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November is a month of hibernation for golf. There are silly season events and broadcasts to watch but it goes on quietly in the sports background and any impact is minimal. But “The Match, Tiger vs. Phil” arrives on Thanksgiving weekend to try and make golf the show. There are two legendary players, one the greatest draw in the history of the game, a unique made-for-TV concept, and a caravan full of important agency and TV executives trying to get you to watch this entertainment product. It had an underwhelming rollout, to say the least, but it’s an intriguing experiment that will cost you $20 to see. Here are three reasons why it should work and three more why this whole thing might stink.

Why this works

1. Nostalgia

Last week, Rory McIlroy, the Hall of Fame golfer that’s supposed to be in his prime right now, cracked “if they had done it 15 years ago it would have been great but nowadays, it’s missed the mark a little bit.” He’s not wrong and an initial hype video set to music from 2003 was very appropriate. It would have been great 15 years ago. But it can still be great in 2018.

That it’s happening in 2018 can actually be a strength. We now have 20-year histories with both Tiger and Phil, individually and in this faux rivalry. They’re playing into that to promote it. Some intense golf fan may prefer to see a Patrick Reed vs. Jordan Spieth match that’s actually bristling with real tension from two current stars, but a wider sports audience wants two legendary players they know. We were robbed of any real Tiger v. Phil head-to-head battle in the majors during their two overlapping careers. An older khaki-clad crowd is most likely the group buying this, if they can find the app on their phone, and so Tiger and Phil is the best possible option for such a made-for-TV event.

This match as a means to watch bunch of old clips and reflect on the last 20 years is not a bad thing. We’re getting a lot of it and it’s fun. We don’t have to be mad they two players are older and maybe not at the peak of their careers. Also, they can still play. This is not like watching a current over-the-hill Michael Jordan go one-on-one against an overweight Charles Barkley. Tiger, after all, is now ahead of both Spieth and Reed in the World Rankings which is not a sentence I expected to type a year ago.


Ford Championship at Doral

Tiger and Phil at Doral in 2005, one of the few Sundays when they actually went head-to-head down the stretch.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

2. Sui generis

This event is nothing if not unique. It’s not the very first of its kind. Golf’s history in the United States is full of made-for-TV matches, from the old Wonderful World of Golf to the Skins Game to the “Monday Night Golf” series of the early aughts that featured both Tiger and Phil.

It’s been a long time since one of these actually got off the ground, however, and it’s never been set up on pay-per-view. There has also never been a golf event that will so openly and enthusiastically encourage gambling and make it an integral part of the broadcast. The players will be mic’d up and side bets will probably become the feature of this show, even more than the actual shots. There will be real-time probabilities on the screen based on course-mapping data and the players’ ShotLink data. This is not a perfect analogy, but watching pro poker when you can see the players’ hold cards is much more dramatic and interesting. The viewer will have that kind of information as each player strategizes over a shot.

It may fail spectacularly or it may over-deliver on the hype, but it will be a dramatic departure from the monotonous week-to-week PGA Tour stroke play tournament. It will look so different and sound so different and could be the model for something much larger. On that alone, I’m intrigued.

3. Money

There is so much cash on the table. Money does not make an event more interesting. The Ryder Cup has no purse and is arguably the best event for TV in the game. The Masters would still be The Masters no matter the purse size.

The purse here is less of the draw. The $9 million winner-take-all pot is nice. It’s larger than anything one player could win at a single event on Tour. It’s getting the hype and flashing lights. But that’s not their money. The cash for the side bets is their money, allegedly, and playing for that seems like the one authentic piece of this entire experiment. If they’re fronting their own money and they can lose it to the other guy, that’s something that truly sets this event apart from every other cash grab both on the PGA Tour and off it. I care a lot less about Tiger or Phil hitting more good golf shots to win another big pot of sponsor’s money. I will watch Tiger or Phil lose $100k of their own money on a reckless side bet.

Why this stinks

1. Money

This is purely a profit-seeking entertainment sideshow. There are many people with their hand in this experiment trying to make some money. Both players are making buckets of cash regardless of whether they win or lose. Agents are making out nice. TV Executives will be doing just fine. PR people got some Thanksgiving week work. The PGA Tour is taking a cut.

