DUBLIN, Ohio — Phil Mickelson didn’t look guilty. He didn’t sound guilty. He didn’t act as if he had a care in the world outside of making more birdies.
The five-time major champion signed his even-par 72 scorecard Saturday after the third round of the Memorial Tournament, turned the corner into the media interview area, stopped in his tracks, cracked that famous dimpled smile, and said, “Awesome.”
He saw a wall-to-wall crowd of 40-some journalists, all faces he knew, waiting in a room suited for maybe half that many. He knew we weren’t there to find out what club he hit on No. 16 or how much break caught the putt that slid past the cup on No. 9.
In a story that broke late Friday, Mickelson was implicated as part of a federal investigation into insider trading of stocks. He acknowledged in a statement that he had been cooperating with the government and will continue to do so, but insisted repeatedly that he had done “absolutely nothing wrong.”
The investigation reportedly also centers on billionaire investor Carl Icahn and an alleged Las Vegas gambler named Billy Walters. Icahn reportedly has admitted to a business relationship with Walters but was quoted as saying he had never met or talked with Mickelson.
Not to get too bogged down in supposed details, but this all apparently dates to 2011 when Icahn, who held about 9 percent of the shares in Clorox Co., made an offer valued in the billions to buy control of the company. It sent Clorox stock soaring although the purchase bid was eventually rebuffed.
Did Icahn tip off Walters on his intentions, and did Walters pass it along to Mickelson, a golfing buddy? And, if so, was anything illegal done? Icahn was not a board member and not privy to the company’s confidential information.
We’ll let those more knowledgeable of such things determine if this is thin or thick soup.
But on a gorgeous day when a pretty good fight broke out atop the leaderboard between a few of the best players in the game — leader Bubba Watson, No. 1-ranked Adam Scott, and young gun Jordan Spieth, among others — much of the interest centered on Mickelson, who is 10 shots out of the lead.
The Hall-of-Fame golfer was first approached by FBI agents about a year ago at an airport in New Jersey. He ran into them again Thursday at Muirfield Village Golf Club. “After the round they followed me,” he said.
Sources close to Mickelson said he was not aware of their presence during the round and that his bogey-double bogey-double bogey finish was coincidental. Given his inconsistent play this year — missed cuts at the Masters and Players Championship; no top-10 finishes in 10 events — one might suggest this has been weighing on him.
Not so, according to the lefty.
“It hasn’t until Thursday,” he said.
Mickelson seemed amused by questions about whether he had considered withdrawing from the Memorial — “No, of course not” — and if he was considering schedule changes. Not at all, he said.
Nor is he concerned with how the government’s investigation might affect his approach to the upcoming U.S. Open, the tournament he wants to win more than any other.
“I think that as a player you have to be able to block out whatever is going on off the golf course and be able to focus on the golf course,” he said. “It’s not going to change the way I carry myself. Honestly, I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not going to walk around any other way.”
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.