As if Phil Mickelson needed any more negative publicity, Tiger Woods on Wednesday night ridiculed him for celebrating too early in the PGA Tour’s inaugural staging of its contentious popularity competition.
While Mickelson claimed in December that he had topped the 2021 Player Impact Program, the Tour revealed that it was actually Woods who picked up the $8 million (£6 million) winning bonus despite not playing in an official tournament all year.
After the announcement, Woods retweeted Mickelson’s premature boast which thanked “all the crazies and real supporters too, who helped me win the PIP..” And above it Woods posted “whoops” together with a couple of emojis expressing bafflement.
Kick a man when he’s down… Mickelson is on a break from the game in the wake of his recent Saudi Arabia controversy which cost him the majority of his sponsors. His face must be an even deeper shade of red now.
Mickelson can only have assumed that as he was leading the race to generate most fan engagement – having made history at last May’s US PGA by becoming the oldest winner of a major – in November he would remain top of the standings for the Dec 31 cut-off point.
However, that month’s data had yet to be taken into account and it seems as if Woods’s second-place performance alongside son Charlie in the Tour’s parent and child event two weeks before Christmas took him past his old rival.
So Mickelson has to settle for the $6 million second prize, which is of course far from a pitiful amount and which the 51-year-old might actually find useful after losing at least $35 million in annual endorsements for a few stunning remarks he insists were made in confidence.
Speaking to an author of a forthcoming unauthorised biography, he called the Saudis “scary motherf—–s” to deal with and admitted he was doing so only to gain leverage over the Tour in his fight to get a bigger slice of the media-rights pie.
Ironically, the PIP, which began in secret at the start of last year, was viewed as the Tour’s reaction to the threat of the Saudi Super League, which has been trying to lure the game’s top players with the promise of guaranteed money.
The PIP is the first time the Tour has handed out bonuses unrelated to on-course displays. The scheme uses an array of metrics: a player’s popularity in Google Search and a number of rating measurements judging the minutes he appears on broadcast, the appeal of his “brand”, his social-media presence and the amount of coverage on more traditional media platforms.
With Rory McIlroy finishing third and scooping $3.5 million, the top 10 netted huge paydays in the $40 million bonanza. This year the pot rises to $50 million.
There are bound to be raised eyebrows at Woods netting another gigantic payday, not least because he has been inactive after his catastrophic leg injuries from a car accident and the Tour purports to be recognising those who “most positively move the needle”.
But the general view on the range is that, in his time,Woods has generated so much revenue for the Tour and his colleagues he deserves every cheque he receives. As well as yet more bragging rights over his nemesis.
Woods and Mickelson endured a long-standing enmity, but relations have since warmed considerably and some will ponder if this tweet was overly cruel. McIlroy, who tees it up in Thursday’s first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was fiercely critical of Mickelson’s Saudi stance, but even he called this apparent “cancelling” of the six-time major champion as “unfortunate”.
“But look, Phil will be back,” McIlroy said. “I think the players want to see him back. He’s represented the game of golf very, very well for the entirety of his career. We should all be allowed to make mistakes and to ask for forgiveness and move on.”