The first six editions of The Match, ranked in order of watchability
Hard to believe, but this weekend will be the seventh edition of Turner Sports’ The Match series, and the first in nearly two years to include Tiger Woods.
The cadence of The Match has ramped up, with this latest playing — which features Woods and Rory McIlroy vs. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas — marking the third straight year that there have been two editions, one in the summer or late spring and another in the fall.
In the four years since the inaugural Tiger vs. Phil duel in Las Vegas, the series has grown to include celebrity competitors and PGA Tour rivalries.
Formats and teams have varied over the years, but Saturday’s The Match VII will see Woods come within one of Phil Mickelson for the most appearances in the series with three. McIlroy, Thomas and Spieth will each be competing for the first time.
Mickelson was a part of the first four editions of the series before commentating for The Match V and sitting out The Match VI all together. GOLF’s James Colgan reported last month that Mickelson, once a Match executive producer, is no longer part of the production.
To get you ready for Saturday’s exhibition under the lights, here is a definitive ranking of each of the previous six editions of The Match.
6. Bryson DeChambeau vs. Brooks Koepka
Remember that feud between now-LIV Golf buddies Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka? Feels like a long time ago, right? But it was actually only last year that things heated up, with the comments about each other’s physique, DeChambeau’s infamous walk through Koepka’s interview shot and just general ribbing of each other on social media, which some alleged was a ploy to boost the players’ PIP ratings.
As both have now jumped over to LIV Golf, the PIP point is moot, and we haven’t really heard much about the rivalry; some of that could have to do with the drubbing Koepka gave DeChambeau on Black Friday 2021.
Neither player entered this match in good form. Koepka had missed the cut at his previous two events while DeChambeau was playing for the first time in two months. DeChambeau’s rust was immediately evident. After handing out cupcakes with Koepka’s face on them, he promptly put his opening tee ball in a bush.
Things didn’t improve much for DeChambeau as he was 4-down after eight holes and Koepka closed out the 12-hole match on 9.
The golf was a snooze-fest and the hot mics on the two players were cold as neither was especially chatty. Mickelson’s broadcast chops as an analyst and golf crystal-ball reader may have single-handedly saved this one. Ah, what could have been?
This was the only edition of The Match to garner fewer than one million viewers on TNT.
5. Tom Brady/Aaron Rodgers vs. Josh Allen/Patrick Mahomes
The first edition of 2022 was the only iteration of The Match not to feature a PGA Tour pro on either side. With handicaps of NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes ranging from 2 to 12, this edition was less about elite shotmaking and more about… well, we’re still not really sure.
The contest was competitive, with the old guard of Rodgers and Brady beating the young stars, Allen and Mahomes, 1 up. But this one was probably more remembered for Charles Barkley’s commentary and Tom Brady screaming at a putt that he rammed by the hole.
4. Phil Mickelson/Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers/Bryson DeChambeau
Checking in at No. 4 is the fourth version of the Match, which pitted the team of Mickelson and Brady (reuniting from their Match II pairing) against Aaron Rodgers and Bryson DeChambeau.
The real star was Montana’s Reserve at Moonlight Basin, which provided a stunning backdrop to an event filled with other celebs from former President Barack Obama to Brady’s longtime NFL teammate Rob Gronkowski.
At one point, there was a competition to hit a 500-yard drive at the Reserve’s 777-yard downhill par-5.
The July 2021 event, which was the last conducted as an 18-hole contest, did well to garner more than one million viewers.
3. Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson
The first edition of The Match was the first iteration of made-for-TV golf that viewers had seen in some time.
The competition, set on Black Friday 2018, came with the only announced purse of any of the matches: a $9 million first-place prize. It was also the only one set for a pay-per-view distribution model.
That didn’t happen.
Technical issues with Turner’s then-fairly new Bleacher Report Live platform inadvertently allowed viewers to stream the event for free, and Turner and other providers ended up providing refunds to those who had ordered it.
The golf was only slightly more successful. Woods, who was coming off his first win in five years two months prior at the Tour Championship while Mickelson hadn’t had a top-10 since May, both came out flat. On the first hole, Mickelson badly misread an 8-foot birdie try that would have claimed a $200,000 pre-match side bet for charity.
On the 7th hole closest-to-the-pin challenge, both players were outside 40 feet.
The commentary from the players themselves was also lackluster, and the match eventually finished 18 holes in a tie.
After one sudden-death playoff hole, in a scene straight out of The Legend of Bagger Vance, the 20th through 22nd holes were played on a makeshift par-3 to the 18th green due to sunset. Mickelson finally made birdie on the 93-yard hole to claim victory.
2. Phil Mickelson/Charles Barkley vs. Steph Curry/Peyton Manning
This November 2020 match saw the return of Mickelson and Manning, as well as Charles Barkley’s only appearance as a competitor, playing alongside Steph Curry. The event benefitted Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Mickelson was entertaining, and Barkley was shockingly respectable with Mickelson acting as his caddie during the modified alternate-shot format. Manning and Curry struggled at times with the format, but then again neither had a major winner dispensing advice to them.
Barkley also got to hit his tee shots from forward markers, which helped him and Mickelson to a 4-and-3 win.
This one wasn’t perfect and also didn’t have Woods, but it built a lot on what was so good about the previous iteration earlier that year.
1. Tiger Woods/Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson/Tom Brady
Conducted at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and just about the only sporting event going on at the time, The Match II was a huge hit.
Pairing Woods and Mickelson with the two biggest names in football proved to be exactly what the franchise needed after two years off, and the timing filled a big void for sports fans.
It was also the first edition to utilize carts, which helped improve the flow of the broadcast, as well as giving the players headphones to send jabs back and forth with the broadcasters.
The golf proved better than expected, especially when the format flipped to modified alternate-shot for the inward nine, making every shot count. Brady’s play on most of the front nine was a comedy of errors, but it made the soon-to-be seven-time Super Bowl champ more relatable. But then the GOAT had a GOAT moment. Brady jarred his third shot on the 7th hole and fired some trash talk back at Charles Barkley in the booth.
Woods got his revenge for Mickelson’s Match I win, with he and Manning holding off a late run by Brady and Mickelson to win 1 up. This Match was the most-watched golf event in cable television history, garnering an average of 5.8 million viewers.