From the moment the showdown that would eventually become “The Match” was first discussed back in July, golf fans were excited. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson had never before gone head-to-head in matchplay competition, and though some complained the event was coming more than 10 years too late, most were looking forward to seeing two of golf’s greatest players battle, trash-talk, and make side bets for 18 holes. The actual match was played on Friday, and the product was … suboptimal, to be kind. But there were some fun moments to go along with the bad, so here are the Winners and Losers from Woods and Mickelson’s match:
Winner: Charles Barkley
You may have thought, coming into Friday’s action, that one of the two participating golfers would be the MVP of “The Match.” And with good reason! In one corner you had Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers of all time—if not the greatest—and in the other was Phil Mickelson, who has been right behind Woods at every step of his career and is ninth all-time in career PGA Tour wins. But if you put money down on either of those outcomes, you would be wrong. Because the MVP of Friday’s match was Charles Barkley.
That may be surprising if you didn’t watch the broadcast. Barkley, despite being a big golf fan, is a notoriously bad golfer himself. His swing has become a thing of memes, and though he’s often invited to play in celebrity tournaments, I’d be shocked if he’s ever come away with hardware that wasn’t handed out for Worst in Show. But Barkley was part of the broadcast panel, and in an otherwise extremely dull showing, he provided the highlights that kept couch viewers out of a post-turkey-day coma.
First came his comment in the pregame show when the announcers were talking about Phil and Tiger’s first-hole bet—a $200,000 wager on whether Phil could birdie the hole. Pat Perez and the rest of the panel were playing the amount up, mentioning that losing the first hole and that kind of money could have an effect on momentum going forward. But Barkley disagreed. “Just for the record, that 200 grand is not that big of a deal,” he responded. “I mean, I was really confident last night, then the dealer turned over three blackjacks in a row and it was back to black. The 200 was gone.”
Later, about halfway through the match with Mickelson up one and neither golfer playing particularly well, Barkley interjected to offer a critique. “I could beat these two guys today,” Barkley said, with only a little bit of humor. That comment sparked a Twitter clapback from Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, who bet Barkley he couldn’t even record a double bogey on the course’s first hole.
Barkley saying it’s not good golf. I wanna see Tiger and Phil throw down a challenge bet at him. 100k for double bogey or better on #1. C’mon Charles, I know you got your sticks with you. #TheMatch— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) November 23, 2018
Barkley ultimately shut things down by accepting Verlander’s challenge (it remains to be seen when exactly we’ll see Barkley at the first tee at Shadow Creek), and he ended his response by saying, “You can’t intimidate me … the dog that bark the loudest don’t bite.” So shoutout to Charles for keeping it real and keeping the rest of us awake down the stretch.
Loser: Cordial Small Talk
The day after Thanksgiving, the last thing anyone wants to hear or be a part of is small talk. Likely you’ve done it for hours the day before, either with extended family, people at the grocery store, or high school friends that you haven’t caught up with in a while but who texted a mass “Happy Thanksgiving!” message that would be rude to ignore. Unfortunately, throughout Friday’s front nine, “The Match” forced us to relive those memories.
One of the biggest selling points of this showdown coming in was that both Tiger and Phil would be mic’d up for the event. We’d get to hear all the discussions between the two, their back-and-forths with caddies, interactions with the fans, and of course, their side bet action. But walking down the first fairway, it was clear these two either were a little nervous or just didn’t have much to say to each other. They got to discussions of the weather (thank goodness we didn’t play this yesterday, it was so windy!) and their kids on the first hole. Things picked up a little from there—the side bets increased and we even got a couple of cuss words from Tiger—but the first few holes were like throwing people back into a time machine and forcing them to talk to the second cousin they’d successfully avoided the day before.
Loser: The Mic’d Up Experience in General
Speaking of Woods’s and Mickelson’s live mics, outside of the awkward small talk, the most common sound to hear picked up on the broadcast was Mickelson’s heavy breathing as he walked to and from his shots. There were a few folks on Twitter who took it upon themselves to request that Phil get a golf cart to tool around the course.
