The Match is over. Golf will never be the same. It's the dawning of a new era!
Just kidding. Golf is the same as it ever was, and the relative lack of groundbreaking content within The Match - Black Friday's televised $9 million pillowfight between two of golf's greatest competitors - suggested that this high-stakes, high-hopes event underperformed stakeholders' expectations.
But there were some takeaways, however humble. After goading my father into plunking down $20 for it (more on this later), he and I watched 'The Match' with some friends. Here's what was revealed:
1. Even two of the best golfers of all time can play stultifyingly mediocre golf
Bless them, but both Tiger and Phil seemed to have tucked into the turkey a little late on Thanksgiving evening, because their play was sleepy, at best. Both were 3-under par for the regulation 18 holes, but the main match was marked more by lackluster approaches and missed putts than thrilling play. Tiger burned several edges early before failing to challenge the hole much, and Phil left tons of relatively easy putts short.
2. Shadow Creek looks pretty, but its supporting role was left wanting
Shadow Creek is a major figure in the history of American golf course design, for better and worse. The carefully-routed streams, the expressive bunkers and the 17th-hole waterfall lent the expected sense of opulence to the scene, as did the requirement that Tiger and Phil take wedge divots out of the putting green (sacrilege for practically every golfer in the world) for the 95-yard overtime hole. The sight of still-healing aerification marks on the putting greens, plus Phil Mickelson's pre-match practice shots out of a bunker to a range green with large dead patches on it were a little incongruous.
3. "Closed to spectators" doesn't mean much
One source of hope for 'The Match' was that there might be throngs of spectators following along with the action. But a few weeks before, it was announced that no outside spectators would be on site.
Nevertheless, hundreds still followed the action in person. They were casino VIPs and industry insiders, plus some media. #GrowTheGame!
4. Golf announcers still cannot help themselves
Part of the allure of 'The Match' was the opportunity to peel back the curtain on what professional golfers talk about during competition. Even if it turned out to be mundane (SPOILER ALERT: it is!), it would have given viewers some information they didn't already have. Ernie Johnson (who is great on TNT's NBA coverage), Peter Jacobsen and Darren Clarke struggled to find the right moments to insert the normal running commentary, and instead steamrolled numerous little moments when Tiger and Phil were talking to peripheral attendees, their caddies and each other. Maybe 'The ReMatch' (since Tiger lost, is there any doubt there'll be one?) will give viewers the opportunity to toggle off the main commentary team in order to get a better fly-on-the-wall experience.
Watch: Shackelford, Mackenzie, Damron, Porath critique The Match
5. The coverage wasn't all bad
Despite his part in some of the interruptions, I liked what I heard from Darren Clarke on the broadcast. He's a thoughtful gent with spectacular hair and a great voice, both in timbre and charming Ulster accent. But Pat Perez was a revelation. When he was brought in to give a fellow-pro's opinion on the proceedings, he delivered in keeping with his unvarnished personality. I enjoy watching him play golf (he would've brought some needed gruff realness to this year's American Ryder Cup side), but I think after his competitive golf days end, he could be an excellent commentator. Finally, Shane Bacon continues to show that he's a likely future golf telecast host.
6. Pay-Per-View doesn't necessarily mean "no ads"
'The Match' was sponsored by Capital One, which is fine and necessary. But after paying $20 to see this event, the splicing-in of several minute-long ads with Samuel L. Jackson and Charles Barkley (who was delightful as always when brought in to offer his own off-the-cuff commentary) felt a bit strange. It's one thing to see the all the billboard-like ads on the golf course during the action, but the actual dedicated ads felt out-of-bounds.
7. "$19.99" actually means "Free!"
One of the main goals of 'The Match' was to help launch B/R (Bleacher Report) Live, a streaming service that accompanies the Ted Turner-owned media property. I had no issues viewing the program on TV, but heard several reports of authentication and other user issues for online viewers. It got so bad that Bleacher Report dropped the paywall and streamed the event for free, and Comcast is offering refunds for those who did pay.
8. Golf might be the new jai alai
For as long as I've been watching televised golf, money and betting have been taboo subjects during coverage. But if 'The Match' was any indication, that's going out the window as sports betting continues to become legal in the U.S. The way 'The Match' was promoted - with gestures to the pomp and circumstance surrounding prize fights - suggests that its organizers may want golf to become a sport that people will bet on despite not being avid players. Again, #GrowTheGame...
9. Tiger is still magical
Yes, he lost, and yes, he didn't play well and his back might be bothering him again, but Tiger Woods still has a knack for improbable shots in big moments. One down on 17, with Mickelson staring at a 12-footer for the win, Woods chipped in for birdie beneath Shadow Creek's big waterfall, giving the VIP crowd a JV version of one of his famous fist-pumps. He knew he needed to hole the short shot, and he willed the result into reality. His overall prowess may fade, but the magic's still there.