The weather did not cooperate, but that was about the only thing that went wrong Sunday during The Match: Champions for Charity. As Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods held an oversized cardboard check with a total of $20 million written in, they were soaking wet but smiling.
It was a soaked, but successful day at The Medalist in Hobe Sound, Florida, where the legends of golf and football sped around in their own carts, raised considerable funds for coronavirus relief, filled the airwaves with banter and played some good golf, too.
Here are a few takeaways:
For the first time in 98 days, we got to see Woods in action. And the last time we saw him, he didn’t look good. Woods shot 77 at Riviera Country Club on Feb. 16 and finished last among those who made the cut at the Genesis Invitational. And he complained that his back was stiff.
When he then skipped the WGC-Mexico Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, there was cause for concern. And when he then skipped the Players Championship, it was easy to wonder if he would be ready for his Masters title defense.
All of it became moot when the Players was canceled after one round and the coronavirus pandemic shut down the PGA Tour. Woods hasn’t played since but neither has anyone else. And the time off has done him some good.
Woods didn’t miss a fairway. His swing looked smooth and in rhythm. He hit some deft pitch shots and a really nice long bunker shot. And all of this in difficult, rainy conditions.
It was just a charity match, but he looked pretty good. Who knows when Woods will resume his schedule when the PGA Tour returns next month, but his game looks good to go.
Phil being Phil
Mickelson did his best to hype the match and went out of his way to say he’d be taking down Tiger — again — in the second of their made-for-TV match encounters. While that didn’t happen, it wasn’t without Lefty doing all he could to make it happen.
Mickelson gave a vintage description of how he would play a pitch shot early in the match when on-course reporter Justin Thomas asked him about it; was clearly on-brand when he gave a shoutout to one of his sponsors on a long-drive hole, then promptly airmailed his tee shot left into the trees; seemed to take great joy in zipping around in his golf cart; then launched a tee shot onto the par-4 11th to set up an eagle putt by Brady; and generally seemed to enjoy himself.
Mickelson hasn’t made it official, but he is expected to play the first event back next month at the Charles Schwab Championship.
Brady’s bounce back
The new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback started out as if he were playing golf in the old Bucs creamsicle jerseys, a comedy of errors at every turn. The weather didn’t help, and Brady got off to a shaky start.
Charles Barkley was giving him grief, and offered up a $50,000 donation to COVID-19 relief if Brady could hit a par-3 green. He missed badly. “I should have said if you could hit it on the planet,” Barkley bellowed.
But as Brady has been known to do, he gathered himself. Even after taking a penalty stroke on the par-5 seventh hole, he holed a 100-yard wedge shot — while his pants split and his microphone broke — to earn a $100,000 donation from Brooks Koepka, who wondered if Brady could even make a par.
I thought this was CHAMPIONS for charity Chuck…🤔 https://t.co/Vzu3xZQxOk
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) May 25, 2020
And on the back nine, as he and Mickelson attempted to rally, Brady was solid, helping keep his team in the match.
The retired NFL quarterback brought a lot to the second edition of The Match. He was fun and engaging and self-deprecating. He admitted how difficult it was afterward to step into that arena with Tiger and Phil and play a sport for which he is not known. And he hit some great shots, making an early birdie putt to put his team 2-up and hitting a great iron approach shot late to help keep the team 1-up. The Augusta National member acquitted himself quite nicely.
Justin Thomas, announcer
The fourth-ranked player in the world has a lot of golf ahead of him, but the friend of Tiger proved his worth in a cameo TV roll. He had no problem dishing on Woods and Mickelson — and Barkley — and he brought some excellent insight as a Medalist member. He came across smooth but is no doubt looking forward to getting back to his day job.
Modified alternate shot
The back-nine format was fun, and it helped keep the Match moving on the back nine as weather and darkness threatened. It also brought strategy to the competition, and allowed for some good drama when Mickelson drove the green at the par-4 11th and Brady drained the putt for an eagle. One scary thought: Imagine if there had been true alternate shot, meaning they could not pick the best drive.
The Match III
It’s almost inevitable. The first match, won by Mickelson in Las Vegas in 2018, came with a $9 million payday. It also had numerous technical glitches, and with just Woods and Mickelson involved, lacked the banter we saw Sunday. The second iteration was a marked improvement, and it was probably livelier and more fun because the players were competing for bragging rights and charity.
Woods and Mickelson formed this partnership a few years ago with an eye on these type of matches.
Next time, put Tiger and Phil together. How about taking on Rory McIlroy and Thomas? The young guys might be favored, but with a big payout on the line, who is to say the veterans won’t prevail?
The real thing
Two weeks. Two made-for-TV, sports-starved-viewer-filling events. All for charity.
This time, Tiger, Phil, Manning and Brady doubled that amount in a similar event.
To criticize either would miss the point. Both served a great purpose, a welcome diversion while also offering a huge monetary boost to fight the pandemic.
But now the real thing beckons. Assuming all goes well, the PGA Tour returns in Texas in a little over two weeks. We expect Phil to be there. Tiger’s return is more of a mystery.
The golf will count, however, and a busy season beckons with plenty of obstacles in trying circumstances but plenty of cautious optimism.