Tour Confidential: It’s Tiger-Phil week! Will The Match be a hit or a flop?

November 19, 2018

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they discuss the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. Tonight we discuss the long-anticipated showdown between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson (including who has the most to lose and gain), Rory McIlroy’s European tour membership, the best new courses we played in 2018 and more.

1. After months of speculation, several hype videos (some better than others) and (forced?) trash talk, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will finally square off in “The Match” at 3 p.m. ET on Friday at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. We’ll make our picks on Wednesday, so for now a different topic: Will the event be a success?

Luke Kerr-Dineen, instruction editor (@LukeKerrDineen): Golf has a pretty solid track-record of hating everything that’s different until they realize they actually quite like it. Olympic golf is a good example. It’s tough to figure out what exactly “success” looks like for this event because it’s so unique. But generally speaking, yes, this is going to be a success. I think golf fans will be surprised by how many bored, casual sports fans are going to pay a nominal fee to spend their Thanksgiving breaks watching (more) sports. We’ll probably get a viral moment or two, and Barkley and Co. will do something hilarious at some point. This time next year, we’ll be talking about “The Match” 2.0. Book it.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Well said, K-D (and the Sunshine Band). I was all cranky about Olympic Golf until it was played and then I was merrily on the bandwagon. What constitutes success? Everyone will get paid, and then some, I suspect. That’s likely the working definition of success here.

Sean Zak, assistant editor (@sean_zak):  We may even be talking about it sooner than this time next year. In my eyes, success will be something riveting for a few hours. Do Tiger and Phil make that on their own? Probably, but now we’ve added the nonsensical hilarity of Charles Barkley, the analysis of Darren Clarke and Pat Perez, the stakes of some big money and the fact that we’re all at home, sitting down with not much else to watch. The sum of these parts will be entertaining and, therefore, a success. (Hoping Rory tunes in.)

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): Yes, in part because our collective expectations have been lowered a bit by months of tedious hype. After all the nonsense, the golf will be a bracing change. And I think the production values and other do-dads will be cool, too.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@Dylan_Dethier): Shippy raises a valid point…everyone is sleeping on this thing now! Golf fans have down-talked this thing up until now, and there’s been some valid criticism (from me, too) about the hype. But the 24/7 last week was fun, and now that this is closer to being a reality, golf fans won’t want to miss it. I’m predicting modest numbers but a big success.

2. Who has the most to lose and/or gain in this event? Tiger? Phil? The promoters? The viewers who fork over $19.99?

Kerr-Dineen: Who has the most to gain? Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and all of golf’s other big-name players. If this thing works to any substantial degree, this format could turn into an entirely new revenue stream for those guys. That’s why I was so surprised to see some of those players throw shade at this event. It’s a proof of concept. They should want this to work, because if it does, they’ll be next in line for a big potential payday.

Zak: I think Phil Mickelson has the most to lose. This guy had a big lead on Tiger in terms of being America’s favorite golf dad over these last few years. If we’ve learned anything in 2018, it’s that Tiger is inching toward grabbing that title. Does Phil still have it? At 48? If he can beat Tiger, he’ll at least have that to cling to entering 2019. If not, well, we may be talking a lot more about his decline than his (normally) impressive late-40s form.

Shipnuck: Tiger does, because if Phil beats him in this intensely personal format it will further erode Woods’s aura.

Bamberger: I would disagree, Alan. Tiger’s horrid play in Paris did virtually nothing to erode Tiger’s aura. Phil’s poor play had people saying the Mexico win was a one-off. If it’s close, nobody gains or loses anything. If Phil loses big, it will hurt, kind of, briefly. If Tiger loses in a blowout, which is hard to imagine, it will be written off to some unforeseen thing.

Dethier: Tiger, for sure. He’s supposed to win. That’s how this is scripted to play out. Phil’s got nothing to lose, which is probably what makes him particularly dangerous.

3. To keep the match interesting, Tiger and Phil will have the ability to make mid-round prop bets with their own money. What’s one bet you’d like to see the players wage?

Kerr-Dineen: I want Phil to throw down a big bet on Tiger to miss a makeable putt, Tiger to miss it and then get angry. I want full-on, angry, fist-pumping Tiger. I need the intensity. It would be so much fun.

Zak: You want intensity? How about Tiger saying “Phil, hit the fairway with your driver for $50k.”

Shipnuck: Both of those are great. And we need to get a long-drive contest on one hole, too.

Dethier: Auto 2-down presses. Getting one of these guys on an off-day, then getting that guy going on full tilt? I’d be glued to the TV AND it would ensure we get to the 18th hole.

Bamberger: Double D! Sounds like you actually have played some money games. Automatics is smart for reason just cited. I’d like to see a closest-to-the-hole on a par-3 where Tiger plays with one of Phil’s clubs and Phil one of Tiger’s, and let the rules slide.

