Sports Digest: Mickelson compliments McIlroy as rhetoric seems to simmer

GOLF

The back-and-forth between Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy continued on Wednesday, with rhetoric scaled back significantly due to previous verbal battles between PGA Tour players and those leaving for the Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf.

Mickelson praised McIlroy for his win last week, those remarks coming a day after The Guardian published an interview in which McIlroy – now world No. 1 again – said the game wasn’t benefiting from all the acrimony between the sides.

“I see LIV Golf is trending up, I see the PGA Tour is trending down and I love the side I’m on,” Mickelson said two weeks ago in Saudi Arabia, the seventh of eight stops in the first LIV program of this season.

But on Wednesday, ahead of the LIV finals at Trump National Doral, Mickelson’s tone was a little softer: “Maybe I shouldn’t have said stuff like that, I don’t know,” he said.

“If I just look at LIV Golf and where we are today, where we were six, seven months ago and people say this is dead in the water and we’re beyond that,” Mickelson continued. “Here we are today, a force at play that is not going away.”

Part of Mickelson’s choice of words was no coincidence. McIlroy made the “dead in the water” comment in February, around the time Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau said they would stay with the PGA Tour. Both went to LIV anyway, lured by the signing of bonuses reportedly worth over $100 million. Johnson has earned about $31 million more in LIV prize money ahead of this weekend’s finals.

McIlroy returned to world No. 1 last weekend by winning the CJ Cup in South Carolina. Mickelson called it “a great win” and “an impressive win”.

“I think about Rory a lot,” Mickelson said. “I really have the utmost respect for him and I look at what he’s done in the game and how he’s played this year and how he won last week and is world No. 1 now and I have a lot respect for him. ”

MEDIA

X GAMES: ESPN sold its majority stake in the X and Winter X Games on Wednesday, marking the end of a nearly three-decade chapter in which the network helped push snowboarding, skateboarding and other action sports off the fringe and into the mainstream.

The terms of the sale to MSP Sports Capital, a sports-focused private equity firm that also owns shares in McLaren Racing and a handful of European football teams, have not been made public. ESPN will remain a minority partner in the events and will continue to televise them. This season’s Winter X Games are scheduled for January 27-29 in Aspen, Colorado.

Born at a time when ESPN still craved programming of all kinds (ESPN2 was originally developed specifically to appeal to a younger audience), the Winter X Games has long been a trendsetter in snowboarding. It has a reputation for building the best halfpipes and slopestyle courses, and for finding new events (think, snowmobiling) and niches (think, knuckle huck) to keep the action sports fresh.

SOCCER

RONALDO RETURNS: Cristiano Ronaldo is back in the running for Manchester United after talks with coach Erik ten Hag.

The Portuguese striker could play against Sheriff FC in the Europa League on Thursday after being eliminated in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea and being forced to train outside the first-team squad.

Ronaldo was penalized for not being able to come on as a substitute in last week’s 2-0 win against Tottenham, raising new doubts about his future at United.

But Ten Hag said on Wednesday that the issue has now been resolved after speaking with the striker.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Barcelona were eliminated in the group stage for the second year in a row, with the result of their home game against Bayern Munich proving meaningless after Inter Milan beat Viktoria Pilsen in the previous match.

Barcelona needed Inter to drop points so they started their game at the Camp Nou already without competition as Bayern and Inter secured the top two spots in Group C. Barcelona finishes third and secures a place in the Europa League. The Bavarians had already advanced.

• Club Brugge were penalized for defensive mistakes and suffered their first league defeat of the season in a 4-0 defeat by visiting Porto.

• Inter Milan reached the knockout stages.

Inter defeated Viktoria Pilsen 4-0 to secure at least second place in Group C with one game remaining.

And to round off a great evening for Inter, Romelu Lukaku scored the last goal, four minutes after his comeback as a late substitute after a two-month injury break.

Edin Dzeko scored two more Inter goals after Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s opener.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP: British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly faced criticism after telling gay football fans heading to the World Cup in Qatar to show “compromise” and be “respectful to the host country”.

The remarks were quickly denied by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office, while a senior opposition Labor Party figure called them “appallingly deaf”.

Homosexuality is criminalized in Qatar, and Cleverly was questioned on the issue after British activist Peter Tatchell was questioned by police after he held a one-man protest outside Qatar’s National Museum and held up a sign saying the country has been accused of jailing members of the national LGBTQ community.

“I have spoken to the Qatari authorities in the past about gay football fans going to watch the World Cup and how they will treat our fans and international fans,” Cleverly told LBC radio. “They want to make sure football fans are safe and enjoying themselves and they know that in an Islamic country with very different cultural norms than ours they have to make some compromises.

“One of the things I would say to football fans is, you know, please be respectful of the host country. They’re trying to make sure people can be themselves and enjoy football and I think with a little flexibility and compromise on both sides it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”

Qatar has said all are welcome at the World Cup, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the country’s conservative culture, where public displays of love – even among straight people – are taboo.

Qatari law provides for a prison sentence of one to three years for adults convicted of consensual gay or lesbian sex. European football’s governing bodies last month announced their intention for captains to wear a rainbow heart armband at international matches as part of an anti-discrimination campaign.

Downing Street was quick to dismiss Cleverly’s language, saying people shouldn’t “have to compromise who they are”.


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