Eighteen months after Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson first went head-to-head in “The Match,” golf fans are finally getting a reboot. And all it took was a global pandemic to make it happen.
Tiger and Phil will face off again on Sunday in The Match 2, and this time they’ve invited some friends to help fill out the card: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. We’ve seen a bit of trash talk from the pairings—Tiger and Peyton, Phil and Tom—already, with Phil bringing his 2018 Match trophy into the promotional Zoom call with the foursome and Tiger responding by draping his 2019 Masters green jacket across his chest like a snuggie.
Does this mean there will be more verbal jabs this time than there were during the first lackluster showdown? Can Brady and Manning liven things up? And which pairing is most likely to win? Let’s dig into those questions and more ahead of Sunday’s tee time (3 p.m. ET, TNT/TBS).
What will the event look like with social-distancing restrictions?
If you watched the TaylorMade Driving Relief competition Sunday, you got a sneak preview of the rules we’ll see this weekend. In that skins competition—which featured Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and Matthew Wolff —there were no spectators, caddies, or many officials around the course. Players followed social-distancing protocols during play and even in on-course interviews. No one was allowed to touch the flagstick except for one course official, and each player carried his own bag.
There will be some modifications for The Match 2—namely that players will be using golf carts to get around rather than walking (something that should hopefully help Tiger given his history of back issues, and curb the issue of Phil panting into his live mic). But there will be no caddies or spectators at this event either, and each player will be driving their own cart.
Golf is a pretty social-distancing-friendly sport on its own, so those restrictions didn’t change much for the guys at the TaylorMade event last weekend (other than Dustin Johnson repeatedly forgetting his own bag). So hopefully these guidelines won’t interfere too much with the structure of the event.
Will the additions of Brady and Manning spice things up?
Well, I certainly hope so! Tiger and Phil’s trash talk in the first go-around was … underwhelming, to say the least. It’s not great that the most interesting beef was the budding Twitter feud between Charles Barkley and Justin Verlander. Barkley will be back as an announcer for The Match 2, and Justin Thomas will be joining the broadcast as an on-course reporter, so that should add some decent banter. And Phil himself has promised to up the level of gab: “Tiger and I clamped up the first time,” Phil said this week. “That won’t happen again. I think having Peyton there will be a big part of it because he gives me and Tom somebody to rough up. Peyton, when he comes back at you, he does it in a funny way that elicits a laughter from you as opposed to a defensive response.
“And I think that’s why he’s so funny, because even the person he is cutting up finds it funny and doesn’t take it personal. And that will allow us to free it up and do it a little bit more.”
Peyton should certainly be the odds-on favorite to increase tension. He successfully did so in the group’s Zoom call where he referenced Brady’s accidental trespassing incident in Tampa Bay and said he wished they could have had the event in New England where, for once, Peyton might be the better-liked of the two. But even with Peyton and Phil there to pick up the slack from the ever-stoic Tiger and Tom, my expectations are relatively low. After all, in the immortal words of my Ringer colleague Kevin Clark, “Imagine adding Tom Brady to bring spice to an event.”
What will Tiger’s game look like after three months away?
The PGA Tour closed down operations on March 12, and players have been using their two free months in a variety of ways. McIlroy has been focused on diversifying his off-course portfolio. Bryson DeChambeau has gotten fully into Bulking SZN and posting shirtless Instagram photos (I’m so sorry). And Brooks Koepka has filled his time by tossing darts at his own Brandel Chamblee dart board. So really, who knows what anyone’s game looks like right now?
But Tiger hasn’t played on the Tour since February’s Genesis Invitational, where he shot 11-over par and finished last among players who made the cut. Following that outing, where his stiff back had fans concerned, Tiger withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship, and this three-month layoff is his longest since undergoing spinal fusion surgery in April 2017. Tiger’s back was obviously bothering him at the Genesis, and those missed March outings confirmed fans’ fears that it wasn’t just a blip on the radar. But Tiger said recently that his back is in much better shape than it was a few months ago.
“I feel a lot better than I did then,” Tiger told GolfTV. “I’ve been able to turn a negative into a positive and been able to train a lot and get my body to where I think it should be.”
The event is taking place at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida, which essentially functions as Tiger’s home course, so hopefully we’ll see the Woods who stormed through the Masters field last year and not the one who couldn’t record a birdie to save his life last time against Phil. But until we see him in action, it’s anyone’s guess.
What are some prop bets we wish existed?
The prop bets available for The Match 2 aren’t exactly ground-breaking. Some of the “best” include the first team to go up 1, and whether there will be extra holes. Yawn. So instead of sticking with those, I came up with a few that would seriously improve the gambling experience:
1. Will Eli Manning show up to mentally faze Brady?
We know players aren’t allowed caddies, but are you really telling me that if Eli asked to be let onto the course that officials would turn him away? Doesn’t seem super likely to me. I would pay an immense amount of money to watch Eli saunter onto the course wearing his two Super Bowl rings and ask Brady whether he was ready to once again get bested by a Manning on a Sunday. I mean, please.
2. Over/under: References made to Tom’s breaking-and-entering issue
If we count Zoom calls we’re already at 1—when Peyton joked that he and Tiger had to negotiate with the Tampa Bay sheriff to allow Tom to travel for this event. I’m guessing that won’t be the last we hear of Tom’s strange antics since he moved to Florida.
3. Over/under: Number of times that Tom’s facial expression changes
Watch this video and try to tell me he’s not a robot. Go ahead, I dare you.
Which team is going to win?
Given the partner play and the differences in format, this is a tough one to predict. The pairs will play fourball during the front 9, and modified alternate shot during the back 9—with each player teeing off to start the hole and playing alternate shot off the best drive.
In addition to being pretty good quarterbacks, both Peyton and Tom are excellent golfers: Peyton holds a 6.4 handicap at the Honors Course in Tennessee, and Brady has an 8.1 handicap at the Country Club in Massachusetts. Neither of those are numbers to sneeze at. But combine those with the skills of their playing partners—and taking Tiger’s claims about his back at face value—my pick is Tiger and Peyton (who are the Vegas favorites as well). Unless Phil sends a pizza to Tiger’s house on Saturday night.