Bob Bestler

Why ‘The Match’ was a win-win despite Tiger, Phil being past their prime

I’ve subscribed to Pay-Per-View one time in my life. That was a week ago when I paid $19.99 to watch “The Match,” as it was labeled, between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

“The Match” was billed as an 18-hole romp with the two golfers and their caddies, all miked up so we could listen to the banter, the side-bets for charity, the trash talk. In the booth would be the irascible Charles Barkley, whose contribution to golf is a laughably bad swing.

They were playing for a $9 million winner-take-all purse. To hype the match, they bet $200,000 on a Mickelson birdie on the first hole.

When he parred, Woods picked up $200,000 for the Woods Foundation. It would be his last charity win of the day: Mickelson won closest-to-the pin bets on holes 5, 8 and 13 and made Woods pay the Mickelson Foundation $600,000.

The much-hyped trash talk between the two longtime foes never really took place. They walked together on the first hole and spoke about mundane things — the coolness of Samuel L. Jackson, the condition of the course, their kids. On the second hole they joked about Fred Couples.

But when Tiger rimmed out a 4-foot putt on the second hole to give Phil a 1-up lead, the game got serious quick. No more easy banter, no trash talk. Both players walked alone with their caddies — as they do on ever other tournament day.

Indeed, anyone who tuned in to find entertainment beyond good golf and Sir Charles would have been disappointed. It was a serious game between two of the all-time greats.

Somewhere around the 13th or 14th hole, Tiger mentioned to Phil that he knew he was supposed to be talkative for this event, but said they were both in their “old mold, trying to beat each other’s brains out.” Phil didn’t disagree.

Both shot 69 in regulation, but for most of the round it was clear these two great competitors were past their prime.

Tiger missed too many approach shots to give himself any reasonable chance for a birdie

Phil, meanwhile, missed too many short birdie putts — enough to prompt this tweet from fellow pro Justin Thomas: “Phil is a hot putter away from being 6 up right now. Can’t give TW that many chances.”

As it turned out, he only gave TW enough chances to prolong the match. Woods would never lead, but he chipped in at 17 to square the match and send it to four extra holes, when Mickelson finally made the one that counted — a 4-foot putt for $9 million and bragging rights over his long-time rival.

“It’s not the Masters, it’s not the U.S. Open, but it’s something,” Phil said afterward as Woods stood nearby, taking in the good-natured trash talk. “It’s nice to have a little something on you.”

So how many watched this unique event? Let’s put it this way: The $19.19 subscription rate was dropped when the high volume of viewers caused a technical glitch that permitted thousands to watch “The Match” for free. About 150,000 had been expected, not the 750,000 who watched. Viewers who paid (me, for instance) were refunded. I call it a win-win.

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