In defense of The Match: For the love of golf (and a little money)
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In defense of The Match: For the love of golf (and a little money)

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LAS VEGAS – There are people who don't think "The Match" is a good idea.

You might be one of them. And to be honest, when I first heard about the idea, I wasn't exactly sure it was a good one either.

But after 30 minutes on a Tuesday afternoon at Shadow Creek (a golf course known for high-stakes money changing hands), I can no longer stand with the naysayers. The simple reason? Watching two icons of the game -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the best golfers of their generation -- smile and laugh while trading memories, respect, jabs (and one very ballsy wager) helped me remember once again why we play and love the game of golf. For even the best players in the world, it's not always about the money -- even a $9 million purse. Golf is more about measuring yourself against your friends, having fun while taking down your opponent.

You could see it on both their faces in the interview room: Tiger and Phil want to beat each other. The money has their attention, and the spectacle seems to have drawn them in -- there's something significant, historic in a sense, on the line.

"In golf, you tend to play typical stroke play, 150 guys, and you play the course," Mickelson said Tuesday. "This is totally different. This has the element of match play, of head-to-head, so there is this bigger amount of pressure or intensity between the two because it's a direct conflict. Whereas on a stroke-play event you go out and randomly play the course and try not to play against your opponent so much, this is the exact opposite. This is me versus him, winner take all, and it's got a very unique, special feel that golf very rarely has ever had, if ever."

In many ways, this will be different from your regular Friday on the PGA Tour. The commercial-free pay-per-view coverage will offer a variety of new technologies designed to give golf fans and inside look at the thought process between players and caddies (Tiger, Phil and their loopers will be mic'd up) as well as the conversations we often don't hear (for better or worse).

"I'm hopeful that it's received well," Mickelson said of the presentation.

Even though he and Woods have had a hand in crafting the overall viewership experience, Phil is also willing to admit that trying something new always involves risk.

"I'm hopeful that we provide a glimpse into the future of what watching sports is all about. I'm hoping with our partnership with TNT and Bleacher Report ... having on-screen live odds with the potential for viewer to be able to wager, with the opportunity to hear banter and being mic'd ... we're hopeful that this provides an insight into the sport that is a glimpse into the future where people want more. If that happens, great. We very well could have some more [events like this]. If people don't like it or want it, then it's probably a one-and-done. I think it's a unique, special opportunity to see sides of athletes and sports performance you've been craving as a viewer and haven't had a chance to see."

Viewers won't be the only ones wagering on the outcome. Or outcomes, plural. Throughout the media buildup to "The Match," both Woods and Mickelson have talked up their side-bet strategies -- money won or lost on single shots throughout the round designed to amp up the pressure (as if the $9 million payday isn't enough). Even better, all side-bet winnings will go to charity. And charitable giving received a substantial boost during the press conference when Phil started talking about the very first hole on Tom Fazio's Shadow Creek design, a 435-yard par 4 that can set the tone for the round.

Mickelson kicked off the side-betting action by putting up $100,000 he would start his round with a birdie. Within seconds, Woods doubled the bet to $200,000, confident Phil's erratic tee ball would doom him out the gate.

And then Mickelson smiled as he said, "Did you see how I baited him like that?"

Isn't that what's at the heart of the game? The trash talk and one-upsmanship we all trade back and forth on the golf course with our buddies, trying to get in their heads, get the better of them, pull off the shot or the putt or the birdie that makes your playing partner's inner psyche spin out of control. And when it's generational players throwing down the gauntlet, it's simply delicious.

And because we never know what the future holds, it could very well be our last shot as golf fans to see Tiger and Phil battle each other instead of the growing horde of up-and-coming PGA Tour talent.

So that's why I'm here to watch "The Match." I want to see two of the best golfers in the world (still, even after decades of winning) go head-to-head, swing-for-swing in a match the likes of which we've never really seen. It will be historic in its own right. It might be a huge success. And, yes, it has the chance to be an epic fail. But there's no doubt it will be a spectacle.

About the author

Darin Bunch

Darin Bunch

Award-winning golf-travel journalist Darin Bunch is Travel Editor for and an all-around good guy who plays hickory golf clubs and likes walking courses with his dogs — Ragsy, Franny and Theo. He’s the co-host and producer of the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast with longtime friend, actor and comedian Mitch Laurance. Darin’s previous credits include Managing Editor of GolfGetaways Magazine; Owner and Publisher of Fairways + Greens Magazine; and Sunday Editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. His trademark white goatee can reportedly be seen from space, and he lives in Bakersfield, Calif., but is working hard every day to move to Port Orford, Ore.