By Travelin’ Joe Passov
Big-time exhibition golf matches date back to ancient times—well before Old Tom Morris grew his first beard. This Sunday, May 24, Tiger Woods will make his 11th appearance since 1999 in one of these made-for-TV extravaganzas. His results are decidedly mixed. Rory McIlroy edged him back-to-back in China in 2012 and 2013. Tiger is winless in Skins Games. Eighteen months ago, Phil Mickelson snatched away $9 million from him in the floodlit darkness of Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. OK, Tiger has won his fair share as well. But we all know it’s not the same Tiger.
The Tiger who awes us, the guy we can’t turn away from, is the Tiger who competes at tournament golf, for history, like no one else. As “The Last Dance” reminded us that there is no greater competitor and no greater champion in basketball as Michael Jordan, Tiger’s 2018 Tour Championship win, his 2019 Masters title and his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour win in Japan last fall remind us that when it comes to competitive golf, Tiger is in a class by himself, as a competitor and a champion.
Why we would sit, enthralled, even as Tiger owned a six-shot lead with two holes to go in countless tournaments, was to appreciate the pinnacle of golf performance. With Tiger free from injuries in 2018 and 2019, we were able to appreciate it all over again—the physical prowess and the mental dominance. Stories of a “softer” Tiger accompanied his comeback, with increased friendliness towards his fellow Tour players, more patience with the media, more acceptance of himself. That may be true, but Tony Finau recently set the record straight about Tiger’s demeanor when he was back in the hunt.
Finau was paired with Tiger for the final round of the 2019 Masters. It was a dream come true for Finau to play with his childhood idol on such a significant stage. Finau told GOLFTV last December that he and Woods shared “Good luck’s’ on the first tee…and then crickets, nothing, until the 7th. “We get to hole seven, I’m walking off the tee, we’re right next to each other so I figure I better say ‘hi’ or something to him,” said Finau. “I said ‘Hey, Tiger, how’s the family? How’s the kids?’ And he looked at me pretty straight-faced and he said, ‘They’re good.’ And he kept walking, and I never talked to him again until I was congratulating him on the 18th green.”
That’s the Tiger Woods that thrills us. As MJ was in NBA hoops, Tiger was the cold-blooded assassin in competition. The 2019 season showed us he still is.
So why should we tune in to TNT Network on Sunday, May 24 for Capital One’s The Match: Champions for Charity—an exhibition, to be sure? Here are six great reasons to watch.
It’s all for charity.
In conjunction with the live telecast, WarnerMedia and the golfers will collectively contribute a minimum charitable donation of $10 million to benefit COVID-19 relief. In addition, there will be more donation opportunities through the ALL IN Challenge. For instance, with a $10 entry fee, a lucky player can win a putting lesson with Tiger and a VIP experience at the 2020 Hero World Challenge in The Bahamas. There will also be on-course competitive challenges within the match, whether a long-drive hole, or a one-club-only hole. You have to feel good watching—and supporting—this cause.
It’s Tiger vs. Phil, Part II
The two greatest golfers of our era are also the two most competitive golfers of our era—and that extends to the volume of trash-talk from the pair. During a televised promotional appearance for the Match, Phil made sure Tiger could see the trophy he earned for winning the head-to-head Las Vegas event in 2018. Woods responded by grinning and draping the green jacket for his 2019 Masters win over himself. Mickelson volleyed back this past week, telling Golfweek, I can’t wait to go to Tiger’s place and take him down. Tiger thinks he has a huge advantage playing there because he was insistent that this event is played on his home course. Despite everyone else wanting to play it elsewhere. That’s fine. We’ll take it to him and Peyton.” This should be a wonderful war of words.
It’s Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, Part 18
Two of the greatest NFL quarterbacks in history, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, take a backseat to no one in the competitiveness department. Although Brady led Manning on the gridiron, with 11 wins to Peyton’s six, remember that those were team endeavors. On the course and off, their competitive fires burn furiously.
Manning, who will partner Tiger, has posted a handicap index as low as 3.5. These days, it hovers around 6.4, with impressive rounds at some of the clubs he belongs to, such Augusta National and Cherry Hills. His competitive zeal is legendary, as is his own trash-talking. He once offered to buy dinner for the New York Giants entire defense if they would stop Brady from breaking his league record for touchdown passes in the final game of the season. Alas, Brady prevailed.
On another occasion, Tiger asked Manning while they were paired on the golf course what the difference was between the offenses on Peyton’s old team, the Colts, versus his new team, the Broncos. Manning responded, “Tiger, it’s really similar. The hardest thing for me right now is that ‘McIlroy’ is on one, and ‘Tiger’ is on two.”
