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Phil Mickelson’s Setbacks Keep Coming, and Tiger Woods Gets a Bonus

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Mickelson previously boasted that he won the PGA Tour’s new program that pays the most popular pros, but the embattled golfer finished behind his rival once again.

ORLANDO, Fla. — In an off-the-course chapter of the enduring rivalry between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Woods once again bested Mickelson.

Woods, who has not played a tour event since the Masters in November 2020, earned the largest bonus payment from a new PGA Tour program meant to measure a player’s appeal and popularity across the calendar year. For 2021, as calculated by examining categories that included TV ratings, internet searches and social media posts, Woods garnered the $8 million top prize even despite not playing because of serious leg injuries he sustained in a February 2021 car crash. Mickelson will receive $6 million for coming in second.

In December, Mickelson had surprised the golf community by announcing that he had won the top award for the tour’s Player Impact Program, or PIP.

On Twitter, Mickelson thanked “all the crazies (and real supporters too)” for his first-place payout. On Wednesday, Woods had a comeback.

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For Mickelson, who became golf’s oldest major champion when he won last year’s P.G.A. Championship at age 50, receiving only a $6 million bonus may not qualify as bad news, but finishing second to a golfer who didn’t play all year felt like a setback in a turbulent few weeks for him.

In mid-February, comments attributed to Mickelson in support of a breakaway golf tour backed by Saudi Arabia created controversy and backlash. Mickelson was quoted as saying he knew of the kingdom’s “horrible record on human rights,” but was willing to help the new league because it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to dramatically increase PGA Tour players’ income.

The following week Mickelson said he regretted his remarks, which he called “reckless.” He added that he would take a leave from competitive golf. Within days, his chief corporate sponsors, including KPMG, Workday and Heineken/Amstel, announced that they were either ending or pausing their partnerships with Mickelson.

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On Wednesday, the tour also announced the other eight winners of the PGA’s popularity contest. Rory McIlroy came in third followed by Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas, with each earning $3.5 million. The golfers from seventh to 10th — Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm and Bubba Watson — will collect $3 million each.

At a news conference, McIlroy was congratulated for finishing third. He shrugged his shoulders, grinned and offered a sheepish “thanks.”

Asked if he felt there were any surprises in the top 10 money winners, McIlroy, who has been friendly with Woods for several years, answered: “Not really. I mean, you look at the 10 guys that are on there, and they’re the 10 guys that have been at the top of the game or have been around the top of the game for a long time. I feel like it’s a pretty self-explanatory system. That’s how the numbers sort of rolled out.”

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He added: “But it’s certainly not something that I’m checking up on every week to see where I’m at.”

McIlroy, who has increasingly become a forthright voice in golf, has been strident in his criticism of Mickelson’s comments on the alternative Saudi-backed league last month, but on Wednesday he sounded conciliatory.

“Look, we all make mistakes,” he said of Mickelson. “We all say things we want to take back. No one is different in that regard. But we should be allowed to make mistakes, and we should be allowed to ask for forgiveness and for people to forgive us and move on. Hopefully, he comes back at some stage, and he will, and people will welcome him back and be glad that he is back.”

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