The scribes of the golf world (myself included) have been circling for weeks, positing just what The Match would be. What would it look like? How would it play out? What would it all mean? Predictably enough, what went down between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on Friday evening in North Las Vegas was a lot of things all at once.
As it turned out, The Match was slow at the beginning, and strange at the end, and, for a moment in the middle, a heart-stopping, uber-fun spectacle. There’s plenty to nitpick from the production and the conceit as a whole, but I and others have spent plenty of time on that already. Instead, let’s make this an ode to The Match. The best of the best. Here are the seven best moments from Friday’s pay-par-view.
7. The fried egg!
Everything about this match was gimmicky from the start, so it was fitting that when it mattered most — all square on the first extra hole — Mickelson ended up with a shot never before seen in televised golf. The sight of Mickelson plugged in a bunker and hitting over a creek to a short-sided pin was everything that was fun and funky about The Match. And what a man he was for the job.
6. Those concessions!
Nobody will mistake them for Nicklaus at the Ryder Cup in ’69 or even Tiger Woods in 2012, but the back-to-back concessions from Tiger and Phil were refreshing. First, Woods picked up Mickelson’s three-and-a-half footer on 18 to send the match to extra holes. Two holes later, Mickelson returned the favor. In the end, it was better won with a birdie, especially when it would have been perfectly plausible for the match to have ended with a shoved shorty.
Each guy wanted to win, a lot. But they didn’t want the other guy to blow it, either. I haven’t been wholly convinced by the displays of their much-heralded “friendship,” but this hit home as a real sign of mutual respect. That was cool.
5. Phil’s outrageous 200k bet (that he almost pulled off)
I broke down earlier in the week just how audacious it was for Mickelson to throw down big money at even odds on making birdie at the very first hole of the showdown. Where the true odds were somewhere in the 20-25% range, Mickelson bet like they were 50-50. It was preposterously dumb! But Lefty is just audacious enough to pull something like that off; as he said later, “I usually will bite, even with a disadvantage.”
Sure enough, he split the fairway with his tee shot and hit a neat wedge inside 10 feet. I was ready to eat crow before his putt slid by the edge, leaving Mickelson $200,000 in the hole right off the bat. “Nice speed,” Woods told him sardonically. But the fact that Phil gamely tried said something about him right out of the gate.
4. Free golf!
Bring the game to the people! It’s easy to look at Bleacher Report’s inability to distribute the match properly through online streaming channels as an embarrassment. Instead, I say good on ya, Turner. Where there had been a restrictive $20 barrier to entry, now there was an open stream for anyone and everyone to enjoy. The free stream and the distribution of content via social channels was sensible. In an event that threatened to alienate viewers through excess and exclusivity, this was a step in the right direction.
3. Bright lights, big city
I’m still unsure how I feel about our adapted mini-hole deciding a match in sudden death, but I will say this: golf under the lights was sick. Watching these two duke it out stadium-style made me wish the entire thing had been conducted under the cover of night. The entire vibe just fit better under the flourescents: the unique setup, the gravity of the showdown and the reminder that this is Nevada’s City of Lights, after all. Golf should look different here. (Though, to be fair, daylight brought it’s share of fun, too. Some of the mountainscape backdrops were breathtaking, and I particularly enjoyed poking fun at the waterfalls.
2. Charles Barkley
I’m not sure how many people were watching the pregame show, but Charles Barkley threatened to take everything off the rails early. He whipped through a series of takes about too much sponsor money, his six-figure blackjack losses from the night before and the hopeless New York Knicks with Ben Stiller, who was also there for some reason. And that was just the beginning. Barkley went on the warpath, calling out the “crappy” golf he was seeing. He went in-depth on the “Black Masters,” held by the TNT crew years prior. And he challenged Astros flamethrower Justin Verlander — himself a serious and stick-ish golfer — to a six-figure match of their own.
In all, Sir Charles brought an element to the game that we don’t see very often. Golf announcers rarely criticize anything at all about a player, but Barkley was eager to do so (even when his assertions weren’t backed up all the way by fact). You wouldn’t want him to be a golf show’s only on-air talent, but as a complement to the rest of the capable squad he was a hilarious breath of fresh air.
1. Tiger’s chip-in
This was worth the price of admission. Woods’s game looked sluggish all afternoon, particularly with the putter. The best way to dodge flat-stick funkiness? Don’t use a putter at all. Woods came to the 17th hole in desperate need of a birdie, and he delivered the hard way. After his tee shot sailed long, his ball laid up against the collar, demanding a touchy pitch shot. What ensued was a perfectly rolled Bridgestone, a concise fist-pump and absolute pandemonium.
Really, the moment exemplified what we were looking for from The Match. It’s similar to what we hope to see whenever we tune into sports contests. Familiar names. Spectacular feats. Authenticity. Add in a dose of passion — the players care as much as you do, right? — and you’re nearly all the way there. For a flash, Tiger Woods gave us a moment that was nostalgic, memorable and authentic all at once. He may have saved The Match in the process.