Woods responded to the good-natured trash-talk by overtaking McIlroy the following month.
Most significantly, Manning could have retired at 35, wealthy and legendary, but chose a brutal rehab to a serious neck injury for a risky return to football. He won his second Super Bowl the next year.
Brady is no slouch when it comes to competitive juices. He sports an 8.1 handicap at clubs such as Seminole and The Country Club (Brookline) in Boston. PGA Tour golfer Ricky Barnes played with Brady as his partner in the 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and sized up Brady. “He was funny, giving us grief for having to quit in the rain,” said Barnes. “He was really competitive, and can play, too. He made an eagle at Pebble’s second hole. As far as rating his competitiveness? If it’s a 10 out of 10, Brady’s an 11. He hates to lose.”
Brady once smashed a ping pong paddle after losing to teammate Danny Amendola and also threw a backgammon board across the room following a loss, prompting teammate Damon Huard to call him a “psychotic competitor.”
Brady could have retired at age 35 with three Super Bowl wins and two NFL MVP awards. Instead, he’s won three more Super Bowls, another league MVP and he’s hunting for more hardware when play resumes.
It’s a chance for the Medalist to shine
Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida gets a well-deserved turn in the spotlight as host layout to the Champions for Charity match. Tiger’s home course is a 1995 Pete Dye-Greg Norman design collaboration that ranks among the best in Florida—and among the toughest in the U.S., with a back tee yardage of 7,571 yards, a slope of 155 and a course rating of 77.9. It is a stern test for a stellar membership, which also includes Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, among many tour pros.
Viewers got an early look at Medalist a few months after it opened, when Norman and pal Nick Price dueled in a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match. Since then, Norman softened and changed the layout, but a recent restoration by former Pete Dye associate Bobby Weed has restored the teeth and the appearance.
Its overall challenge is tied to the many marshes that edge fairways, plus vast native areas and subtle but pronounced slopes around the greens. Tiger and Phil shouldn’t be too bothered by the tight chipping areas around the greens, but it could cause issues for slightly less proficient players like Manning and Brady.
Yes, Medalist is hard, but it shares characteristics with courses Tiger favors, especially regarding ground game options into and around the greens. That preference is reflected in Tiger’s own designs, such as El Cardonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. As Norman stated about Medalist, “It possesses many design features worth emulating: broad fairways, turf kept firm and running with greens open in front, greens set at angles dictating the appropriate spot from which to play, and finally, fascinating recovery shots for those times that you miss the green.”
It’s the format
With all due respect to last week’s skins game charity event at Seminole, if there aren’t a lot of shots hit close and birdies made on top of birdies, the competition can be short on drama. Look for excitement early and often in the Champions for Charity event this week at Medalist. Woods and Manning will battle Mickelson and Brady in a Best Ball format on the front nine and a Modified Alternate Shot format on the back nine, where each team’s two players hit drives, the best one is selected and then the team alternates shots until the ball is holed.
Woods and Manning have played plenty of golf together, so teamwork should come easy. As for their opponents? “I’ve played with Tom a few times,” said Mickelson to Golfweek. “I’ve played with him at Augusta National and Friar’s Head and I’ve seen him hit some remarkable shots and I’ve seen him hit some shots that you wouldn’t be so surprised he hit. But his strength is he is a very good putter and he hits the ball a long ways and he’s good with his short irons. If I can get the ball in play I think we’ll have a chance on the back-nine modified alternate-shot platform.”
With no caddies, each player will navigate his own golf cart and get yardage readings from an approved GPS device.
It’s the broadcast
The action kicks off at 3:00 pm E.S.T. and is simulcast on TNT, TBS, truTV and HLN. Versatile announcer Brian Anderson will handle the play-by-play, accompanied by former Masters champion and current CBS analyst Trevor Immelman and the one and only Charles Barkley. Say what you will about Barkley, but he is endlessly entertaining and possesses genuine insights about the four competitors. Out on the course as roving reporters will be Justin Thomas, the world’s fourth-ranked golfer and a Medalist member, and Amanda Balionis, who has distinguished herself as a premier interviewer and personality at CBS Golf.
Again, no disrespect to the production last week at Seminole, but expect much more lively chatter and interaction between the four players, even with social distancing in place. Woods and Manning are currently a -200 favorite in Las Vegas, with Mickelson and Brady a +175 underdog. This should be a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.