Better late than never? Woods, Mickelson prepare for ‘The Match’
by Rob Woollard
A must-see collision between two of golf’s greatest rivals or a cynical multi-million-dollar cash-grab?
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will go head-to-head in Las Vegas on Friday with opinion divided over the merits of a contest that will see the winner pocket $9 million.
For many observers, the winner-take-all pay-per-view meeting of the 19-time major winners is at least a decade past its sell-by date.
Mickelson, 48, and Woods, 42, were once fierce opponents, regularly sparring for the sport’s biggest prizes.
Even if the rivalry was uneven — Woods spent 683 weeks as world number one; Mickelson never managed to occupy the top spot — the popular narrative endured.
But since their heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, both Woods and Mickelson have been in steady decline.
While they both recorded victories on the PGA Tour in 2018, it has been five years since Mickelson won a major, while Woods hasn’t hoisted a major since 2008.
And the unmistakable frostiness that once marked their relationship has given way to a warmth that has seen the two play regular practice rounds together.
All of which has meant that attempts to hype Friday’s clash at the exclusive Shadow Creek Golf Course as a grudge match have rung hollow.
Certainly, it has struggled to gain much traction among the leading lights of the tour.
“Look, if they had done it 15 years ago it would have been great,” was the verdict of Rory McIlroy. “But nowadays, it has missed the mark a little bit.”
World number four Justin Thomas was similarly unmoved, saying he was unlikely to part company with the $19.99 fee to watch the showdown on pay-per-view.
“Love TW and Phil to death, but there’s a 0% chance I order that,” Thomas wrote on Twitter last month. “I’ll be watching football!”
– ‘Not golf. It’s vaudeville’ –
Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty was even more damning.
“This isn’t golf. It’s vaudeville. It’s an exhibition hosted by a couple middle-aged players, ruined finery essentially, seeking a means to make a lot of money for doing almost nothing,” Daugherty wrote.
Woods and Mickelson, meanwhile, have been unfazed by the naysayers, and were all smiles at a pre-event press conference this week.
An attempt to line the duo up in a boxing-style nose-to-nose face-off lasted only a few seconds when both men dissolved into laughter.
Mickelson insists, though, that the opportunity to claim bragging rights over Woods is not something he is taking lightly.
“I just don’t want to lose to him and give him the satisfaction because the bragging rights are going to be even worse than the money,” said Mickelson.
“Every time I see you I want to be able to rub it in. I want to sit in the champions’ locker room at Augusta and talk smack. I want that,” added Mickelson, readily lauding Woods as “the greatest of all time.”
“I’ve seen him do things with a golf ball that have never been done,” he said.
Woods, successfully returned to golf this year after missing most of 2016 and 2017 through injury, is relishing the opportunity to go head-to-head.
“We’ve gone at it for over two decades,” Woods said. “I missed competing and being able to go against Phil like this. It gets my juices flowing, for sure.”
While Mickelson has acknowledged that the prize purse is a “ridiculous” amont of money, the players are also planning to make side bets during the course of the game.
Mickelson has already wagered $200,000 that he will notch a birdie on the opening hole.
Both players also plan to donate an unspecified share of the proceeds from the game to charities. (Agence France-Presse/AFP)