to make money but that should not stop the rest of us thinking that a handful of golfers taking hundreds of millions in blood money from a repressive state with an appalling human rights record is not a particularly good look for the sport.

‘I can’t wait to get to New Jersey and play another event there,’ Mickelson said, dreaming of the next LIV extravaganza at Trump Bedminster later this month. ‘The player experience is a 10.’ And the money presumably is an 11.

The next golfers who get a big cheque waved in front of their face, though, might want to pause for a second. They might want to think about Phil and the havoc it’s wreaked on him.

They will earn a lot of money but they’ll pay a heavy price. They will never get a reception like Tiger got on Friday and that’s more precious than all the money in the world.

Take the Saudi cash and the best you can hope for is indifference and seagulls, just like Phil.

MOMENT OF GOLFING FOLKLORE

Some things are just meant to be. The R&A might have arranged the second-round tee times so there was a good chance Tiger Woods would be coming up the 18th as Rory McIlroy was striding down the first at St Andrews on Friday.

But not even the R&A could have arranged it that McIlroy would hit his tee shot the furthest to the left of the three players in his group.

That meant that he and Woods practically crossed paths as Woods strode, tears falling, towards the 18th green.

The image of McIlroy tipping his cap to one of the greatest sportsmen there has ever been at the 150th Open will go down in folklore as one of the most memorable moments in golf’s rich history, one man coming to the end of his career, the other hoping that he can finally seize his mantle. No one who was there will ever forget it.

ZOMBIES WALKING AMONG US

An American journalist adopted a tone of disconcerting earnestness with Ian Poulter on Thursday when he asked him if he thought Old Tom Morris, who won The Open four times in the 1860s, would be turning in his grave because of the LIV series.

Poulter ignored the question the first time. The second time, he turned to the questioner and said as reasonably as he could that he really didn’t know.

The exchange did raise the possibility that there may be Zombies walking amongst us, which would, at least, explain Dustin Johnson.

Write A Comment