TULSA, Okla. — On Tuesday, when Tiger Woods spoke publicly for the primary time since his stunning comeback ultimately month’s Masters Tournament, the expected topic was to be his continuing recovery from a near-fatal 2021 automobile crash. Woods did indeed say his reconstructed right leg felt stronger as he prepared for this week’s P.G.A. Championship, which begins Thursday at Tulsa’s Southern Hills Country Club.
But perhaps for the primary time at any news conference in Woods’s 30-plus years in the general public eye, he spent nearly as much time discussing a longtime rival, Phil Mickelson, as he did himself. And Woods was not normally chatting about Mickelson in flattering terms.
Woods was emphatic about distancing himself from Mickelson, who won’t defend his P.G.A. Championship title and has not played since he made incendiary remarks in February in support of a Saudi-backed golf league that hopes to rival the established PGA Tour.
While Mickelson up to now has privately reached out to Woods during his struggles, which have included a sensational marital infidelity scandal in 2009 and the aftermath of a tumbling automobile crash on a Los Angeles-area boulevard last 12 months, Woods said on Tuesday that he has not contacted Mickelson.
“I actually have not reached out to him; I actually have not spoken to him,” Woods said. “A variety of it has to not do with, I believe, personal issues. It was our viewpoints of how the tour needs to be run and might be run, and what players are playing for and the way we’re playing for it. I actually have a totally different stance on that, so no, I actually have not.”
Woods added: “We miss him being out here. I mean, he’s an enormous draw for the sport of golf. He’s just taking his time and all of us wish him the most effective when he comes back.”
But after conceding that the social media landscape had escalated and quickly polarized the dispute between the PGA Tour and the breakaway league, Woods said: “And the viewpoints that Phil has made with the tour and what the tour has meant to all of us has been polarizing as well.”
Mickelson applied for a release from the PGA Tour to play within the inaugural event of the upstart golf circuit, LIV Golf, next month outside London. The PGA Tour denied Mickelson’s request and any made by its members, and it has threatened to suspend or otherwise discipline players who play in the choice tour’s events. In February, Mickelson provoked a hailstorm of criticism after he acknowledged Saudi Arabia had a “horrible record on human rights” — including the murder of a Washington Post journalist — but said he was still talking with, and aiding, the brand new tour since it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to use pressure on the PGA Tour. Earlier this 12 months, Mickelson accused the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed.” He later said his remarks were “reckless.”
On Tuesday, when Woods was asked how his disagreements with Mickelson might be resolved, Woods replied: “I don’t know if he has to resolve it or not. I understand different viewpoints, but I think in legacies. I think in major championships. I think in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There’s loads of money out here. The tour is growing. However it’s just like every other sport, you’ve gotten to go on the market and earn it.”
When he wasn’t discussing Mickelson on Tuesday, Woods’s rebuilt right leg did look considerably stronger than it did last month when he labored to ascend seemingly every hill through the Masters Tournament on the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. During a practice round in Tulsa, Woods actually half-jogged up a steep incline.
When asked how much he had physically improved through the last five weeks of additional rehabilitation for the intense injuries incurred in his 2021 crash, Woods smiled.
“The primary mountain I climbed was Everest,” he said. “So, yeah, I’m higher than the last time I played a tournament.” He added: “I still have tough days, and things aren’t going to be as easy as people might think. Still, I’m doing higher — more positive days.”
But tellingly, Woods, who was known for nearly ceaseless practice, especially along with his putter, scoffed when he was asked if he can now practice enough.
“Practicing loads? No, I don’t do this anymore,” he answered. “Bending over for a very long time, hitting a bunch of putts like I used to? No, that doesn’t occur — not with my back the way in which it’s.”
Some things, nevertheless, haven’t modified. Woods never showed up for an event unless he believed he could finish first. That resolve has not wavered.
“I feel like I can — definitely,” Woods responded when asked if he could win. “I just need to go on the market and do it. Starts on Thursday and I’ll be ready.”
Jon Rahm, who’s the world’s top-ranked men’s golfer and likewise on this week’s field, said he was not surprised that Woods desires to win every tournament.
“Hey, the world wants him to win,” Rahm said with a smile.
In what will likely be an attention grabbing grouping, Rory McIlroy will play in Thursday’s first round with Woods and Jordan Spieth, who has won every major golf title however the P.G.A. Championship. McIlroy expects to see an upgrade from the Woods who began strong ultimately month’s Masters but faded in the ultimate two rounds.
“It’s been six weeks or so since Augusta?” McIlroy asked. “Six weeks is an extended enough time to recuperate from that week after which construct yourself back up again.”