Tour Confidential: Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods make PGA Championship moves

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are both in the field for Southern Hills, but will they play?

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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss the latest news from Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods and Jon Rahm’s win at the Mexico Open.

1. Last week, the field for the 2022 PGA Championship got a bit more clear, as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson both officially entered the event, which is May 19-22 at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. But we still have questions, and let’s start with Tiger. Not only has he registered, but he also played a highly publicized practice round there on Thursday. At this point, would it be more surprising if Woods didn’t play the PGA? And how would Southern Hills set up for him?

James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): At this point, yeah, it’d be pretty surprising if he didn’t play. As for performance, Tiger took time at the Masters to emphasize the importance of staying out of the rough given his current health. Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner’s 2018 restoration at Southern Hills dramatically opened the course, and while I’d bet there’s plenty of thick bermuda come tournament week, I think those tweaks would benefit his game.

Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): Yeah, Tiger’s playing. Of course, we’re not doctors — we just play them online — but by all accounts, he looked good on Thursday, and he looked fine during his Tiger Jam event in Vegas. As for Southern Hills, it’s different from what he saw when he won in 2007, but it’s familiar, and that has to be comforting as he picks and chooses his events.

Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): He’s playing. We don’t always get PGA Championships at truly world-class designs like Southern Hills. As challenging as it is, I would say the subtleties of the architecture will work in his favor. This is not a bomb-and-gouge course. It takes imagination, creative shot-making, a wizardly short game. No one has more of those three than Tiger.

Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): It would be surprising if he didn’t tee it at Southern Hills, but I refuse to believe that the course will set up well for him. It can’t. He’s seen it, which is great, but he’ll know it about as well as the rest of the field knows it. And they won’t be 46-going-on-60. Doses of reality about Tiger are rarely met with anything but vitriol online, but I just don’t see it going well if only a couple weeks ago he was polishing off a 78-78 weekend at the Masters.

2. As for Mickelson, his agent, Steve Loy, sent out a statement saying Phil had registered for both the PGA and U.S. Open, but — perhaps most newsworthy — also requested a PGA Tour release for the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event in London in June. However, there was a careful caveat. “Phil currently has no concrete plans on when and where he will play,” Loy said. “Any actions taken are in no way a reflection of a final decision made, but rather to keep all options open.” Mickelson obviously hasn’t played since he announced he was taking some time away from the game after his controversial comments made earlier this year, and it’s the first we’ve heard from Mickelson or his camp in months. How likely is it that Mickelson defends his PGA title, and if you were advising his return, what would you tell him?

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Colgan: It would be a truly dramatic step if the PGA of America barred Phil from playing, which is what I think it’d take for him NOT to play later this month. For Phil, I think it makes a ton of sense to come back at the PGA, where he’s likely to find a congenial audience. For the PGA? Well, that’s the (multi) million dollar question, isn’t it?

Piastowski: I’ll say this: Phil playing is less likely than Tiger playing. That being said, let’s put the number at 75 percent that Lefty plays. How can he not defend? And should he, I think it’s a matter of doing the press conference and then moving on. But as for Phil’s future after that? Whew, only he knows.

Sens: He defends. He’s got to be dying to. Like James, I don’t see him being barred. Advice for him? He said some ill-considered things and then compounded them with some truly lame blame-the-media mealy mouthed talk. I’d remind him to be forthright in his answers, not try to deflect responsibility. And move on. If some people can’t forgive him, so be it. He can’t control that. As he said himself, he wants to do better. Move ahead with that in mind.

Zak: Like Tiger, I think it would be shocking if Mickelson doesn’t tee it at the PGA. If I was his publicist for one week, I would tell him to act exactly like he acted at Kiawah Island: short, to the point, rushing away from journalists as the sun fell to get more swings in on the range. The less words, the better. The less questions, the better.

3. While it’s not completely surprising Mickelson is keeping his options open for some upcoming majors, were you at all shocked to see he’s taking the proper steps to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event, given what’s transpired over the past few months? The statement from Loy came on the same day Sports Illustrated reported 15 players in the world top 100 had requested releases for the first tournament. Despite what happened earlier this year, can and will Mickelson’s presence still lure other potential big-name players?

Colgan: Strikes me as following the tried-and-true public relations playbook of laying low for a while before returning to doing exactly what you were doing. Though I’d bet Phil is a closed book about LIV Golf’s financiers and the PGA Tour headed forward.

