That was a blast. It was also just what golf fans needed.
Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods arrived at a rainy Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla., on Sunday to raise money for those affected by COVID-19 and offer a little excitement for sports-starved fans around the world. Unlike last week’s TaylorMade Driving Relief, a stale and at times boring skins game, this event, dubbed The Match: Champions for Charity, offered much more intrigue, not only because it featured the two biggest golf stars of their generation, but also two all-time NFL quarterbacks willing to step outside their day jobs.
Even before play began on Sunday, there were jabs among the competitors on social media and on the pre-game telecast. On-course reporter Amanda Balionis asked Peyton Manning for the best way to get inside Tom Brady’s head, and Manning quipped, “I thought about having Eli caddie for me since, you know, he normally beats Tom, but I think I would go with Coach Belichick, given the recency and all that.”
The match’s format was also much more captivating than last week’s skins game. The front nine featured a light-hearted fourball with jokes and one-liners flying. (Ex: After another bad tee shot from Brady, Woods said, “That could be fairway… over on 7.” Then, from about 100 yards away on that same 7th hole, Brady made solid contact for the first time all day and holed out for birdie, igniting a Tweetstorm. Moments later, Woods lipped out a 30-foot putt that would’ve stolen the hole with an eagle. Things were suddenly heating up.
Brady/Mickelson were 3-down to Manning/Woods at the turn, but the momentum flipped when the format changed to modified alternate shot. On the short par-4 11th, Mickelson hit one of his patented “bombs” to the back fringe and Brady drained the eagle putt. Then the skies opened up, adding to the drama as Brady/Mickelson closed to 1-down when Manning blew a short putt on 14.
The Match reached its climax on the par-3 16th hole, also a “closest to the pin” challenge. Down one, Brady led off with a pure iron shot inside 10 feet. Then Mickelson dug in and flushed one to about 6 feet. Suddenly, it seems the match could move to all square, but Manning made up for his putting blunder and fired an arrow to 2 feet, to the utter shock of Mickelson and Brady. That putt was conceded, Mickelson drained a birdie to keep pace, but Woods and Manning did not come close to losing either of the final two holes. They officially won it 1-up when Woods lagged a 30-footer on 18 to kick-in range.
Not only was The Match a fantastic exhibition, even in the rain, it was just plain fun for the guys playing it. And the broadcast added some features, including mid-round interviews, that really clicked. A few examples:
- Manning comparing a shot that leaves his partner in a bad spot to a poorly thrown football over the middle that gets his receiver drilled.
- Announcers asking Phil about his pre-chip routine and Phil over-delivering with his analysis to the amazement of viewers.
- In-cart cameras for interviews during play. Excellent touch.
- The “one club challenge” on the 5th hole, where each player could only use one club throughout the entire hole.
- Brooks Koepka offering $100,000 on Twitter during the broadcast for any par Brady could make on the front nine.
- Brady ripping his pants and struggling to count his strokes. Weekend golfers know the feeling.
- It felt like everyone with a microphone at some point took a jab at Charles Barkley, and almost all the shots landed.
Here’s one other thing about Sunday’s successful exhibition – which also raised $20 million for COVID-19 relief – that we probably shouldn’t overlook: Tiger Woods played great. He looked as steady and healthy as he has ever been since his 2019 Masters win. He had appeared a little out of sorts in his first events of 2020, and it seems the extended break has served him well. The majors can’t get here fast enough.
After play wrapped up, Woods stood on the 18th green alongside his fellow competitors and said: “This is our arena, and I don’t really know how we’d fair in (Manning’s and Brady’s), so we really appreciate Tom and Peyton joining us.” Indeed, golf has found a winning formula for these matches. The PGA Tour will return soon. Let’s hope these exhibitions come back again as well.
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