I knew The Match was going to be a different kind of viewing experience when I couldn’t actually watch it. I had planned to be in Las Vegas but was grounded by an ear infection, proof that the Golf Gods do have a sense of humor. It wasn’t until a half hour before the first tee shot that I bothered to try to order this made-for-TV spectacle, but the Bleacher Report channel on my Roku kept coming back with different error messages. In desperation I rang Brophy’s, my favorite pub in my hometown of Carmel, Calif., where Graeme MacDowell partied Sunday night after winning the U.S. Open. The dude on the phone said his boss was trying to figure out how to order it and to call back in half an hour. I rang another popular nearby watering hole for golfers, Mulligan’s. “We just have the ballgames on today,” said the gal on the phone. “It’s like $5,000 for a business to order that Match thingy so we’re not going to pay that.” I never did get the Match to work on my TV, forced instead to watch it on my laptop. (For free. Seems like a bad business model but what do I know?) It was an exercise in cognitive dissonance. The announcers wouldn’t stop raving about Shadow Creek’s aesthetics but my eyes kept going to the aeration holes on the greens. There was breathless talk about the use of the world’s largest drone for beauty shots but its buzzing was so loud it was a distraction on nearly every shot on the opening holes. I was excited to have the players mic’d up, until Phil’s heavy mouth-breathing and Tiger’s snotty sniffles hijacked the broadcast. one moment of clarity from Sir Charles, who pronounced the caliber of golf as “crappy.” This was the fundamental problem with The Match: it was sold as spectacle but in the end turned out to be just two golfers playing golf. The back-nine finally got interesting when all the hokey side bets and pre-written tweets receded into the background and it boiled down to two proud champions fighting hard to not lose. Woods finally found his swing, winning the 11th and 12th holes to take a 1-up lead and then hitting a strong tee ball on the tough par-3 13th. But Mickelson answered with a gorgeous shot that never left the flag and he then nudged home the 9-foot putt to square the match.
Phil kept hitting quality shots – he described his perfect drive on the par-5 16th as a “tasty little morsel” – and Tiger blinked first, making an ugly bogey from the center of the fairway to lose the 15th hole and then babying a 12-footer that could have won the 16th. But Woods produced a badly-needed signature moment by chipping-in from behind the green to steal the 17th hole. After a fist-pump he intoned to his caddie Joe LaCava, “Just like old times, buddy.” channeled his inner-Nicklaus by conceding Mickelson a three-footer for birdie, leading to sudden death. It should have ended on the first extra hole with a vintage Tiger birdie, but he missed an 8-footer on the low side. Suddenly, what had turned into a tense match devolved back into spectacle. The finishing par 5 was converted into a 93-yard par 3 played under the lights, which was as much of a letdown as deciding the World Cup on penalty kicks. On the third try Mickelson finally ended the tedium by making a birdie. It’s a shame the finish was so underwhelming, because for a while this cheesy production had finally gotten real. Even on a laptop.