Ryder Cup: Mickelson's McIlroy dig was a well aimed barb
The 'gloves are off' after US veteran makes reference to European players' legal problems
US golfer Phil Mickelson "lit the fuse" ahead of this weekend's Ryder Cup as he aimed a sly dig at European rivals Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who are on opposite sides in a legal battle involving a Dublin-based sports management group.
World number one McIlroy is suing and is also being sued by his former management company, Horizon, and McDowell, who is still on the group's books, has been drawn into the dispute.
When asked about the often fragile unity of the US team, Mickelson could not resist bringing his opponents' legal woes into play.
"Not only are we able to play together, we also don't litigate against each other and that's a real plus, I feel, heading into this week," he said.
The remark was light-hearted, but comes just a few weeks after McIlroy suggested that the 44-year-old veteran was near the end of his career, and in the febrile atmosphere that surrounds the build-up to the Ryder Cup it has been seized upon.
"Whatever Mickelson's intent, his remarks signalled the end of the pleasantries which characterised the first few days of practice. The golf gloves are now off," declares James Corrigan in the Daily Telegraph.
"McIlroy may not appreciate the jab, regardless of how playful it was, and it will be intriguing to hear the reaction of him, McDowell and indeed their captain, Paul McGinley."
If they wanted to make something of it they could, adds Corrigan, who aims a barb of his own on behalf of McIlroy and co. "The Europe team could surely query if a man who was approached by two FBI agents after a round at the Memorial in May to be questioned in connection with an insider-trading investigation should really be making gags about litigation."
Mickelson's comment was the "first jibe" of a week "characterised thus far by cagey mutual respect", says Owen Gibson in The Guardian.
It may have been a throwaway line, but Mickelson would have been aware of the significance, says Andy Bull, also in the Guardian.
"It was a joke but also a juicy line to toss to a room full of hungry journalists. He knew exactly what he was doing. If the ensuing headlines needle some of the egos on the other side, then that could be all the better for Mickelson and his team-mates."