The conversation picked up a bit to open the back nine, and some of that dead air was filled in, but by no. 15, Phil admitted that he was having a hard time keeping the conversation alive with Tiger (who, to Phil’s credit, was not helping him out at much all in that regard):
Phil: "I'm trying (deep breath)… to be more talkative (even deeper breath)… but I'm (panting now)… just not."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelTAN) November 23, 2018
here were very few “can’t miss” moments that happened on the live mics, and even some of those were drowned out when the match’s broadcasters chimed in with their takes on events. It was a difficult tightrope to walk, balancing between dead air and letting the players carry on their conversations. But for much of the time it just felt like too many cooks in the kitchen.
This match had a shocking amount of overhead technology in play to give viewers a variety of camera angles—they employed a Goodyear blimp and multiple drones, including, apparently, the world’s largest drone. But the most affecting thing in the air on Friday was this rogue skywriter who insisted on asking the tough questions:
Overhead skywriter asking an interesting assortment of hard-hitting questions:— Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) November 23, 2018
“Where is the crowd...Tiger v Phil?”
“Is this 1999?”
“Where’s Spieth?” pic.twitter.com/d8COftzrkA
I’d like to take this moment to rank these questions by how much I’d like to know the answers.
1) “Where is the crowd … Tiger v Phil?”: This is a question I had myself throughout the day and leading up to the match. I understand golf courses have their limitations, and given the scale of this match and the fact that it isn’t run by an entity that’s equipped to handle large groups of people (like the PGA Tour), it made sense to keep things small. But the energy level was low all match as only sponsors and “VIP guests” were allowed in to watch, and proper galleries would have been a whole lot more fun.
2) “Is this 1999?”: I’m imagining this question was less literal (unless the skywriter has a time machine and is actually confused as to what year he/she stepped out into) and was more wondering why this event didn’t happen 19 years ago. Which, same.
3) “Where’s Spieth?”: Listen, I’d have loved to see Jordan Spieth out there on Friday. But he’s got a pretty big event coming up himself.
Winner: Phil Inventing Phrases
Somewhere around the seventh hole of this match, the side bets really started to fly. But my personal favorite came on no. 9, both because the bet was for an exorbitant amount of money and also because it led to a new phrase being introduced into the golf lexicon.
Before teeing off on the par-4 hole, Tiger and Phil agreed that if either of them could hole out in two shots, they’d win $100,000. After both hit their tee shots and started walking toward the fairway, they decided to drop another zero on to the end of that sum and go for $1 million. Shane Bacon, who was the broadcast’s on-the-ground interviewer, caught up with Phil midstride and asked him about the likelihood of either guy winning the bet. As Phil was describing how he could hole out from the significant distance, he said he’d need to knock the ball up to the green and “side sauce” it into the hole. Now, the term “sauce” or “tour sauce” has been thrown around in golf circles for years. It was largely popularized by the No Laying Up crew, and it’s used to describe actions that “only Tour pros can do without looking ridiculous.” But “side sauce” is a new term entirely.
Woods could only laugh as Bacon circled around to him and asked if he’d ever heard that term before. He hadn’t, but after Phil’s description, he’ll undoubtedly be hearing it more and more moving forward.
Loser: Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods was the literal loser of this match, falling to Mickelson on the 22nd hole of the matchplay event. But really, the biggest loser of the day was...
Loser: Good Golf
No one expected this match to feature the greatest golf we’d ever seen. Both Tiger and Phil played poorly in the Ryder Cup at the end of September, and neither golfer finished the year on a particularly hot streak. But I don’t think anyone expected Friday’s play to be as bad as it was. The two combined for just three total birdies on the front nine, and according to the Action Network’s Jason Sobel, of the four holes Phil won in the initial 18, three were won with a par.
The highlight of the match came on no. 17, when Tiger chipped in from just off the green for birdie to win the hole and square the match. But by that point, I was just ready for the Battle for Par to wave the white flag and end. Alas, the match continued and went to extra holes, where they replayed no. 18 and then moved to a par-3 contest that [extremely Ross Geller voice] rambled on for four playoff holes. As much fun as it was to see Tiger and Phil square off head-to-head in matchplay, it felt like we got cheated seeing it come with this level of performance.
It should be mentioned that, even though Tiger and Phil’s performances didn’t live up to expectations on Friday and the overall competitiveness of the match was … generally lacking, they did raise a large amount of money for charity: They tallied $800,000 in side bets, all of which was designated for donations, and Mickelson has said a portion of the $9 million he won in the round will go toward various causes he supports. So shouts to them for doing some good, even if it hurt all of our eyeballs to watch.