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Phil Mickelson won't talk gambling case; high praise for Tom Watson

GULLANE, Scotland -- Phil Mickelson knew the questions were coming, so he got out in front of them Wednesday at Gullane Golf Club, where he made his first public appearance since an Outside The Lines report last week linked him to an illegal gambling case.

The interest here was more about Tom Watson, the five-time Open Championship winner who will make his farewell appearance next week at St. Andrews. It was at the Ryder Cup last September at nearby Gleneagles where Mickelson was critical of Watson's captaincy.

"There's two things that I thought would probably come up, probably the report that came out last week," said Mickelson, who is set to play in this week's Scottish Open at Gullane. "Feel free to ask about it. I probably won't say anything, but feel free to ask. I understand you have editors and you need to ask questions.

"The other thing is I thought I would get asked about Tom Watson, and the only thing I would say is that he's one of the greatest champions this game has ever had, and I hope next week is a celebration of that greatness."

OTL reported last week, citing two unnamed sources and court documents, that approximately $2.75 million of Mickelson's money was transferred to an intermediary as part of "an illegal gambling operation which accepted and placed bets on sporting events."

Mickelson has not been charged with a crime and is not under federal investigation, according to the report.

But sources told OTL that he is the unnamed "gambling client" of former sports handicapper Gregory Silveira, 56, who has pleaded guilty to three counts of laundering money as part of an illegal betting operation between 2010 and '13.

The 45-year-old Mickelson, a five-time major champion, has long been known for his gambling ways on the golf course, both in his style of play and in his practice-round encounters with peers. He's also talked in the past about gambling on sporting events.

When Mickelson was asked Tuesday about the report, he answered by telling a lengthy story about how over the course of his 20-plus-year career, he and wife Amy have learned not to take public discussion about his career personally.

"We all have our opinions," Mickelson said. "And when I started to understand that I was more of an object to be discussed, it took out the personal element of when people say things.

"People are going to say things good; they are going to say things bad; they are going to say things true; they are going to say things not true. The fact is I'm comfortable enough with who I am as a person that I don't feel like I need to comment on every little report that comes out."

Mickelson was at the center of the Ryder Cup controversy last fall that led to an overhaul of the U.S. system in the wake of the Americans' third straight defeat. In the postmatch news conference, Mickelson was critical of Watson's captaincy and called for changes to a system he felt did not give the U.S. a chance to excel.

Later, he was part of a task force that was formed, with a new system in place to determine the team. Davis Love III was named captain for the second time.

Watson is revered in Scotland, where he has won four of his five Opens -- although never at St. Andrews.

The eight-time major winner, who is 65, will play the championship for the last time as his eligibility is set to expire unless he finishes in the top 10.

"I hope next week is a celebration of that greatness," Mickelson said. "It's his last Open Championship, and I'm certainly appreciative of all he's done for the game of golf."

When asked later if he had cleared the air with Watson, Mickelson again responded with more praise.

"I view him as a great champion," Mickelson said. "I look at him as one of the best players the game has ever seen and I look at him with a lot of respect in that regard. In 2009, when he almost won [at Turnberry, where Watson lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink], I was pulling as hard as anybody. I thought it was one of the greatest stories in the history of any sport; I would have cherished a Watson victory there. I hope he plays well next week. Again he's one of the greatest champions the game has ever seen. I'd like him to have a special week, and I know people will treat him like the great champion he is."

Mickelson also addressed the ankle injury thatRory McIlroy suffered while playing soccer with friends last weekend. McIlroy will miss both the Scottish Open and the Open Championship.

"I can't talk about that for the simple reason I did it myself,'' Mickelson said. "In '94, I snapped my femur before the Masters skiing, and I said then and I feel the same way now, you can't live your life in fear. You have to enjoy the moment. I don't feel like anything he was doing was unnecessary risk. He was just playing around, and accidents happen. People get hurt taking a shower and doing normal day-to-day things. You can't stop living your life. It's unfortunate that it happened. Hopefully he'll heal soon and be back at it. If he can't play next week, certainly by the PGA, I would hope."

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