LAS VEGAS – You know what they say: The Match doesn’t begin until the 17th hole on Friday.
Thanks to a chip-in birdie from Tiger Woods on the par-3 penultimate hole at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, the highly touted match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson finally had some buzz. After four playoff holes, it was all over.
Mickelson won 1-up with a birdie on the 22nd hole – a 93-yard makeshift hole that started on the practice green and went back to the 18th green – played under floodlights brought in just in case it went after dark.
With the win, Mickelson, who won on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2013 earlier this year at the WGC-Mexico Championship, earned $9 million.
He also won $600,000 via various side challenges that occurred throughout the day, an amount that will be donated to charity.
“This has been very special,” said Mickelson. “This was a very good day for me. I thought we played some very good golf. We had the opportunity to go head-to-head and it was back and forth. I think it was exciting.”
So what worked? What didn’t? What can we expect moving forward? Here’s everything you need to know from The Match.
It was what you would expect two 40-somethings who hadn’t played in a few weeks to do.
All told, Mickelson made four birdies in 22 holes while Woods made the same. Woods made three bogeys on the day as well as both golfers shot 3-under-par 69s.
The highlight was Woods’ chip-in on the 17th that came from just off the back of the green down a slippery slope. It resulted in the biggest celebration of the day from Woods. Mickelson’s big celebration came on the 13th after a birdie of his own.
The weather was calm and didn’t impact either golfer throughout the day, but Woods admitted it was tough to get a read on putts, especially as the sun went down.
“I called (caddie) Joey (LaCava) on every single putt coming home,” said Woods. “I had a hard time with the low light as we were finishing to try and see my lines.”
Woods felt he and Mickelson went back-and-forth all day.
“Phil had the lead, I had the lead. It flipped, and next thing you know we go to the last hole,” said Woods. “It was back and forth, very competitive, on a golf course that was playing a little bit on the tricky side. They had some dicey little pins in there. We had to be little on the careful side.”
Mickelson – much to Woods’ chagrin – said he “drove it like a stallion” during The Match, which will give him confidence moving into the 2019 PGA Tour season. He eliminated the bogeys on the day and that, eventually, was the difference.
Thankfully The Match ended in the exciting way it did, because the way the two golfers were playing it was more pillow fight than prize fight.
It was like the Masters, but with cell phones. And free alcohol.
There were no official numbers released, but it’s being suggested on site that about 1,000 people attended in person. Fueled by complimentary tequila – actually, anything you wanted – and late-afternoon sunshine, the crowd was boisterous but not disrespectful.
The crowd was a mix of mostly business executives in Ralph Lauren quarter-zip sweaters or sundresses, international high rollers, professional athletes and celebrities, or someone who knew someone.
A count: Andy Roddick (tennis), Ben Stiller (actor), Samuel L. Jackson (actor), Charles Barkley (basketball), Michelle Wie (LPGA Tour golfer), Allison Lee (LPGA Tour golfer), Cheyenne Woods (LPGA Tour golfer), Paige Spiranac (Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model), Jeremy Roenick (retired hockey player), and Dexter Fowler (baseball) were on site.
There was a small Canadian contingent of guests – a design firm based in Toronto actually provided some of the signage infrastructure – which included legendary comedian Norm Macdonald, who was walking around with a putter he used like a cane.
As long as there is free booze and late-November sunshine, it will continue to be an on-site success.
Shadow Creek Golf Course is ultra-exclusive – it costs $500 to play, you have to be staying at an MGM Resorts property, and you take a limo to and from The Strip – and it’s rare that the general public will ever get to see it.
Even if you do pony up the big bucks, less than 24 people play it each day.
Established in the 1990s and designed by Tom Fazio, the course was, at the time, the lone “green” area in that part of Las Vegas – about 25 minutes from The Strip.
Built on empty flat desert, the 350-acre site (bought for more than $60 million) had three million cubic yards of dirt moved to build the undulating mounds. More than 21,000 trees were planted and it features lakes, streams, waterfalls, and rocky areas making it feel more like a spot in the Carolinas versus Las Vegas.
