24 November 2018: Golf tried to pull a punch on boxing, only to fall woefully inadequate. The Match, the much-hyped interlude between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods turned out to be a damp squib after months of glorious promises and a crafty promotion campaign, both of which trumped the actual contest.
In the end, it took a birdie on the 22nd hole to draw the curtains on a drawn-out duel between two weary golfers, well past their prime. Mickelson won the meandering race to pocket the nine-million-dollar prize money.
The images of Tiger and Phil sitting at the foot of a mountain of currency notes drew plenty of criticism. And it was well earned too. The promoters showed a complete lack of understanding. Golf is as much about skill, as it is about finesse. Tiger and Phil did a disservice to the game they served so well, by lending themselves into those morbid images.
The golf was remarkably ordinary. Both golfers missed routine putts and often put themselves in positions that demanded needless scrambling. On a Shadow Creek course that was begging for birdies, the two gentlemen shot 69 each. Not exactly the score that could outshine the lights in Las Vegas.
“I know that, big picture, your career is the greatest of all time,” Mickelson said to Woods. “I’ve seen you do things that are just incredible.
“Just know that I will not ever let you live this one down.”
“It’s not the Masters. It’s not the U.S. Open. I know, I know. But it’s something.”
The two gentlemen – owners of an impressive nineteen majors between them – have enjoyed a storied rivalry. Phil carries the scars from constantly burning in the cauldron of Tiger’s brilliance and this contest was an opportunity to capitalise on a three-decade long story.
In the run up to the event, there was the combative press conference, talk about side bets and a $200,000 challenge for a first hole birdie by Mickelson. The stare down and the trash talk was all an effort to copy from boxing’s playbook.
Unfortunately, though, the content failed to live up. With one exception perhaps, when Tiger chipped in from off the green to claw back to even terms on the 17th hole. Much of the rest was ordinary golf made sufferable by the glitzy lights and glorified narration.
Tiger and Phil wore microphones, but the chatter lasted less than two holes, as the demands of golf took over. Each stroke in golf demands thoughtful analysis and careful execution. The process does not lend itself to careless banter.
“We had banter here and there, but I got lost in the competition of things,” admitted Tiger. “Focused on trying to hit a shot, put heat on Phil, get a ball in play, a ball on the green, give myself a putt, make putts.”
Another interesting dimension was the failure of the pay-per-view system, forcing Turner and Bleacher Report to stream it free. They were left with no choice as purchase option bailed out on them soon as the competition began. The whole situation served to underline the challenges of live streaming sport. This will be a good lesson learnt, as streaming will take away a big chunk of sports broadcasting well into the future.