TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Tiger Woods is all about the majors and legacy, a point he drove home Tuesday in a sharp rebuke of Phil Mickelson and his support for a Saudi-funded golf business which led to Lefty failing to defend his PGA Championship title.
Even as Woods resumes a remarkable comeback after a car accident 15 months ago that nearly resulted in the amputation of his right leg, the PGA Championship cannot escape Mickelson’s absence. and speculation over who might sign up for Greg Norman’s new Saudi-backed golf series.
Woods said he hasn’t tried to reach out to Mickelson since taking a voluntary hiatus from golf three months ago, primarily due to their differing opinions on how golf should be run.
“I understand different points of view, but I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in grand events, in comparisons to historical figures of the past,” Woods said.
“There’s a lot of money here,” he said. “The tour is growing. But it’s like any other sport – it’s like tennis – you have to go in and earn it. You have to go out there and play for it. We have the opportunity to go ahead and do that. It’s just not guaranteed in advance.
It was a reference to some of the Public Investment Fund money from Saudi Arabia offered to players to join Norman and his LIV golf investments. According to various reports out of Britain, some of the top players were being offered more than the $120 million Woods earned in his career on the PGA Tour.
Mickelson showed his hand in two interviews published in February. He accused the PGA Tour of “abhorrent greed” playing in Saudi Arabia, and more inflammatory comments followed when Alan Shipnuck posted an excerpt from his unauthorized Mickelson biography.
Mickelson said the Saudis were “a scary mother – (expletive) to get involved with”, then dismissed his human rights atrocities – such as the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi – saying that it was worth having the leverage to make changes on the PGA Tour.
He also said he doesn’t care if the Saudi league fails, as long as the tour brings the changes he wants.
Mickelson decided last Friday that he would not play in Southern Hillsmissing a chance to be celebrated for his historic victory last year at Kiawah Island when, at age 50, he became golf’s oldest great champion.
He is the first PGA champion not to defend since Woods was recovering from knee surgery in 2008 and skipped Oakland Hills.
“It’s always disappointing when the defending champion isn’t around,” Woods said. “Phil said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to touring and committed to the touring legacy rejected, and he took some personal time, and we all understand that. But I think that some of his opinions on how the tour could be organized, should be organized, caused a lot of disagreement there.
“He just takes his time and we all wish him the best when he comes back.”
Woods, meanwhile, is back and more optimistic than he was a month ago at the Masters. He said those close to him were thrilled to watch him walk the 72 holes of Augusta National, his first competitive step since the crash on February 23, 2021 in Los Angeles that broke his bones in his right leg and ankle. .
All he could think of the next day was a bad putting week that led to a 78-78 weekend.
“I didn’t see it that way on Monday,” he said. “I was a little ticked off, didn’t roll well, and felt like I was hitting pretty well and wish I had the stamina.”
He said the Monday after the Masters was a tough recovery day and then he returned to work to try and build up strength and endurance.
“It’s better than the last time I played a tournament, which is good,” Woods said.
He is the defending PGA champion at Southern Hills, having won by two strokes in 2007 for his 13th of what is now 15 majors. And he barely recognized the course after a restoration project that brought back some meandering streams and turned the edges of putting surfaces so they direct shots away from the green.
The biggest challenge is the players he’s trying to beat, who are the strongest field at the majors. Woods is 46 and Mickelson showed a year ago that age is just a number. However, Mickelson had played a full program throughout. Woods, with his injuries, appears to be limited to the four majors this year at most.
A help is the nature of the walk. Augusta National is among the most challenging in golf. Southern Hills features a steep drop from the first and 10th tees and a tough climb at the end of every nine. Otherwise it’s a relatively gentle walk.
“I thought the first mountain you climbed was Everest. It’s the steepest golf course you’re ever going to play and it’s the first one you’ve climbed, and climbed it,” Woods said. “It’s going to get flatter and better.”
He still struggles some days. He said it’s never as easy as it sounds.
“But I feel like I’m getting better,” he said. “I have more days that are better, more positive.”
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