The course was, at some points, the star of the show. A worthy host.
The golf hasn’t been great so far, but Shadow Creek is pic.twitter.com/Ux6W6MLtfx
— Adam Stanley (@adam_stanley) November 23, 2018
There was no shortage of cameras and camera angles used all day and certainly there was a fresh perspective brought to golf coverage.
If you tuned in, you would have seen in-coverage betting odds alongside more hardcore gambling numbers. It was a bit distracting at times, especially since viewers are used to a certain kind of coverage.
There were a lot of announcers – almost too many. Ernie Johnson, Peter Jacobsen, Darren Clarke, Shane Bacon, Natalie Gulbis, Adam Lefoke, Charles Barkley, Pat Perez, and Samuel L. Jackson all took turns giving their observations. The stars were Bacon – who helps with Fox Sports’ U.S. Open coverage and handled the on-course interviews – and Barkley, who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind (example: “I could beat these guys. This is some crappy golf.”)
There were some awkward conversation points throughout the day – who jumped in and when – but the whole spectrum of coverage was always going to be a test.
Reports said Turner Sports executives ended up giving the Phil-Tiger match away for free on Bleacher Report Live streaming (instead of a $20 charge) when the purchasing function broke down.
There were some bright spots if they wanted to try it again. Reducing the number of broadcasters would be a good start. With Woods and Mickelson mic’d up, that’s what the real golf fan wanted to hear – versus an analyst talking over them.
“I think with two guys we were able to break the old school mold of a telecast presentation,” said Mickelson. “I’m curious to see how some of the drone shots and some of the mics and roaming cameras, curious to see how that turned about, because it’s all about creating a better viewing experience for the viewers as we continue down this road with sports.”
The side challenges were a bit of a flop. There were eight total. Four were tied, while Mickelson won three and Woods won one (the $200,000 bet on hole No. 1). Mickelson was pushing the challenges, mostly, until he finally asked Woods at one point to put up a number.
The better play: to have the challenges pre-determined so there were no awkward exchanges. Every par five should be a long-drive challenge while every par three should be a closest-to-the-pin. You were half expecting Mickelson to say, “OK, $100,000 I’ll chip this in” but they admitted they got more involved in the competition as the day chugged along.
“I got focused on trying to hit a shot, to put heat on Phil, to put a ball on a green, to make putts,” said Woods. “I got lost in the heat of the competition, which in hindsight looking back, that was fun to lose myself there, in the heat of the moment, in a competitive scenario against Phil.”
The Trash Talk
The best chirp of the day happened in the media centre after the round, when Woods needled Mickelson about his waist size.
The winner received a diamond-and-gold-encrusted belt, which was clearly built for someone with Woods’ waist size and not Mickelson’s.
“You’re going to need to get a new belt,” said Woods.
“It’s not the Masters, it’s not the U.S. Open, I know, but it’s something. It’s just nice to have a little something on you,” Mickelson retorted with a smile.
Although Woods said they were needling each other as the day went on, it was clear they were more focused on the golf side of things than letting people in on their conversation.
“We give each other the needle the entire time. Today was a little bit different because we had banter here and there, but… I got lost in the competition of things,” said Woods.
The trash talk was billed as something that was going to add to the coverage of the event itself, but it fell flat.
Mickelson admitted being mic’d up was a bit “intrusive” from a player’s standpoint, but he believed it went well.
“I think we enjoyed it. I’m curious to see how it was received and how the people enjoyed it,” he said. “Maybe in the big picture that will be something that people are interested in and want more of and bring people to the game and what have you. I don’t know if we had that big a picture in mind. We were just trying to do something special, unique, (and) different.”
The Match had some bright spots and organizers can walk away feeling like it was a success, but with room for improvement.
The golf course and the setting were idyllic. The players involved just made sense – here’s hoping they add in another player on either side next time – and the play, although loose at times, did produce some fun moments.
The coverage was billed as groundbreaking, but without good side challenges and interesting banter, it quickly turned into just another golf event.
But for a Friday afternoon in November, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods can say they did their job. They delivered, and it would be surprising if they don’t do this again.