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Lefty’s dirty laundry

The final round finish to the second-leg of the PGA Tour’s first-ever “playoffs” at the Deutsche Bank Championship outside of Boston saw yet another thrilling installment in golf’s best rivalry between Phil Mickelson (now #1 in the FedEx standings) and Tiger Woods (currently third). Yet the Labor Day duel was marred somewhat by Mickelson’s seemingly off-the-cuff remarks following his two stroke victory over Woods, in which the world’s second-ranked player sounded off to NBC’s Jimmy Roberts about his displeasure with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, and also threatened not to play in this week’s BMW Championship at Cog Hill in Illinois (where he’d again be paired with Woods in the first two rounds—i.e., another boon for the Tour’s television ratings and associated revenue). Lo and behold, Mickelson made good on his threat today when he announced, soon after playing a corporate outing for principal sponsor Bearing Point from Medinah—less than half an hour from where the BMW tees off Thursday–that he’d be sitting out this week.

While last week I highlighted some of the perks of the new playoff format, Mickelson has been a vocal critic of the Tour’s campaign to market golf towards the masses during a time of year traditionally dominated by the start of both college and professional football. Not only has Mickelson criticized the fact that the $35 million, FedEx “pot” will be deferred in its distribution, but rumors are (although Mickelson refused to elaborate on the nature of his Finchem-tiff on-air) that Phil’s post tournament comments may relate to the Tour’s scheduling of the four-legged “playoff,” which ends immediately before the President’s Cup in late September at the Royal Montreal Golf Club, thus creating a log-jam of tournaments for players like Mickelson who typically take the bulk of the month as vacation. Supposedly, Phil wanted the FedEx Cup playoffs to be only three tournaments, but Finchem and the Tour decided on four in order to maximize television revenue.

Phil did mention on-air that he would like to have more time with his family around the start of his kids’ school. And even Tiger skipped the first-leg at The Barclays due to fatigue. So perhaps the issue of time is all there is to it. But perhaps there’s more. It’s common knowledge that no major decision is made by Finchem and the Tour without it first being run by Team Tiger and his IMG agent Mark Steinberg. And perhaps, to a lesser extent, by Mickelson and his camp. But now that Mickelson has Tiger’s old swing coach in tow (exactly what secrets did Butch pass along to Phil about playing with his nemesis?), and now that he has gone mano-a-mano with Woods and finally lived to tell about it, perhaps Mickelson feels he deserves the same kind of deference from Finchem that Woods habitually receives by default.

Also, I can’t help but wonder whether or not Phil’s sudden candor on NBC was really all that sudden. To that extent, if it was contrived (i.e., a not-so-subtle jab at Finchem and the Tour), how wise of a move was it? To what extent would Phil’s agent, Steve Loy of Gaylord Sports Management, be privy to this kind of attack on Finchem and the rest of the Tour, at a time when the Tour desperately needs its stars in-line for the FedEx format to succeed? To what extent should he be? It’s the job of an agent to look out for his or her client’s best interests. That includes P.R. And while Mickelson came away a winner yesterday in Boston, perhaps he won just a bit more than he bargained for.

–Jason G. Wulterkens