Scottish Open: Phil Mickelson absence leaves Rickie Fowler in crossfire

Phil Mickelson plays a practice round at Gullane on Tuesday

If, and probably when, Phil Mickelson bumps into Rickie Fowler at Gullane on Thursday, he should do the decent thing and take the man for a drink. A large one. Maybe two. Maybe a a whole gallon.

In Mickelson’s absence from the home of the Scottish Open on Tuesday – he decamped to Carnoustie for the day – and in his refusal on Wednesday to talk about his rules violation at the US Open last month, questions were instead directed at his mate, Fowler. Rickie walked into the crossfire and took one for Team Phil.

Has Mickelson’s reputation suffered as a consequence of what happened on the 13th green in the third round at Shinnecock Hills? “A lot of players got a laugh out of it,” Fowler replied. You wouldn’t call it cheating? ‘No…’ He knowingly broke a rule, though…’Well…’

Fowler did the best he could in trying to justify an event that continues to dog Mickelson and has, it seems, caused him to make himself scarce this week.

Some background here. In every sense, Mickelson is a champion of the Scottish Open. A winner in 2013 and a mainstay competitor who is about to make his 13th appearance in the event, you could set your watch by the American in weeks like this.

There is always a Mickelson press conference in the days before the championship starts and every single time he comes across like a one-man tourist board. Down the back of the room you can practically hear the golf club members and tournament sponsors purring. Thoughtful and engaging; Phil in full flight. There was one year – Loch Lomond, Castle Stuart, Royal Aberdeen or Gullane – when he mentioned the word ‘fun’ 17 times in his interview.

This week has been different. Mickelson was at Gullane on Tuesday, but he opted not to speak. Normally, he’d play the ProAm on the Wednesday, but he opted out of that as well. Highly unusual stuff.

Why? You can only presume that he wants to avoid questions about the 13th green at the US Open when, in the midst of a horror third round on a horrendously difficult course set-up that was frying the Mickelson brain, he ran after a moving putt and batted it back towards the flag before it disappeared off a green with an official reading on the stimpmeter