TULSA, Okla. – While acknowledging it is unfortunate that things have escalated to the point where the defending champion is not competing this week, Tiger Woods made clear his differences with Phil Mickelson on the issue of alternative golf tours, guaranteed payouts and issues with the PGA Tour.
Woods, who had a decades-long rivalry with Mickelson, said Tuesday at Southern Hills Country Club that it’s “disappointing’’ he is not here and understands why the 2021 PGA champ needs to take some personal time.
But Woods also explained that he supports the PGA Tour and disagrees with some of the larger points Mickelson made against the Tour.
“He has his opinion on where he sees the game of golf going; I have my viewpoint on how I see the game of golf and I’ve supported the Tour and my foundation has run events on the Tour for a number of years,’’ Woods said during a 30-minute interview session with reporters in advance of the PGA Championship.
Woods said he has also not reached out to Mickelson.
“I just think what Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnold (Palmer) have done in starting the Tour and breaking away from the PGA of America and creating our Tour (in 1968) ... I just think there's a legacy to that," Woods said. "I’ve been playing out here for a couple of decades, and I think there’s a legacy to it. I still think the PGA Tour has so much to offer, so much opportunity.
“I understand different viewpoints, but I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures in the past. There’s plenty of money out here. The Tour is growing. But 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.’’
Woods never called the LIV Golf Invitational Series headed by Greg Norman by name, but his reference was to the disruptive potential league that was offering significant, nine-figure contracts to players just for signing on, with the promise of 48-player events and no cuts, which guarantees being paid.
Woods' legacy is 82 PGA Tour victories and 15 major championships, which can be compared to Nicklaus (73 and 18) or Palmer (60 and seven) or any of the greats throughout the game’s history. Mickelson, with his victory at the PGA Championship last year, has 45 PGA Tour victories and six major championships.
But Mickelson has been talking to the various entities that looked to approach golf from a different aspect. The LIV Golf and Premier Golf League concepts attempt to reward players for their value, sort of like in team sports, where there are guaranteed contracts.
And given that LIV Golf Investments are backed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the amount of money being offered has been significant, with $25 million purses offered for the Invitational Series that is scheduled to begin next month.
That is more than double all but one purse on the PGA Tour, the $20 million Players Championship.
In the aftermath of two interviews in which Mickelson referred to the PGA Tour’s “obnoxious greed’’ and acknowledged that he had been talking to Norman and LIV Golf officials about the business plan, in part to gain leverage with the PGA Tour, Mickelson faced widespread criticism.
Several players criticized him, sponsors dropped him or pulled back, and Mickelson issued a public apology on Feb. 22 in which he tried to explain his position and said he needed to take time away.
Since that time, he has not spoken. He gave no statement when he pulled out of the Masters in late April, and last week it was the PGA of America that announced Mickelson would not be defending his title this week.
Mickelson last year became the oldest major champion in the game’s history when he won the PGA at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. He finished a stroke ahead of Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen for a wildly popular and surprising victory.
Now his future is unclear.
“It’s always disappointing when the defending champion is not here,’’ Woods said. “Phil 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, and he’s taken some personal time, and we all understand that.
“But I think that some of his views on how the Tour could be run, should be run, been a lot of disagreement there. But as we all know, as a professional, we miss him being out here. He’s a big draw for the game of golf. He’s just taking his time and we all wish him the best when he comes back.
“Obviously we’re going to have difference of opinions, how he sees the Tour, and we’ll go from there.’’
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