It’s fine for a piece of entertainment to come into existence purely for the cash. That happens all the time and doesn’t necessarily make something less entertaining.

But this is not some passion project or career-long chase for a major championship trophy. The purse is high but the stakes are low. There is no rivalry here. They aren’t doing this because they’re competitive and want to beat each other in a head-to-head game. They’re in the sunset of the careers and maayyyybe the sunset of some sort of real earning power.

The Match is now “Capital One The Match” and the cool drone camera they’re throwing up in the sky is “Drone View by AT&T” and the tracer will be “Toptracer, presented by Capital One” and the proprietary data stream on the broadcast is coming to us via the benevolent souls at MGM Resorts. It’s just like the Masters.

Tiger and Phil want to make money. The very important people with big titles all around this want to make money. The head-to-head game is the vessel for it.


THE TOUR Championship- Final Round

Tiger and Phil at East Lake in 2009, when Phil won a big check for the Tour Championship and Tiger won a much bigger check for the FedExCup.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

2. It’s manufactured

This did not start over some Tiger and Phil debate in the locker room. A TV producer and a management agency executive had a kernel of an idea that was then dumped into a colander full of more agency and talent executives and strained into this Thanksgiving weekend show. Nothing about this is authentic or organic.

Phil may have let word of this idea slip to journalist Alan Shipnuck before the many relevant parties were ready for it. It felt like a scramble ever since and the rollout was an enjoyable mess. The announcement came with no clarity on who was running it or organizing it, no specific date, no specific venue, no specific time, no specific channel, no specific cost, and a promo poster with Tiger Woods, who is right-handed, photoshopped holding a left-handed driver (which they, I have to say, quite admirably kept their head down and continued to use months after this mistake was mocked). Then Phil opened a Twitter account and started “trash talking” with Tiger in a transparent, phony, and often awkward attempt to generate interest.

It took, uh, quite some time before we got many of the important details about when and where this would take place and how much it would cost. We did, however, know the purse amount. The money was always the most important part of this and that was right and proper from the moment they rolled things out to the public.

The good news is that most of those important details did eventually come together. There were thunderous complaints about the cost for a golf match. Going to a PPV model and charging $20 is a risk (to be clear, not for Tiger and Phil, who are getting paid no matter what) and we’ll hopefully find out if those complaints came from the vocal minority or majority if we can get accurate reporting on how many people buy it.

The time, Noon on a Friday, the one after Thanksgiving, in Las Vegas seemed to squander the opportunity and demand for putting at least a portion of this under the lights. There was also the small matter of deciding that no fans would be admitted, only a “select group of VIPs.” So no crowd and no lights and a Noon start in Vegas is not exactly the recipe for a livewire environment that really pops. But this is a made-for-TV event and that audience is the primary concern, not some Vegas-area plebes trying to walk around exclusive Shadow Creek shouting things.

We do have a strong broadcast team and details of what should be a cool-looking production. It took some time but the planning did come together. I feel better about The Match than I have at any point which is, I suppose, where you want to be the week of the event. But the rollout gave off the impression of hastily manufactured money-grab and you only make a first impression once.

3. It’s forced

Phil and Tiger have made it clear that they understand this is an entertainment product. With a goal that this concept becomes a future model for some sort of league or business they have a stake in, they know they have to add a little extra sauce to make it go and really work this first time.

They played a practice round at Augusta National that now, in hindsight, seems staged as an attempt to get the hype of their relationship going. They joked in press conferences about playing each other for cash before any word of this match went public. There were calculations made all spring and summer.

Phil and Tiger are good at playing entertaining golf. You know what they’re not good at? Playing entertaining actors. Phil is entertaining because he’s so transparently goofy in his attempts to trash talk and hype. You definitely know what parts are real Phil and what parts are promo and jk Phil. Tiger is mostly awkward, which I guess can be entertaining too if you’re into that.

There are only two players on the course so the majority of the broadcast is going to be that in-between time. The walk in between shots and the discussion in between shots. Tiger and Phil, with the aid of that broadcast group and production, are going to have to fill it and that’s not their natural talent.

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