PHOENIX — The tournament chairman of the Waste Management Phoenix Open is “disappointed” that Phil Mickelson became the most recent PGA Tour golfer to decide to play in the controversial Saudi Invitational instead of the Arizona event in which he’s participated for 30 years.
Phoenix Open chairman Tim Woods said he’s not concerned about a “mass exodus” of tour players forgoing the event, which is traditionally played on Super Bowl weekend, in exchange for the seven-figure appearance fee that comes with playing in Saudi Arabia.
“It’s on our radar,” Woods said at the tournament’s Tee-Off Luncheon at Chase Field on Tuesday. “We’re actively exploring ways to fight back against it and will continue to do so. But I’m not concerned that it’s going to be a negative ultimately.”
Woods said he’s discussed it with the PGA Tour, and added that they’ve recognized the situation.
“They’re doing the things on their side,” Woods said. “They can’t afford for their tournament to suffer so they’re motivated to make sure they’re protecting the tournaments, as well.”
Mickelson announced his intention to play in Saudi Arabia on Monday, joining the likes of Tony Finau, Patrick Reed and Shane Lowry.
“I’d be lying if I wasn’t disappointed [in Mickelson’s decision],” Woods said. “I mean, I am. I will tell you that Phil has been a very, very special part of our tournament for so long — for 30 years. And I know the fans are going to be disappointed in that. But he’s been a great ambassador for us, obviously an ASU guy, and I certainly don’t think this is his last go-around with us. I sure hope it’s not.
“But I also understand. I mean at the end of the day, this is a business and we respect his decision for him and his family that he needs to go and make sure that he still provides in that arena. So, it’s hard to hold a guy down or at fault for making a decision like that.”
Woods confirmed Tuesday that the last two Phoenix Open winners — Rickie Fowler (2019) and Gary Woodland (2018) — will play in 2020. Woods has not heard anything definitive from Tiger Woods, but he said he’s had “pretty good communication” with players’ camps.
Tim Woods also said he’s made “pretty good headway” with Rory McIlroy about playing in Scottsdale.
Tim Woods said he’ll start getting concerned about players choosing to not play in the Phoenix Open if “all of a sudden 10 of the guys that we thought would come, aren’t coming.”
In the meantime, however, Tim Woods doesn’t think losing Mickelson will affect the tournament’s attendance, which is annually among the highest on the PGA Tour.
“Just one player doesn’t move the needle for us,” Tim Woods said. “Think about Tiger. For me, I’d be lying again if I didn’t want Tiger in our field, but when he doesn’t play, we still break attendance records. And so, it tells you that we’re doing something above and beyond what’s actually happening between the tee and the green.”
If Mickelson does decide to return to the Phoenix Open, Tim Woods said he won’t be rebuffed.
“Yeah, we’re disappointed,” Tim Woods said, “but Phil is always welcomed back.”
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