TULSA, Okla. — A lot can change in a year.
On Kiawah Island last May, Phil Mickelson was the darling of golf. With 72 of the most improbable holes of his illustrious career, Lefty claimed the Wanamaker Trophy at the age of 50 — eight years after his last major victory.
Tiger Woods spent that week 500 miles south at his compound in Jupiter, Fla. Three months after an accident that nearly claimed his life, the 15-time major champ still couldn’t leave his home. Many — including Woods himself — questioned if he’d ever play golf at a high level again.
One year later, the roles are reversed.
At Southern Hills, it’s Woods who’s making the galleries gush and the media swarm. Mickelson, meanwhile, is spending the week far away from the plains of Oklahoma.
In May 2021, the proposition would’ve seemed preposterous. In May 2022, it’s our reality.
“It’s always disappointing when the defending champion [is] not here,” Woods told reporters on Tuesday. “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.”
How did we get to this moment? Well … it’s complicated.
For Woods, 15 months of rehab and gritting his teeth on the road to recovery are to thank. It’s not often an athlete goes from three months of bed rest to competing in major championships. But with Woods, extraordinary is … ordinary.
Mickelson’s arc has been less linear. His PGA Championship victory catapulted him back to the forefront of the sport — and it’s a spot he knows well. However, with the attention of the masses once again, Mickelson used his platform for contentious purposes.
First, he chided the Tour for what he viewed as “obnoxious greed” in handling media rights. Then, a bombshell report revealed Mickelson had been working behind the scenes with the Saudi government to help form a controversial (and Saudi-funded) rival league, LIV Golf.
The revelation sent shockwaves through the sport, and Lefty hasn’t been seen in public since. He’s even opted to miss the PGA this week for his title defense.
With Mickelson out of the picture for the week, Woods was left to answer for his contemporary during his pre-tournament availability.
“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,” Tiger said. “I think that some of his views on how the Tour could be run, should be run — [there have] been a lot of disagreements there … Obviously we’re going to have a difference of opinion, how he sees the Tour, and we’ll go from there.”
In Woods’ eyes, legacy is the Tour’s bedrock. There’s no sense in blowing it all up for a few extra bucks.
“I believe in legacies,” he said. “I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There’s plenty of money out here … [But] you have to go out there and earn it.”
For this reason, Woods explained he’s opted not to reach out to Mickelson. If there were personal issues at play, it could be a different story. But what exists between the two men is a difference in opinion on the future of professional golf.
“I have not reached out to him,” Woods said. “A lot of it has not to do with I think personal issues. It was our viewpoints of how the Tour should be run and could be run, and what players are playing for and how we are playing for it. I have a completely different stance on [it].”
Considering the circumstances at play during the last PGA Championship, a Tiger appearance of any kind is remarkable. But one that sees him commenting on Mickelson’s absence a year after his unlikely triumph? Extraordinary.
What a difference a year can make.