Mickelson called 'cheat' in club row

World No 2 at centre of storm after using loophole to play with a controversial wedge
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The Independent Online

So much for Phil Mickelson restoring golf's spotless image in the wake of the Tiger Woods scandal. Mickelson has only been the de facto world No 1 for two competitive rounds but already he has been labelled a "cheat" by a member of the US Tour Players' Committee.

Scott McCarron used the game's dreaded "C" word, when asked about Mickelson's decision to exploit a loophole in the new equipment regulations. "It's cheating, and I'm appalled Phil has put it in play," the three-time Tour winner told the San Francisco Chronicle.

McCarron was referring to the 20-year-old wedge Mickelson is employing at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Although the Ping Eye 2 club features the banned grooves, it is technically allowed because of a lawsuit dating way back to 1993. An out-of-court settlement decreed that all Ping clubs manufactured before 1990 are legal – and this supersedes the new laws.

Mickelson, himself, admitted the anomaly in his eve-of-tournament press conference on Wednesday. "I feel like the Eye 2 grooves are not legal, or don't conform, but they are approved for play," he said, revealing how he had found the club from his college days in the corner of his garage. "All that matters is that it's OK under the Rules of Golf."

In fairness, Mickelson is not the only golfer taking advantage of the so-called "grandfather clause". Among others, John Daly employed the same club in last week's Sony Open. "All those guys should be ashamed of themselves," said McCarron. "As one of our premier players, [Mickelson] should be one of the guys who steps up and says this is wrong."

Mickelson, however, has been deeply critical of the rule devised by the R&A and the USGA in August 2008, which has replaced the square grooves with V-shaped grooves in an attempt to make it more difficult to control shots from the rough. The game's stewards hoped this would put a greater premium on accuracy off the tee and thus shorten driving distances. The regulations came into effect at the start of this year and evidently some of the pros have been busy raking through the small print, not to mention buying up old wedges on the internet.

The opportunism of Mickelson and Co has inevitably caused bitterness among their less cunning, maybe more principled, colleagues. Indeed, McCarron's was far from a lone dissenting voice. "I don't like it at all, not one bit," said the popular veteran, Rocco Mediate. "It's against the spirit of the rule. We have to get rid of those clubs, because they're square grooves. What else can you say?"

Robert Allenby concurred. "I believe that even if they are legal, you still shouldn't be using them. Just because someone has a couple sitting in their garage or they've got them off eBay, I just don't think that's the integrity of the game."

Mickelson was clearly aware his choice of wedge would create a stir in some, although he has perhaps been surprised by the vehemence of the reaction. Yet with Woods still on his "indefinite break" as he tries to rescue his marriage following all the revelations of his extra-marital activities, Mickelson is now "The Man" and he must realise that each and every action will be scrutinised. Fortunately, there was little to get alarmed about in his opening-round 70. Mickelson was two-under par and although six shots off Scott Piercy's lead, he was due to tackle the less exacting North Course last night.

*The English duo of Lee Westwood and Oliver Wilson lie two shots off Brett Rumford after the second round of the Qatar Masters. Bradley Dredge is the best-placed Briton. The Welshman is second on eight-under, a stroke behind the leader.

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