Golf Expert & Columnist
The Match: Woods vs Mickelson was golf's version of Kardashians
Last Updated: 27/11/18 2:52pm
Bragging rights and Phil Mickelson. A match made in heaven, or hell, depending on where you stand.
The verbal spoils of a $9m victory over Tiger Woods await activation on the loose tongue of a man who's launched a thousand ill-advised statements. So what will Phil do?
Will he dare to taunt Tiger? Will he ditch the magnanimity of his victory speech and start teasing Woods about cracking under the pressure of a 93-yard pitch for $9m? Somehow I don't think so.
Okay, Phil might pull a few stunts and maybe get some of those shirts he wears made up in hundred dollar bills, but I doubt if he'll engage in any verbal sparring with a man who can swat him any time he wants.
Phil may have won The Match but the game was up a long time ago for Lefty, crushed time and again by the superior player. He knows the dollar value of Tiger and he won't do or say anything to offend him. Why annoy the man who's just made him $9m?
That explains the tame build-up to last Friday's encounter, as they tried their best to ignite a November bonfire but this was a firework show without powder.
For what it's worth, I enjoyed it and I have no problems with the perceived vulgarity of such vast amounts of money and gambling reducing golf to a mere Las Vegas sideshow.
It was light entertainment we could choose to watch or ignore. Golf's I'm a Celebrity without the worms, or whatever it is they eat. It mattered little in the overall scheme of things, but it was a pleasant way to pass a winter's evening if you didn't have anything better to do.
The golf wasn't great, but it was competitive and both players showed us they're far from being the has-beens that cynics wanted them to be for the Las Vegas graveyard narrative. The television coverage was extravagant, the venue was dramatic and the contrived play-off was exciting in its own way. What's not to like? Well, here goes.
Firstly, what do we know about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson we didn't know last Friday morning? My answer is absolutely nothing, but maybe I missed something.
They were both wearing microphones so what did they talk about? Did they chat about families or films or box sets or books or cars or boats or houses or even private jets? Did they even ask each other what they'd do with $9m? Sadly, the answer to all of that is a big no.
What about Phil's much-promised "smack talk"? Well, if what we heard last Friday is Phil's idea of edgy banter in a competitive situation, he wouldn't last five minutes at your local course on a Saturday morning. What we watched last week was Golf doing its best to meet reality television - Phil and Tiger trying to be Kardashians. And, of course, TV was trying to keep up with the Kardashians.
Darren Clarke and Peter Jacobsen did a valiant job of maintaining the veneer of golfing analysis, but the real action was happening at the other studio with Charles Barkley and Samuel L Jackson.
Barkley reminded us that as well as being a basketball star turned terrible golfer, he's genuinely funny. Jackson reminded us he's very good at speaking words written by people more clever than he is.
They all did their utmost to persuade us we were watching something out of this world when, in fact, we were watching something very down to earth. An enjoyable, but fairly ordinary golf match between two men who neither need the $9m nor the aggravation arising from a loose comment.
Mickelson feigned excitement, Woods didn't even try to fake it. What surprised me was that no one on either TV panel saw any significance in Tiger conceding Phil's four-foot putt on the 18th hole.
I guess they viewed it as a vindication of golf's sportsmanship. Well, sorry guys, this was not Royal Birkdale in 1969, this was not the Ryder Cup, and these two were certainly not Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin.
Let's be clear. Tiger Woods does not concede a four-foot putt that keeps the match alive. What he did on the 18th at Shadow Creek all but confirmed they were splitting the $9m. For me, there's no other explanation of why he'd give him that putt when, on the evidence of previous holes, it was 50/50 he'd miss it.
Also, what better situation than that for one of the much-vaunted side bets that were meant to be such a big part of the occasion? Why did Phil not bet Tiger half a mill he'd hole it? We'll never know the answer, because it's safe to say the final accounts of this reality golf experience will not be for our eyes.
What is open to us is the debate about what lessons can be learned. Surely, Mickelson must finally realise that golf simply doesn't lend itself to gratuitous insults. How can you be "smack talking" your opponent at the same time as your natural instincts tell you to say "good shot" or nothing at all?
Good-natured gamesmanship is certainly part of the game and we can all enjoy a bit of needle between shots in a friendly, competitive match. But we don't need $9m and artificial tension to make a match meaningful.
By all means have a Tiger-Phil rematch, but next time get them to play for something money can't buy. Ask Samuel L Jackson to use his influence and persuade Martin Scorsese to put the winner in his next movie. Then again, don't hold your breath. Tiger and Phil need more than just the Color of Money.