“The Match”: What I Liked, What I Disliked, and What the Future Looks Like
After a lot of hype, it was finally November 23rd, the day after Thanksgiving, and Tiger and Phil were pitted against each other in what was anticipated to be mega-high stakes, winner take all match play event in Las Vegas. The Match started off hot with Phil putting $200,000 on the line on the first hole, betting that he would make birdie, but after his birdie putt fell on the amateur (low) side, he was all square with Tiger (who also made par) and $200,000 in the hole. The match started off rather slow with Phil taking a lead on the 2nd hole and going 1 up and staying that way until Tiger made birdie on the Par 5 7th to go back to all square. Phil quickly made a closest to the pin for $200,000 on the 8th, stuck it close, and regained the lead of 1 Up. Throughout the rest of the match there were only 2 more side bets, and neither led by more than 1 Up the whole match. The most exciting sequence came on the 17th when Tiger was down 1 and Phil had a chance to win the hole and end the match; however, in what Phil said Tiger has been doing to him for 20 years now, Tiger chipped in, won the hole, and it was all square going into the Par 5 18th. On the 18th green, Tiger had about an 8-footer for birdie to close it out after Phil plugged his in the bunker on his 2nd and despite hitting a great shot, had no less than 30 feet for birdie. As was the story for both guys all day, Tiger missed, and they headed to extra holes.
The match continued to “OT” as they replayed the Par 5 18th, and then went to the “20th” hole and beyond, which consisted of replaying a makeshift 93-yard downhill pitch shot, which was now under the lights since it had grown dark (a pretty cool scene from a viewer’s perspective). Tiger managed to miss the green twice, while Phil stuck it twice but failed to make a putt. At the end of the 21st hole, in what I thought was a total bad ass move by Phil (rare for me to ever say that), Tiger had about a 5-foot par putt to extend the match and Phil said “We’re not ending it like this. That’s good,” by which they went back to the tee for the 22nd hole. Phil stuck his to 4 feet, Tiger almost chipped in, but couldn’t, and Phil won the match and $9 million. There was a lot to digest over these 4+ hours and what I took away were some solid features, some definite room for improvement, and what I think about a match of this caliber moving forward.
What I Liked
- Live Odds and Betting on Each Hole: I think this will be a component of professional golf in the very near future. The ability to bet on each hole, shot, etc. will not only entice more fans but make it a more engaging experience for fans and bettors alike. Finally, there is less of an emphasis to limit gambling and just embrace the massive industry that it is, which will therefore lead to more innovative betting in the future.
- Tiger and Phil/Caddies being MIC’d Up: This was really cool (when they could be heard; more on that later) to hear what their thought process was through different shots, how they approach putts, and what they’re thinking about as they walk up the fairway. Admittedly, there was definitely some left to be desired since the players knew they had a MIC on, but nevertheless, when Phil was heavily breathing, it was nice to hear their chatter.
- The Side Bets Going to Charity: This was a fantastic idea and in a non-PGA TOUR sanctioned event where they’re not trying to qualify or anything like that, making fun side bets where they show off their skills with the eventual several hundred thousand or north of a million dollars going to charity is a great move.
- ShotLink: This was integrated with the betting to provide live odds, but the use of ShotLink is such an amazing sight to see and something I wish we saw even more on the weekly TOUR events. To see how these two icons shape some of their shots is nothing short of spectacular, especially on a hole that features a dogleg or hazard, seeing how they use a different method (Tiger a stinger or Phil a massive 50+ yard cut) really puts into perspective just how talented all of these professionals are week in and week out.
What I Disliked
- The Broadcast Crew: This put such a damper on what could have been a much better event. Honestly, it can be summed by Peter Jacobsen’s inability to ever shut up and just let us hear what Tiger and Phil were talking about or what anyone was talking about for that matter. I swear to God every time Tiger actually started talking, which wasn’t nearly as much as Phil, Peter would start going on and on about something or discussing how he beat David Duval at Pebble Beach back in 1995. I think many people would have paid to either have zero broadcast crew at all or maybe just a group of Shane Bacon, Charles Barkley, etc. walking on the course.
- The Lack of Side Bets: I read a report during the match that I guess the PGA TOUR limited the side bets to I believe 2 or 3 a side and I think that was a moronic move. We know how much of a degenerate gambler Phil is (which is hilarious) and Tiger is always willing to put up or shut up, so why limit the betting? The event was supposed to be focused on that, seeing as how it took place in LAS VEGAS, and you put a cap on it? That’s a move I don’t really understand and on top of all of that, the side bet action was going to charity… Big, big miss here in my opinion.
- Both Guys Didn’t Play Well: This one is probably an unfair criticism, as it happens, but I think what hindered the event overall and what may have made it look worse than it was is due to Tiger and Phil not playing lights out. They didn’t play horrible or shoot a brutal 80, but rather made a lot of pars and it didn’t have the “WOW” or 4-5-hole birdie run that many fans, including myself, wanted to see. The highlight of the action was on Hole 17 when Tiger chipped in and it got me back into it.
- The Extra Holes: Ok. I completely understand why they didn’t play however many holes they needed to get a winner since it was obviously already dark and these guys are in their 40s; however, the 20th hole and beyond was ridiculous to me. Why was it a 93-yard pitch shot, downhill, off of a putting green? When is a professional, or anyone for that matter, ever hitting a shot off of a putting green 90-100 yards? I didn’t understand the ending and while Tiger’s shots definitely should have been better than they were, and Phil had no trouble sticking them, I feel like we were owed a much more exciting finish.
- Tiger Not Being Into It: I’m not sure if he was under the weather, didn’t care because it wasn’t his $9 million, or if he’s just a laser-focused player no matter what the circumstances, but it didn’t seem like Tiger was as energetic or into the event as Phil was throughout. Phil was very talkative, was usually the one to bring up side bets, and was joking around with his brother, while it seemed like Tiger was ho-hum about most of it. Who knows what it was, and like I said, it may just be that he’s extremely competitive and even in a non-PGA TOUR event he still takes things very seriously, but more joking around with Phil would have added immensely to the experience.
The Future “Match” or Matches
Here is how I might change things moving forward and who I could see (or want to see) in an event like this in the future:
- Make it a team event and put Phil/Tiger (who don’t hate each other anymore despite the media and fans loving that narrative) and play against young guns like JT/Rickie or JT/Spieth
- Make the course easier: I’m not saying Shadow Creek was a US Open set up, and they didn’t have their best stuff, but I would love to see a course where each guy is making 10+ birdies.
- Have 4-5 driveable Par 4s that are heavy risk/reward
- Have all Par 5s reachable in two
- More risk/reward hazards in play throughout the course
- Change the broadcast crew or do without it: I love Pat Perez and would love to have him and even Barkley on commentary but on the course; in an event that’s supposed to be fun, they could be joking around with the players and following along. Also, shout out to Shane Bacon, who I thought did a great job.
- Add an under card: I’ve seen multiple articles that say this, and I agree. Add a match or two besides the marque match so that instead of hearing Phil breath for 3 minutes or Peter Jacobsen talk about useless stats, we can see other shots from Bryson, JT, Spieth, DJ, Brooks, etc.
- Start the event earlier so we can eliminate the darkness issue and not have a 93-yard chip off from a putting green… this is a must.
- Eliminate Peter Jacobsen from all future matches.