Piastowski: No, I don’t think Mickelson’s presence will draw other players. At this point, it might even deter folks. But the story around the tour hasn’t changed — money will bring in players. Lots and lots of money.

Sens: I’m with Nick. I don’t see his presence drawing more players. But it will draw more eyeballs, which might have the ripple effect of attracting more players later on.

Zak: Big-name players? No. Lesser players? Yes! There’s going to be an event in London that the Tour will surely grant releases for. And some player outside the top 50 will maybe win more money than Jordan Spieth does all year. It’s only plausible, but it IS plausible. And that will catch some interesting reactions.

4. GOLF learned that the Tour’s Player Advisory Council recently discussed a schedule shift for the second time this year, a change that could open the door for a new fall competition series and have the main season run January to August. The fall would give top players a break without losing FedEx Cup points and serve to “finalize eligibility” for players who need to improve their FedEx Cup standing from the previous season. Would you be on board with this change to the fall schedule?

Colgan: Uhh, hell yeah. Take a look at the fall schedule and tell me which events you’d miss if they were dwarfed by a new, team-based fall series? You’d be hard-pressed to find one.

Piastowski: I am, especially if the reports of more non-traditional events are true. But would those draw the “bigger” names? I want to see a few more details.

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Sens: I’m biased on this one. I’d like to see golf shut down for a breather, like other sports. I understand the commercial interest in a year-round schedule, but we fans already have enough fluff to consume throughout the year. Take some time off. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.

Zak: I am all in favor of creating breaks in the Tour schedule where the return to action will be inherently more exciting than simply bringing the circus to another town the following week. I think the biggest thing with this catching on is if the purses at the international series are mega — $15 million apiece, or something in that range. In broaching these conversations, the Tour is acknowledging that there is a competition here.

5. Jon Rahm was the heavy favorite at the Mexico Open, led wire to wire and shot 69 in the final round to win by one, making it the second time in seven tries he’s converted a 54-hole lead or co-lead. Rahm didn’t have his best on Sunday, but still hung on to win. For top-tier pros like him, are final rounds like this, when you’re the marquee name and big-time betting favorite, more difficult to win than stronger-field events since you are expected to come out on top?

Colgan: I’d think it’s easier to beat Brandon Wu and Kurt Kitayama as a heavy favorite than Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler as a slight underdog.

Piastowski: I actually wrote a little about this in the story on Rahm’s win. Is it easier against a “lesser” field? Sure. But the expectations grow a bit. And players hate that thought. For what it’s worth, I loved Rahm’s quote on CBS after his round: “I don’t look at bets or anything like that. I like to think every time I tee it up I’m the favorite because I’m out there to win and I’ve been playing pretty good the last few years.” So I guess he always thinks he should win.

Sens: You don’t get to where Rahm is in the game without being more than mentally tough enough to handle the pressure of expectations. Was this an easier event to win than a lot of others? Absolutely. But scores of guys had a chance, and only Rahm pulled it off.

Zak: The difference between Morikawa and Scheffler and Wu and Kitayama is so razor thin some days, and so gigantic other days. I think when you win on Sunday on the Tour after leading through 54 holes, it’s a helluva accomplishment, no matter what time of year.

6. The LIV Golf Invitational Series released exclusive tickets for its inaugural draft party scheduled for June 7 in London, just days before its first tournament. The package includes admission into evening events, a spot to watch captains pick teams, an open bar and more. The price for one ticket? Just a shade under $2,000. We won’t ask if you are ready to open up your checkbook for this one, but it did get us thinking: What fan experience (for a premium price) would you like to see the PGA Tour offer?

Colgan: I would pay an extra $100 a year for a commercial-free version of NBC and CBS’s broadcasts. I’d throw in an extra $50 if the broadcasters all promised not to talk over player mics.

Piastowski: The chance to play the course the day after the final round. Or beers with the champ.

Sens: At some point during the four days of competition, every player in the field has to pull a fan out of the gallery and have that fan hit a shot for him. No tap-in putts. Shortest shot allowed would be a 15-footer. Yeah. Dumb idea. But I’d still like to see it.

Zak: Piastowski is on to something. Pony up $10,000 and you can play the course Sunday morning before the Tour pros do. You just have to clarify your handicap ahead of time, and be comfortable with every shot of yours being filmed. CBS would have a field day.

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