Intriguing or indulgent?

Some special moments to savour although Tiger-Phil showdown hardly lives up to hype

Phil Mickelson picking up the winner's belt and US$9 million after beating Tiger Woods on Friday.
Phil Mickelson picking up the winner's belt and US$9 million after beating Tiger Woods on Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

LAS VEGAS • Phil Mickelson birdied the fourth play-off hole in near-darkness to beat Tiger Woods and win The Match - a made-for-TV match-play contest - and the US$9 million (S$12.4 million) prize in Las Vegas on Friday.

Mickelson, 48, birdied the 22nd hole at the Shadow Creek Golf Course in front of an invitation-only gallery of 700 people to win a low-quality contest, which failed to live up to the hype and was eventually decided by little more than a pitch-and-putt competition.

The five-time Major winner also recovered from losing a US$200,000 side bet on the opening hole when he failed to make birdie by winning three nearest-to-pin contests for a total of US$600,000, with the money reportedly coming from the players themselves and being donated to charity.

"A day like today is not going to take anything away from Tiger's greatness, he's the greatest of all time, but to have some smack talk for the next few years means a lot to me because I don't have much on him," said Mickelson.

The match lasted five hours and finished in darkness as organisers had to use flood lights to illuminate the green on the final hole.

But both golfers failed to deliver the highlight reel-type shots that have defined their careers and the underwhelming round got the sporting world talking.

Some felt it was a pointless, indulgent exercise which only served to make two of the richest players in the history of the game even richer.

Others believed it was a fun, entertaining way of showcasing the sport to a different audience.

Soon after the players teed off, the event's promotional hashtag - #TheMatch - was trending both worldwide and in the United Kingdom on social networking site Twitter as players, journalists and fans dissected the spectacle whatever their standpoint.

"This is some crappy golf," said former basketball star Charles Barkley, while former Open champion Darren Clarke conceded after 10 holes: "We need a spark, we need something."

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell also watched the match, although in one tweet, he said he needed "some wine to get through it".

Golf's first foray into pay-per-view was hyped like a Las Vegas prize fight but proved more of a pillow fight between both golfers playing for a purse that was put up by sponsors and will go to a charity of Mickelson's choice.

While the pay-per-view event was priced at US$19.99, promoters decided to offer it free online at some point during play because of what they described as technical issues that impacted user access. It is not yet known if viewers who paid for the event would be refunded.

The duo wore microphones as they filled time in the early going with verbal banter back and forth, but Mickelson admitted that he struggled to find enough to say as the match wore on.

"I am trying to be more talkative, but I am just not on the back nine," he told Woods as they left one of the Shadow Creek tee boxes.

"We got back into our old mode again trying to beat each other's brains in," Woods, 42, replied.

While the event lacked the tension provided by a Sunday back nine at the Masters, Woods set up a dramatic finish when his bump-and-run from beside the 17th green, with the match on the line, found the cup and brought the match to all square.

"Just like old times," Woods said after celebrating with a familiar fist pump. "I needed it. He had a chance to close out, so I needed something special to happen."

"He does this crap to me all the time - for 20 years," retorted Mickelson.

With the match all square through regulation, Mickelson sealed the win at the fourth hole of the sudden-death play-off when he drained a four-foot birdie putt on a makeshift 93-yard par-three hole after the duo had teed off from a practice green.

"To have a day like today, I just never thought we'd go to this extra hole," said Mickelson. "My heart just can't take much more of it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 25, 2018, with the headline 'Intriguing or indulgent?'. Subscribe