GOLF.com’s Dylan Dethier and Luke Kerr-Dineen eagerly watched the first episode of HBO’s 24/7, which followed Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as they prepare for “The Match” on November 23rd. Here’s what they learned.
Dylan Dethier: Okay, Luke. We don’t usually see access like that to Tiger OR Phil, so there’s a lot to process after that 45 minutes — I hardly know where to start? So let’s begin here: what are your first impressions from the show?
Luke Kerr-Dineen: Full disclosure: I went in with very high hopes and really want “The Match” to be a success. But putting my expectations aside and judging this rationally, I still thought the episode made for some very entertaining television. Phil was hamming it up for the camera at every turn in a kind of cheeky way, Tiger talking about the low points of his career was especially good, and the trash-talking was genuinely funny. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect (we’ll get to that), but all in all, a very enjoyable 45 minutes. What’d you think?
DD: I keep ping-ponging back and forth about how I feel about the whole thing (Capital One’s “The Match,” that is) but this felt like something completely different than the match itself. This was hardly a lead-up — it was a history of Tiger and Phil. Any golf fan can get behind that! I was dialed in for the entire 45 minutes.
LKD: I sort of think HBO went a little too hard on the Phil-Tiger “arch-rival” stuff in the early part of the episode and it never quite worked. It felt like the show was trying to force a “rivalry” narrative that just wasn’t really there at the time, because in reality, nobody could rival Tiger in his peak.
Once the show figured out that these two players weren’t so much rivals as they were different characters whose careers sort of ran concurrently, we got fewer forced anecdotes and more genuinely entertaining ones: Tiger texting Phil after Amy’s breast cancer diagnosis, for example, or Phil’s green jacket anecdote about making Tiger feel it a little bit, having to put it on him. Am I reading too much into all of this?
DD: Nah, this more genuine back-and-forth was the highlight. It’s so easy to forget in the modern age of Florida Tiger that these two were both Southern California kids, and we got a few reminders of that. Phil talked about the jealousy that ran rampant on Tour when Tiger first showed up. But Phil also made it sound like he had essentially been feeling that same envy since he first became aware of Tiger as a junior — even though Phil was six years older! It never really struck me just how this “rivalry” (or whatever you call something this one-sided) had roots far deeper.
Then it was interesting hearing them address “the media” blowing their negative relationship out of proportion. That’s easy for them to say now, obviously. But if they really did reach out during tough times, that fascinates me. On some level, Phil can relate to Tiger in a way nobody else on the planet would understand.
DD: It felt EXTREMELY on-brand for Phil to take his jet to Vegas for a special practice round. Meanwhile, no chance Tiger would be bothered with that, at least on camera. He was prepping at Medalist, just a few miles from his house.
LKD: I’m just trying to figure out when Phil flew in to do his pre-round prep. Maybe that explains his poor Ryder Cup performance. His mind was too busy thinking ahead to that $9 million prize.
DD: They did jump straight into the $9 million stakes in like, the first minute. No shying away from that, I guess. But I was struck by a few things. First, it’s just fun hearing these guys go through pre-shot routines, talking strategy, letting us inside their mind a little bit. Second, we only saw so much of it, but Shadow Creek hardly looks like a desert course at all. That place was lush! And third, can someone get Tiger an extra rangefinder?
DD: I mean, there’s no beating Phil yamming that one tee shot at Shadow Creek and calling it a “hellacious seed.” That’s the dorky confidence that inspired his Mizzen + Main deal and, frankly, his entire game, too. Not even sure that’s trash talk, though.
LKD: So many great lines from Phil, I was genuinely laughing out loud at one point. I really enjoyed the back-and-forth about the green jacket ceremony, but my personal favorite was Phil’s tongue-in-cheek comment at the very end of the episode. “Tiger’s grown the game and I’ve benefited more than anyone,” he said. “If I were to lose this $9 million — which I won’t, but if I were to lose — I would almost feel I owed it to him and we would both be winners in this situation.”
DD: Just one thing to nitpick — can we retire the phrase “giving the needle?” It just feels like the least-cool way to describe trash talk. Besides that, bring on some more.
LKD: I feel like we got a bunch of great ones. Phil’s Tony Romo story was great. But did anybody else notice Tiger making a few interesting comments about his body?
LKD: At one point he admitted his body was “far from right” after getting in contention at the British Open and PGA, and then later in the show, he said he wouldn’t hop on one leg because “with my back, hopping is not good.”
DD: Beyond any of those conspiracy theories, Tiger talking about the pain he felt during his time away was very revealing. He’s covered this ground before, but his line that he “didn’t really care about golf” because the pain was so great really brought the point home.
LKD: I also appreciated how unabashedly focused Phil is on winning that cash — though that’s not really a “surprising” admission.
DD: Nah, still on brand. A couple more: Phil thinks he’ll win another major! Also, it sounds like talks about the match began after Phil’s win in Mexico City. At that point, he still may have been a heavy favorite.
WANTED MORE OF…
LKD: The Tiger stuff on the course was all pretty boring, to be honest. Probably the most ‘meh’ part of the episode. He didn’t really offer much of anything except the basics of the shot in front of him. If we’re supposed to buy into the on-course trash talking during The Match, a little more color on the course from Tiger during these episodes would help.
DD: It still felt a bit whitewashed, which is no surprise. Tiger is so private. True, complete 24/7 access would feel like a major departure for him. This whole thing feels like a departure, of course, but one thing is still consistent: the access and subject matter will be on his terms. Giving the needle, trading green jackets, playing keep-away with Tony Romo — that’s about as heavy as this will get, for now. Hard to blame these guys for keeping it that way; it just makes for slightly less compelling TV.
But look, the whole thing was great. Must-watch for golf fans. The only question is whether the match itself will be able to measure up.