News & Opinion

Here’s a way to juice Woods vs. Mickelson

It used to be called the “Silly Season,” those off-the-schedule, made-for-TV events that fluffed up Fred Couples’ bank account each autumn. Now, we have a spectacle that truly fits the name.

The $9 million pay-per-view match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson is scheduled for Nov. 23 – the day after Thanksgiving – in Las Vegas, naturally. The winner gets the whole prize, which both players say that part – not all – of the money will go to charities.

The first silly thing about this match is that neither player is putting up his own money, which they easily could afford to do. Turner Sports is bankrolling this deal and will charge TV viewers $19.95 on B/R Live, DirecTV and AT&T U-verse. (Are you going to pay to watch? Justin Thomas isn’t. Neither am I.) Turner will be extremely lucky to break even on this not-completely-baked idea.

Part of the draw is supposed to be that Mickelson and Woods have been rivals for the past 20-odd years, except the rivalry has been almost completely one-sided, in favor of you-know-who. The bad feelings have been tempered with time. While Mickelson and Woods wouldn’t be considered close friends, they are at least on speaking terms, which hasn’t always been the case over the years.

Neither one needs to win to prove anything, particularly since Mickelson is 48 and Woods is 42, both well past their primes. Both would like to win because both are super-competitive. But losing to the other won’t cause a moment’s regret or lost sleep.

Mickelson insists there will be some chirping between Woods and him because both will be miked. And some side bets – mentioned in the $50,000 range – will be thrown down on things such as long drive, closest to the pin, getting up and down.

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook had Woods at -210 (bet $210 to win $100) to win the event outright, with Mickelson at +175 (bet $100 to win $175). It would be interesting to know after the fact how much action this match will attract. (Probably less than you think.)

The question is: Does anyone (including Tiger and Phil) really care? It’s going to be like watching Floyd Mayweather trade swings with Conor McGregor of UFC – without the big pay-per-view numbers. It’s meaningless, useless and has no entertainment value whatsoever.

Here’s what organizers should do – and it would be so worth watching:

You start with three two-man teams. You’d have to leave Woods out because he’s no good with a partner; look at the record: 9-19-1 in team pairings at the Ryder Cup. First team would be Mickelson and Rickie Fowler; second team, Thomas and Jordan Spieth; third team, Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari.

Mickelson and Fowler are both go-for-every-drive and shoot-at-every-flag. Thomas and Spieth were 3-1 at the Ryder Cup, while Fleetwood and Molinari were 4-0. The Thomas-Spieth loss was a thumping administered by Fleetwood and Molinari, the heralded “Moliwood” pairing for the victorious Europeans.

The game is Hammer, at $10,000 per hole – their own money. That’s the key. None of this winner-take-all organizers’ check. They need to come off the hip to give this thing some juice.

The way Hammer works is that the bet can be doubled on virtually every shot. If Team A has two players in the trees, Team B can drop the Hammer and double the bet to $20,000. The Hammer is then passed to Team B. If a member of Team B hits a miracle shot out of the trees to 6 feet, Team B can Hammer and the bet is now $40,000. Then the Hammer goes back to Team A, which can drop the Hammer if one of its players hits his second shot to within tap-in distance, making the bet $80,000. If neither team wins the hole, the bet is carried over to the next hole.

So, you can see that the money can get crazy in a hurry.

The format would be nine-hole matches. For instance: Mickelson-Fowler plays Thomas-Spieth. Then Mickelson-Fowler plays Fleetwood-Molinari. And the last match is Thomas-Spieth vs. Fleetwood-Molinari. Each team plays a total of 18 holes.

At the end, the losers pay the winners on the spot, on camera. Cash would be the preferred method, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the losers whipped out their checkbooks. The winners would donate the cash – all of it – to a charity or two. Even the losers win under that scenario.

Best of all, it would have the elements of a smack-talking, big-shot-making, chance-taking spectacle that everyone, including the players, would thoroughly enjoy. You might even get fans to pay to see it on TV. And it might be so popular that some iteration of it could be staged the next year.

No one wants to resurrect the Silly Season. But if you want something outside the norm that will hold fans’ fragile attention, you have to think a lot more creatively. Woods vs. Mickelson is simply not it.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email:; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf