It was far from a full-on attack. Nonetheless, Tiger Woods delivered more than enough by way of veiled criticism of Phil Mickelson for onlookers to be left in little doubt that the 15-time major champion has little by way of sympathy for his old adversary’s predicament. Mickelson will miss this week’s US PGA Championship, where he was due to appear as the defending champion, as the fallout from comments relating to Saudi Arabia and a breakaway tour continue.
Woods admitted he had not contacted Mickelson since the latter stepped away from golf in late February. Comments by Woods in firm defense of golf’s existing ecosystem are in stark contrast to the approach of Mickelson, who accused the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed” and claimed he sought “leverage” via the Saudis.
“He has his opinion on where he sees the game of golf going,” said Woods of Mickelson. “I have my point of view how I see the game of golf. I’ve supported the Tour and my foundation has run events on the Tour for a number of years. I just think that what Jack [Nicklaus] and Arnold [Palmer] have done in 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 out here for a couple of decades and I think there’s a legacy do it. I still think that the tour has so much to offer, so much opportunity.
“I understand different points of view but I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There’s plenty of money out here. The Tour is growing. But it’s just like any other sport. It’s like tennis. You have to go out there and earn it. You’ve got to go out there and play for it. We have the opportunity to go ahead and do it. It’s just not guaranteed up front.”
Mickelson is widely believed to have signed a lucrative deal with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments, which will stage a $25m event in Hertfordshire next month. That Woods was choosing his words wisely was made clear when he was asked about Mickelson’s non-appearance at Southern Hills. “It’s always disappointing when the defending champion is not here,” he said.
“Phil has said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the Tour and committed to the legacy of the Tour have pushed back against. He has taken some personal time and we all understand that. I think that some of his views on how the tour could be run, should be run, there has been a lot of disagreement there. But as we all know, as a professional, we miss him being out here.”
Speaking before Woods, Rory McIlroy was candid about the significance of the Saudi disruption plan. “Greg [Norman] and everyone behind it are very determined,” McIlroy said. “I think we’re just going to have to see how it plays out. Guys are going to make decisions. Honestly it’s going to shape the future of professional golf one way or another, so I think we’re just going to have to see how it all shakes out.”
McIlroy branded Mickelson’s US PGA no-show “unfortunate” and “sad”. The two-time PGA champion added: “This should be a celebration, right?”
Woods and McIlroy will be in each other company for rounds one and two in Tulsa, which suggests the PGA of America’s top brass are trying to, even briefly, shift golf’s narrative. Jordan Spieth, who needs this major to complete a career grand slam, makes up the threesome.
Woods insists he is in better physical condition than at the Masters, which marked his first tournament appearance since involvement in a serious car crash last February. “I feel like I can [win it], definitely,” he said when asked whether victory is feasible. “I just have to go out there and do it. I have to do my work. Starts on Thursday and I’ll be ready.”