Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods haven’t always seen eye to eye. During their rivalry – albeit a rather one-sided one – throughout the late 90s and noughties, ‘lefty’ was very much the bridesmaid to Tiger’s bride.
By the time Woods first signed professional terms in 1996, Mickelson was already a nine-time PGA Tour winner and spoken about as one of the best players yet to win a major. Fast-forward eight years, and Woods had amassed eight of golf’s ‘Holy Grail’ titles and Phil was still sitting on a major duck egg despite capturing 22 PGA Tour wins.
Mickelson finally got over the line in 2004 when he donned the Green Jacket at Augusta, and hasn’t been quite the punching bag since, amassing another five major titles to Woods’ seven.
With age, came a thawing of sorts in the frosty relationship, best witnessed when they rolled out together for a practice round at Augusta in 2018. The cynical view, however, was that Woods and Mickelson were already in negotiations for ‘The Match’ – the winner takes all $9 million exhibition that Mickelson would eventually prevail in at Las Vegas’ Shadow Creek Golf Course – and that the pair remained at odds behind the scenes.
Possibly never a fan of Woods the man, Mickelson never hid his admiration for Woods the player, commenting – likely accurately – in 2003 that Tiger’s Nike equipment was inferior and that Woods was the only player capable of overcoming the manufacturers shortcomings. A compliment to Tiger, but a swipe at Nike and one that Woods took personally given his financial interest in Nike equipment sales.
It came as a surprise to few when Mickelson was one of the first golfers to publicly back LIV Golf’s arrival, and to fewer still when he jumped ship, but even following his ill-judged comments to Alan Shipnuck in which he referred to the Saudis as ‘scary motherf**kers’ and referenced the murder of New York Times journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, Woods remained tight-lipped, at least in public.
An outspoken advocate for the PGA Tour and the history involved, Woods was critical of LIV’s format and its players’ desires without ever being critical of specific individuals, Mickelson included. Rory McIlroy, among others, was not so subtle and regularly took pot shots at Mickelson, LIV CEO Greg Norman and others.
Mickelson, who’s long been a champion of greater player involvement at board level on the PGA Tour, went as far as to accuse the Tour of withholding players’ imagery rights, of rejecting a billion-dollar deal that he’d brokered prior to LIV’s arrival, and of sitting on an $800 million dollar cash stockpile.
But the recent announcement that Tiger Woods was set to join the PGA Tour Policy Board as a Player Director is a move that Mickelson is in approval of.
In a tweet following the news breaking, Mickelson said: “This is great to see. Players having equal representation on the board, Tiger getting more involved, and accountability across the board. Awesome news.”
Even in his self-imposed exile, Mickelson appears acutely aware of the powerful voice that Woods carries in PGA Tour locker rooms and at board level and as critical as he’s been of the Tour’s command structure, knows that any Tiger-related criticism is likely to be met with a strong backlash from the golfing community at large.