While his name has been mentioned as a pivotal figure in a federal insider trading criminal trial, Phil Mickelson shrugged off any hint that will be hanging over him this week or in the run up to The Masters next month — both with his play and his comments.
“I’m not a part of that,” Mickelson said after easily winning his first-round match Wednesday at the Dell Technologies Match Play. “It’s not even a thought.”
But prosecutors and defense attorneys for gambler William “Billy” Walters have said Mickelson would be a key figure in the trial in New York, and the judge hinted to jurors last week the five-time major champion could be called to testify.
Mickelson said that won’t happen.
“I’m out. I won’t be called,” Mickelson said, without saying how he knows that.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to say any more.”
Mickelson does not face criminal charges but he previously agreed to return nearly $1 million he earned in 2012 after Walters suggested a stock trade. Prosecutors say Walters encouraged friends, including Mickelson, to buy stock in Dean Foods Co., a Dallas-based company that is one of the nation’s largest processors of milk for retailers.
Far away from the court proceedings and deep in the heart of Texas, Mickelson looked relaxed as he quickly dispatched Si Woo Kim, 5 and 3, as the Korean conceded on the 15th green.
The 46-year-old Mickelson was inconsistent on the undulating course on the edge of Texas hill country in 2016. He didn’t make the knockout stage last year despite winning two of his three matches in group play.
“I think that first match is the most important, because if you’re going to have a chance to get through without winning all your matches you really need to win the first. Then there might be a chance that you can square up in the head to head and get through. The first match is critical.
“Last year I won the first two and ended up getting knocked out,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson hasn’t won since the 2013 British Open, but has two top-10 finishes this year and made this field of 64 as the No. 14 seed. Kim, 22, won the 2016 Wyndham Championship but was the last one into the field, joining after Rickie Fowler announced last week he wouldn’t play in Austin.
Mickelson, who has experience in match play, made quick work of Kim, winning four of the first seven holes. Early mistakes doomed Kim, who followed a double bogey on the second hole with another bogey on No. 3.
Kim’s last chance to stay in the match came with a birdie on No. 11 to get within three. But he was an inch short of another on the windy 14th green on the banks of the Colorado River and Mickelson closed him out.
Mickelson plays Thursday against Daniel Berger, who battled Mickelson in a seesaw match here last year, only to concede near the 18th green. Berger injured his arm when his club struck a rock on a downswing and he withdrew from the tournament the next day.
Berger beat J.B Holmes 7 and 5 on Wednesday.
“I feel good,” Berger said. “I love competing against the best guys in the world and this is another opportunity for me.”