4. Rory McIlroy said he may play only two European tour events next season outside of majors and WGCs as he plans to focus more of his attention on the PGA Tour schedule and the majors. His former Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley, was among those disheartened by McIlroy’s announcement, given McIlroy would need to play only two additional Euro tour events to keep his membership. “It’s very disappointing and it is obviously a blow for the European tour,” McGinley said. Legitimate gripe? Should Europe’s stars feel compelled to support their native tour?

Kerr-Dineen: Yes, they should feel compelled and they probably do feel compelled. But for Rory and everyone else, this is a business decision. I doubt Rory will actually go through with it — I read this more as him sending a little message to the powers-that-be who have a habit of strong-arming players into showing up. There’ll be some kind of compromise.

Zak: I think we’ll be laughing about this in eight months. Rory is a jet-setter who loves his native land. He’ll play the minimum number of events; this is just yet another way of him saying “I really don’t NEED all golf has to offer.” To answer the question, no, I don’t think they NEED to support a year-long schedule playing multiple tours.

Shipnuck: I fully support Rory on this, because 2019 is one of the most important years of his career, with the Open going to Portrush and some freighted milestones approaching: He turns 30 and the five-year anniversary of his last major championship victory is fast approaching. In that time, a handful of other players have passed him by. It’s time for Rory to do things differently to see if he can alter his trajectory.

Dethier: I think this just serves to highlight the strangeness of these European pros who live in Florida and then are regularly expected to commute to various events back in the motherland. The PGA Tour offers more money, more prestige and more convenient travel — but still a ton of travel. Look, I still think, as Zak suggests, that he’ll satisfy these requirements. But Rory has always done best when he’s doing things his own way. He should be sure to do what he thinks is right.

Bamberger: He can do what he wants, of course. He’s independently owned and operated. McGinley can say what he wants. They are both making statements from deep inside their own life experiences. I love their candor. I side with Rory.

Rory McIlroy watches a shot during the DP World Tour Championship.
Rory McIlroy watches a shot during the DP World Tour Championship.

5. We recently named Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley in Wisconsin the best new course of the year. What’s the best new course — your first time playing it; not necessarily newly built — you played this year?

Kerr-Dineen: Cypress Point. [*ducks for cover*]

Zak: Had the pleasure (of struggling) at Royal Aberdeen prior to Carnoustie’s Open. It was calm and sunny on the front nine, overcast and windy on the back. I’m told it was a “proper links” day, and in true American form I struggled to break 90.

Shipnuck: Friar’s Head.

Dethier: While at the Ryder Cup, Zak and I stumbled our way into a tee time at Morfontaine, an early 1900s gem some 40 minutes outside Paris. We played the main 18 and then luckily trekked over to the “Valliere 9,” which had a stretch of short par 3s and par 4s about as good and fun as I’ve seen. I’ve never played a course that felt so old and yet so revolutionary in quite the same way. (I wrote a bit more about it here.) C’est magnifique!

Bamberger: I played a composite course in St. Andrews with holes from the New Course and the Jubilee and it was outstanding but not often an available option. I’ve played the New a number of times but never the Jubilee. Old courses, but the combo course was new to me.

6. Happy Thanksgiving! What golf story were you most thankful for in 2018?

Kerr-Dineen: It’s been a fun year, lots to be thankful for, but Europe cruising to a Ryder Cup victory and then celebrating at my colleague Alan Shipnuck’s expense during the victory press conference was pretty fantastic.

Shipnuck: I’ll admit, that was rather epic, and despite everything it was a pleasure to watch Europe’s stellar play and giddy camaraderie. But I’m most thankful for Tiger’s runs at the Open and PGA — both Sundays were thrilling, and it wasn’t that long ago that such a prospect was highly uncertain.

Zak: I’m thankful (in advance) for Augusta National getting its head straight and organizing the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship to be held there for the first time in 4 1/2 months. Progress in the game is damn slow but it seems one of the oldest stewards of NO CHANGE is becoming a bit more accepting of it.

Dethier: Nothing captured the weirdness of golf and those who play, watch, and cover it more than Phil Mickelson hockey-sticking his way around the 13th green at Shinnecock. The incident, the fallout, the explanation — all delicious.

Bamberger: Your Shinnecock Hills reference, Dylan, reminds me of Tiger’s brief meeting with a 101-year-old World War II veteran named Lubin Hunter at the U.S. Open. Mr. Hunter is a Shinnecock Nation member, a former Shinnecock caddie, a golf-nut and a patriot who put his life on the line for a country that did not always show its appreciation to him. He is golf, Thanksgiving and America. If you google his name — Lubin Hunter — and read some of the interviews he has given over the years, and the write-ups about him, you’ll likely learn some interesting things.