The burning issue leading up to today's opening drives in what should be an intriguing US Masters has been how one of the world's leading sporting personalities is going to cope with the enormous distractions brought about by a crisis in his domestic life. Few of the billions of words uttered and published on that subject have been focused on Phil Mickelson, however. Mickelson, for many years the leading threat to Tiger Woods at the top of the rankings, has been burdened at least as much as Woods by marital problems over the last few months. Only "Lefty's" problems were not of his own making.
Amy Mickelson, a devoted "golf widow" in the same way as Elin Woods used to be as their husbands chased fame and fortune at home and abroad, has been fighting a recovery battle against breast cancer since receiving a diagnosis nearly a year ago. Amy has expressed a desire to be at her husband's side as he begins his challenge for a third green jacket at Augusta National today. Mrs Woods has no intention of offering similar support.
The differences between Woods and Mickelson are plentiful and their contrasting personalities have frequently put them on a collision course, leaving the watching public in little doubt they have little time for each other. Mickelson resisted any temptation to criticise Woods as the world No 1 embarked on his road to redemption from the scandals which emerged last year from a hitherto top-secret private life.
Instead, Mickelson went as far as to declare that an apology from Woods to his fellow professionals for causing such a massive distraction before the first major of the season was unnecessary in view of Woods's enormous influence on the development of the sport over the last decade. Anxiety over his wife's welfare has been a big factor in Mickelson failing to capitalise on the self-imposed exile of Woods. Indeed Woods was runner-up to Mickelson on the 37th and last time Lefty captured a PGA title - at the Tour championships last September.
The form book becomes an irrelevance for Mickelson, at Augusta, however. In 17 appearances the Californian has supplemented his triumphs of 2004 and 2006 with a further four top-three finishes, two more in the top five and a total of 12 in the top 10. Only once has he failed to make the halfway cut. That liking for the course and his impressive history there indicate that Mickelson is a genuine contender to be feted for the third occasion in the Butler Cabin on Sunday evening rather than witness a fifth presentation ceremony for Woods.