It was far from a full attack. Nonetheless, Tiger Woods delivered more than enough veiled criticism of Phil Mickelson to leave onlookers in little doubt that the 15-time Major champion has little sympathy for his former opponent’s plight. Mickelson will miss this week’s US PGA Championship, where he was due to appear as defending champion, as the fallout from comments regarding Saudi Arabia and a breakaway tour continues.
Woods admitted he hasn’t contacted Mickelson since the latter retired from golf in late February. Woods’ comments in strong defense of golf’s existing ecosystem stand in stark contrast to the approach of Mickelson, who accused the PGA Tour of “abhorrent greed” and claimed he was seeking “leverage” via the Saudis.
“He has his opinion on where he’s going for the game of golf,” Woods said of Mickelson. “I have my perspective on how I see the game of golf. I’ve supported the Tour and my foundation has hosted Tour events for a number of years. I just think what Jack [Nicklaus] and Arnold [Palmer] what I did starting the Tour, breaking away from the PGA of America and creating our Tour in 1968… I just think there’s a legacy to that. I’ve been playing here for a few decades and I think there’s a legacy to doing so. I still think the Tour has so much to offer, so many opportunities.
“I understand different points of view but I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in great events, in comparisons with historical figures of the past. There’s a lot of money here. The Tour is growing. But it’s like any other sport. It’s like tennis. You have to go out there 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.
Mickelson is widely believed to have signed a lucrative deal with Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments, which will stage a $25million event in Hertfordshire next month. That Woods chooses his words wisely was made clear when asked about Mickelson’s non-appearance in Southern Hills. “It’s always disappointing when the defending champion isn’t there,” he said.
“Phil said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the Tour and committed to the Tour legacy have pushed back. He took personal time and we all understand that. I think some of his views on how the Tour could be organised, should be organised, there was a lot of disagreement there but as we all know as professionals we miss him here.
Speaking ahead of Woods, Rory McIlroy was candid about the significance of the Saudi disruption plan. “Greg [Norman] and everyone behind it is very determined,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll just have to see how it goes.
“Guys are going to make decisions. Honestly, this is going to shape the future of professional golf in one way or another, so I think we’ll just have to see how it all pans out. McIlroy called Mickelson’s no-show from the PGA of America “unfortunate” and “sad”. The two-time PGA champion added: “It should be a party, right?”
Woods and McIlroy will be in each other’s company for rounds one and two in Tulsa, suggesting the PGA of America’s top brass are trying, however briefly, to change the narrative of golf. Part of the trio is Jordan Spieth, who needs this major to complete a career grand slam.
Woods insists he is in better physical condition than at the Masters, which marked his first tournament appearance since his involvement in a serious car accident last February. “I feel like I can [win it], definitely,” he said when asked if victory was possible. “I just have to go out there and do it. I have to do my job. Start Thursday and I’ll be ready.