The golf was as sloppy as your drunken uncle at the Thanksgiving table and the banter was as canned as cranberry sauce. But the Goodyear blimp worked nicely, and so did Charles Barkley, and somehow it kinda, sorta came together. Was coverage of The Match a spotless production? Not by a long shot. Better to call it a better-than-average beta, a glitchy but promising test run for a franchise-in-the-making that was more entertaining than the sum of its imperfect parts. Phil and Tiger got to the first tee, when last-minute subscribers learned that the pay-per-view event would not be pay-per-view at all; an 11th-hour glitch in Bleacher Report's "charging function" led to the coverage being streamed for free on Bleacher Report's website. plus side-bets worth more money than most families earn in a year. The stuff of spectacle, for sure. And yet even Turner seemed to sense that Phil and Tiger alone, playing for filthy lucre, wouldn't be enough to draw an audience beyond the nerdiest of golf nerds.And so the network brought in a host of reinforcements. Along with Ernie Johnson, the affable Everyman on play-by-play, came a cast of characters of the kind that might turn up at a celebrity pro-am. Peter Jacobsen and Darren Clarke were there for commentary. So was Sir Charles. And Samuel L. Jackson, who also handled first-tee introductions. And Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe was there to relay the gambling odds and Vegas casino action. And Pat Perez, the So-Cal Tour pro surf bro, though his role seemed mostly confined to calling on Phil and Tiger to talk more smack.
Natalie Gulbis and Sean Bacon were on hand, too, as on-course reporters, but they weren't afforded much time to delve too deeply, and among his other duties, Bacon was dealt the unenviable task of trying to coax a colorful quote or two from Woods—the on-air equivalent of pulling teeth. Which brings us to the broadcast's weakest link. A central promise of The Match was the prospect of insight by way of access. But miking up players is only compelling if the players have something compelling to say. In the early goings, Phil and Tiger tried—either gamely or lamely, depending on your viewpoint—to engage in conversation. They shared their admiration for Samuel Jackson's coolness and for the splendor of the host course, Shadow Creek. They mentioned their children and how time flies and the ache of watching kids grow up. But their chit-chat didn't last, which was probably just as well, because the talk was mostly forced and little of the audio revealed anything about either player that most viewers didn't already know—except, perhaps, that a winded-sounding Phil could probably use more cardio, and that a sniffling Tiger would likely benefit from an antihistamine. really stole it here by being at his blunt and comedic best. "This is some crappy golf," he noted, as Phil and Tiger scuffled. "I could beat these two today!" Ok, maybe not. But point taken. tweets from celebrity viewers like Justin Thomas and Justin Verlander, the latter of whom rang in to give Barkley a good ribbing, prompting Barkley to rib him back. Their playful smack-talk was organic, funny and accessible to non-golfers—all things that Phil and Tiger's exchanges mostly lacked. English Tour pro Eddie Pepperell tweeted. "This putrid attempt at attention will turn out to be futile for everyone. Pathetic.") While $9 million is indeed a gaudy sum, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the multi-billion dollar sports betting market—a market that golf is keen to tap. And what better potential means of access than The Match: a hyper-focused contest between two big names, with a chance to plunk down money on every shot. What Phil and Tiger called "challenges" were actually wagers, and lots of folks were making them, as was cheerfully reported throughout the broadcast.