News & Opinion

Only 1 reason to watch Woods-Mickelson

Naturally, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are going to be very disappointed when they learn that I won’t be buying into their big pay-per-view showdown match in November.

Not at $29.95 or $19.94 or $9.95 or $3.95. Sorry, gents, but I’m just not that interested. It feels a little like a Bob Dole vs. Al Gore runoff. The expiration date has passed.

The Tour Championship at East Lake last month didn’t help. One tournament means nothing – we all understand that – but Woods won and finished 24 shots ahead of Mickelson, who came in dead last. Woods could spot Mickelson five shots a round and still dust him.

And the kicker came at the Ryder Cup, where Lefty couldn’t find his game and Woods looked unwell. They went oh-for-France.

So, count me out.

Unless …

All right, there is one way I could be enticed into watching. In fact, there’s one thing that could make this the most-watched golf event in the history of most-watched golf events: Gambling.

These guys will be playing for $9 million, winner take all, as I understand it. In case that $9 million isn’t enough to get your attention – and it probably isn’t, given the fact that this Dynamic Duo won more than $200 million between them on the course and five times as much (or more) off the course – they are going to enjoy some friendly wagering during The Big Wallet Fill, or whatever the promoters are dubbing it.

There is no such thing as friendly wagering, however, as soon as the first wager is lost. Then it gets personal.

I won’t care whether Woods loses a bet to Mickelson, or vice versa. But I would care if I could get a piece of the action. The Woods vs. Mickelson showdown on Nov. 23 at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas needs live, on-screen, online gambling.

We root hardest when we’re rooting for our own money. Ask any gambler. I often quote Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek on this subject: “I don’t gamble, because winning a hundred dollars doesn’t give me great pleasure, but losing a hundred dollars really pisses me off.”

Betting makes a gambler invested and interested. It’s the No. 1 reason for watching all of those meaningless football bowl games. Place a wager, and then you’ll watch.

So, here’s how The Big Wallet Fill should go:

Our heroes are on a par-3 hole, where the hole is cut back right. Mickelson turns to Woods and says, “I’ll bet you 5,000 large ones that I can hit it closer to the pin than you can.” Woods accepts. Game on.

I’m watching at home on pay-per-view. That subscription comes with a wagering account set up in advance – you know, give them a couple of your credit cards, the pink slip to your SUV, the deed to your house. Something simple. Before the great men hit, there’s a commercial break to allow viewers to place their bets. It could be along the side of the screen, like when NBC went split-screen during the recent Ryder Cup so you could follow the action even during the commercials.

It’s a simple choice on my screen: 1, Tiger. 2, Phil. 3, Amount wagered. Maybe I put a C-note on Mickelson, because the back-right pin is right in the wheelhouse for his favored left-to-right draw shot.

The commercial ends. Back to live action. The guys hit their shots. Not only do I now have 100 reasons to root for Mickelson, but I’ve got 100 reasons to root against Woods, at least in this instance. Spectators in attendance should be able to wager, too, using a specially-created app. You want loud cheering? Let people scream for their hard-earned dollars. That Ryder Cup passion suddenly won’t seem so impressive.

Gambling has a long history in golf. When you play golf with your buddies, do you ever not gamble? It is part of the game’s appeal, seeing who can deliver under pressure, even if it’s just a $2 press.

Wagering has been going on at PGA Tour events forever. It’s one of the reasons why the par-3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is so popular. The same goes for the infamous loud par-3 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Fans in the stands often are betting among themselves on who’ll hit it closer, who’ll make a putt and who’ll miss and which caddie will get to the green first, which is why the “caddie races” were discontinued by rule of The Emperor in Phoenix.

So, Woods hits it closer on the aforementioned par 3. I lose my $100, and like the philosopher Trebek, I am displeased. Next hole, tee box: Woods turns to Mickelson and says, “I’ll bet you 10 grand I drive it longer than you on this hole.” Mickelson thinks about it for a second and replies, “Does it have to be in the fairway?” Woods says, “Nope. Whoever is closer to the hole after the drive is the winner, period.”

“You’re on,” Lefty says.

And now a word from our sponsor. I click on “Double Double Press Bet” on my screen, which means I’m putting $400 at risk, and I click on “Tiger.”

Woods swings. “Mashed potatoes! You da man!” And other unseemly things are hollered, giving this show an edge that golf never has seen. Meanwhile, I am pacing the family-room floor, shouting encouragement to Woods’ profile on the screen and heckling Mickelson’s face when it’s his turn. Come onnnnn!

Without wagering, The Big Wallet Fill has nothing for me.

With wagering? Well, hell, Mr. Nielsen. It could be wildly profitable for everyone, except the losers.

Winning money by watching golf? Now that’s a tradition unlike any other.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email:; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle