AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Augusta National is excited to have Tiger Woods back and played no part in Phil Mickelson’s decision to withdraw from this year’s Masters, club chairman Fred Ridley said on Wednesday.
Two of the Masters’ greatest champions and golf’s most intriguing figures, Woods’ comeback from a devastating leg injury and Mickelson’s absence have dominated the buildup to the year’s first major which gets under way with Thursday’s opening round.
Woods, the winner of five Green Jackets who suffered career-threatening injuries in a February 2021 car crash, has provided the Masters’ feel-good story while controversy has engulfed Mickelson amid media reports that Augusta officials had encouraged the three-time champion not to attend.
Mickelson, who has made 29 career starts at the Masters, found himself persona non grata across much of the golfing world for remarks he made about a Saudi-funded golf league.
After Mickelson’s name was removed from the list of eligible players for the Masters, a Golfweek report said he did not as much withdraw from the event but that tournament officials told him or encouraged him not to attend.
“I would like to say we did not dis-invite Phil,” said Ridley, during his annual pre-Masters news conference.
“Phil is a three-time Masters champion and is invited in that category and many other categories; he’s the defending PGA Champion.
“Phil reached out to me, I think it was in late February, early March, and let me know that he did not intend to play.
“That was by way of a text and I thanked him for his courtesy in letting me know.”
Like everyone else Ridley said he is cheering for Woods, who set the sport buzzing on Tuesday when he announced he not only planned to play the Masters but believed he could win it just 14-months after doctors considered the possibility of having to amputate his right leg.
Ridley noted that it was 25-years ago this week that Woods won his first Green Jacket in record-breaking fashion and did not rule out the 46-year-old producing something special again this week.
“Tiger’s appearance this week is a tribute to his amazing determination and his commitment to excellence as a competitor and as a person,” said Ridley. “We wish him well this week.”
A few months ago it was more likely golf fans would have been expecting to see Mickelson on Augusta’s manicured fairways while Woods continued his recovery.
The irony that Woods will play while Mickelson is at home was not lost on the Augusta National chairman.
“Well, certainly not anything we anticipated,” admitted Ridley. “I know that Phil has been a real fixture here at the Masters for many, many years.
“He’s been a big part of our history. I certainly and we certainly wish him the best sort of working through the issues he’s dealing with right now.
“As it relates to Tiger, it’s just truly amazing. I don’t even know how else to say it. We are excited he’s here.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Augusta. Editing by Toby Davis)