News & Opinion

Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson rematch has got to be better

After their 2018 exhibition bust, golf’s biggest stars commit to ‘The Match: Champions for Charity’ to provide coronavirus relief and will join NFL stars Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a team game

The U.S. is a sports-starved nation during the coronavirus pandemic, and anything that pits one competitor against another these days should receive high marks.

On Sunday, “The Last Dance,” a documentary about Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls’ going for a second NBA three-peat in eight years, premiered on ESPN. The ratings soared like Jordan himself, with 6.1 million average viewers, many of whom took advantage of their coronavirus-induced “stay-at-home” orders to watch Air Jordan.

The Match: Tiger Woods versus Phil Mickelson
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson intend to renew ‘The Match’ from 2018, and the exhibition will introduce a couple of key wingmen: NFL legends Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

For comparison, an NBA regular-season game during the past three years has averaged about 1 million viewers. Clearly, the Jordan name still sells, even among a younger generation that wasn’t alive during his reign.

On Thursday night, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell conducted the 2020 player draft from his basement in Bronxville, N.Y. The pomp and circumstance of the draft was to have been conducted from the Las Vegas Strip, but coronavirus took care of those plans.

The player selection was so highly anticipated that one might have thought that a virtual draft never has been done before. Considering that most fantasy drafts are done remotely, the NFL is far behind the trend.

In both cases, with “The Last Dance” and the NFL Draft, it’s clear that sports represent a major distraction for Americans who are tiring of looking at the same four walls each day.

That background brings me to “The Match: Champions for Charity,” a Turner Sports production that will star Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in an exhibition rematch, but with NFL greats Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as partners (reportedly Manning with Woods and Brady with Mickelson).

This should be one of those rare instances when the sequel is better than the original. Granted, that’s not a tall bar to clear. “The Match,” which was played over Thanksgiving weekend in 2018, was atrocious. I don’t use that word lightly.

The Turner Sports production, hyped as a $9 million winner-take-all, pay-per-view showdown, eventually crashed under its own weight, and subscribers were refunded their money.

By today’s yardstick, it would have been the first time that golf fans paid to watch social distancing. Mickelson and Woods barely squeaked at each other as they walked the fairways during some pretty bad golf for the two winningest players of their era.

Just thinking about the three-plus hours of my life that I never will get back makes me shudder.

But I digress. With all major professional sports essentially having been shut down since mid-March, fans likely will be willing to watch just about anything sports-related to get their minds off the pandemic. If it’s live action, then so much the better.

Thankfully, Turner learned from the last time and brought some ringers into the mix with Brady and Manning.

Think about it: Turner has the two greatest golfers of the past quarter century, with 126 PGA Tour victories, including 20 major championships, between them, yet feels obligated to add two NFL champions to give fans a compelling broadcast.

That’s how bad “The Match” was.

So, likely sometime in May, before the PGA Tour restarts on June 11 at Colonial, the sequel will be played. Florida has been mentioned as a likely spot, with Woods living in Jupiter and Mickelson planning a move to the southeast coast soon.

I’m not really sure what to expect from Mickelson or Woods, but it’s got to be better than the last go-round. Since winning on the fourth extra hole in Las Vegas, Mickelson has found Twitter and at times can be funny on social media.

With the Masters having been postponed until November, Woods, who will be the defending champion at Augusta National, could bring his fifth green jacket as a conversation starter.

If they actually toss a few barbs back and forth, as they are wont to do in pro-ams with their colleagues or in the locker room, then we might have something. But don’t hold your breath.

So, we turn to the co-stars, Brady and Manning.

Brady finally is out from under the thumb of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick after they teamed for six Super Bowl titles in the past two decades. Brady seems to be relishing his status as a new member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A happy Brady, who holds his own on social media and in interviews, should add some substance while sparring with Mickelson or Woods, but he will be extremely interesting when Manning is in his cross hairs.

Brady and Manning have been rivals for most of their careers. Manning, a two-time Super Bowl champion who retired after the 2015 season, would be the NFL’s best TV analyst, should he decide to pursue that career. He has a good grasp of the language.

You couldn’t get two better co-stars, which is one of the only reasons I will watch “The Match” sequel: not for the golfers but for the quarterbacks.

Of course, the cause is a good one: to raise money for coronavirus relief.

Hopefully, Turner Sports doesn’t screw this one up and have to provide another make-good for viewers.

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