Tiger Woods has 'not reached out' to Phil Mickelson
If you’d told a golf fan in 2002 — back when Tiger Woods was collecting majors by the armload, and Phil Mickelson was the lovable major-less loser — that those two would still be the most popular players on the planet in 20 years, it probably wouldn’t have come as a total shock. (That 2002 fan would have reason to worry about the state of a game that hadn’t produced anyone to eclipse Tiger and Phil, but that’s a different story.)
Woods and Mickelson possess a rare combination of talent and charisma, aura and achievement, that have kept them in the public eye for a quarter of a century. But their rivalry, which always had an edge even in the best of times for both, has turned icy.
Mickelson is currently on sabbatical, to put it one way, as a result of explosive comments he made aligning himself with a new Saudi-backed golf tour. His intention was to wound the PGA Tour, and he glossed over the Saudi regime’s human rights violations to make his point in an interview that became public in February. In the ensuing firestorm, he stepped back from the game, declining to play in last month’s Masters and withdrawing from this year’s PGA Championship, where he’s defending champion.
Asked about Mickelson’s absence, Woods traveled two paths — making it clear that Mickelson is good for the game of golf while noting that he also made his own bed with his condemnation of the PGA Tour.
“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,” Woods said. “But as we all know, as a professional, we miss him being out here. I mean, 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.”
When pressed on whether he’d made a personal connection with Mickelson in recent weeks, however, Woods didn’t hesitate, and gave an uncharacteristically honest response.
“I have not reached out to him. I have not spoken with him,” Woods said, in a flat tone of voice that suggested there was no room for compromise. “I have a completely different stance on [the PGA Tour operations] … and so no, I have not reached out to him.”
Woods is playing in only his second major since his catastrophic February 2021 car wreck, which put him in physical therapy for months and nearly cost him his leg. But his performance last month at the Masters was impressive enough — a made cut, four days of walking Augusta National's steep hills — that his appearance at the PGA Championship this week didn't come as much of a shock.
"That's the steepest golf course you're going to play," Woods said Tuesday of Augusta National. "It's going to get flatter and better. But still, I still have tough days, and things aren't going to be as easy as people might think."
Woods reflected on his Masters performance; as expected, he'd hoped for more from himself even though everyone else was impressed he'd just shown up. "The thing that I was frustrated with is, it deteriorated as the week went on. I got more and more tired and more fatigued. I didn't have the endurance that I wanted. I mean, I shouldn't expect it because I didn't earn it. I didn't go out there and I hadn't done the work but we were able to put in a little bit more work, and it's going to get better as time goes on."
But can he contend? "Definitely. I just have to go out there and do it."
“He's Tiger. He's a competitor,” Jon Rahm said. “He's going to try to win every single time, and anytime he tees up, the world wants him to win.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.