SAN DIEGO -- There are certain words heard every day on the PGA Tour.
Post-round discussions, be it with top players or average journeymen, are always rife with talk of hooks, slices, fades, draws and other jargon.
Slander, however, was never among the shot-taking lexicon. Until Phil Mickelson teed off on Saturday, anyway.
Standing up for himself after a fellow player characterized him as a cheater and the PGA Tour left him in the lurch for parts of two days, Mickelson indicated after the third round of the Farmers Insurance Classic that more than just sabers were being rattled.
At least three different times after completing his round, Mickelson used the word "slandered" to portray how tour counterpart Scott McCarron had described Lefty's decision to use a controversial wedge that has been cleared for tour play.
McCarron crawled out on a limb Thursday and Friday when he termed anybody who used Ping Eye 2 clubs as "cheating" -- the most damaging term a golfer can be called. Mickelson took the high road Friday, but he had clearly digested the issue overnight.
Mickelson, 39, fought back Saturday in separate interviews on CBS, Golf Channel and other media outlets, making it clear that his camp wasn't taking the issue lying down.
"We all have our opinions on the matter, but a line was crossed, and I just was publicly slandered," Mickelson said. "And because of that I'll have to let other people handle that."
Ah, just what we need, more lawyers in the sports arena.
Mickelson declined to elaborate on what actions were being considered, legal or otherwise, but you can bet it was no mere coincidence that, after more than a day of letting him twist in the wind by declining to comment on McCarron's verbal Molotov cocktail, the tour finally issued a press release midday Saturday. It read, in part, "Because the use of pre-1990 Ping Eye 2 irons is permitted for play, public comments or criticisms characterizing their use as a violation ... are inappropriate at best."
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Elling's Short Game
And quite possibly legally actionable at worst.
"I didn't expect to be publicly slandered," Lefty told CBS Sports.
A representative for Mickelson's management firm said that agency founder Steve Loy had contacted the tour, but it's unclear what leverage was exerted. The tour traditionally has taken a dim view on public proclamations by tour members that are critical of other players, and McCarron not only trod over that stricture, but went even further about Mickelson's use of a controversial Ping wedge.
"It's cheating, and I'm appalled Phil has put it in play," McCarron said after the first round.
McCarron all but repeated himself on Friday. Still, it took the tour until Saturday to condemn the sniper fire, and even then, it didn't denounce McCarron by name. The tour also reiterated Saturday that Mickelson's clubs all have been cleared for play.
McCarron missed the cut and wasn't on the grounds Saturday. A UCLA product, it will be interesting to see whether McCarron turns up next week in Los Angeles, an event held at Riviera Country Club, where the Bruins golf team occasionally plays. He might be suspended by then, or at least, lighter in the wallet.
If not, well, Mickelson wasn't quite prepared to go there Saturday. Asked if he was considering legal action, he hedged his bets and thus twisted a few more arms at tour headquarters.
"I'm not sure, I'm not sure," he said of any possible legal ramifications. "I think the tour will probably get on top of it."
Mickelson did his crazy best to climb atop the Torrey Pines leaderboard, too, with a vintage round that featured a ball that was lost in a tree and another that sailed off the Pacific cliffs. He also reached the 615-yard 13th hole in two massive blows and drained a nine-footer for eagle.
He shot 2-under 70 and moved into a tie for fifth, four shots behind Ryuji Imada.
The careening highlights, other than at the impressive 13th, came at the fourth and seventh holes, when he sent wild slices into the flora and fauna. On the seventh, his tee ball lodged in the branches of a huge eucalyptus tree, and a fan scrambled up into the branches with Mickelson's blessing, an attempt to save Lefty a penalty stroke.
|'I didn't expect to be publicly slandered,' Phil Mickelson says. (Getty Images)|
Mackay guessed by looking through a pair of binoculars that it wasn't Mickelson's ball that had been spotted several yards up in the tree. It was too brown and dingy. But the fan kept climbing and shaking branches.
"The more he shook it, the more you could see it was a 1971 range ball," Mackay laughed.
Mickelson had to return to the tee and took a double bogey. Three holes earlier, though, on one of the most scenic holes in golf, he had pulled off a miracle par save. After slicing his tee shot about 30 yards down the panoramic cliff that borders the left side of the fourth hole, Mickelson somehow climbed down the hill and found the ball.
At the bottom of the cliff is Black's Beach, perhaps the nation's most infamously public nudist hangout. Had he hit his errant drive any farther down the hill, he might have had to play his second shot sans clothes, right?
Mickelson didn't quite understand the question until he was reminded of the brazen, colorful sorts who often flounce about in the sun-splashed sand below.
"Oh, right, that went 'whoosh,'" he laughed, indicating with a pass of the hand that the question had gone over his head. "Don't apologize for me not getting it. Of course, if you have to explain it ..."
Nobody needed to diagram his position at Torrey, his hometown track, where he hasn't won since 2001. He hasn't been this close headlined into Sunday for years and didn't hesitate when asked if he had a chance to win.
"Oh, yeah," he said.
You can bet the same holds true regarding his behind-the-scenes arm-twisting battle, too.
Because, unlike his wild drives on Nos. 4 and 7 that veered left, Mickelson is dead right.