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Tiger vs Phil - Does Anybody Really Care?

By: | Thu 23 Aug 2018

AND so it has been confirmed. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will go head to head over 18 holes in Las Vegas in a winner-takes-all encounter with a mind-boggling $9m up for grabs. The match will be played at Shadow Creek Golf Course on November 23 and 24. But does anybody really care?

Woods is 42, Mickelson 48. They have been great rivals over the years, but the truth is that the time for this match to have been played was 10 years ago when they were both winning majors and were dominating the world rankings. The match, which will coincide with Thanksgiving weekend in the USA, will be screened on pay-per-view, but how many people will be tempted to part with their hard-earned cash? All the more so because almost everybody will expect Woods to deliver something of a hiding.

Woods confirmed "The Match" on social media, saying: "It's on”. Mickelson, who has attracted almost 100,000 followers in less than 24 hours on Twitter, replied to Woods, saying: "I bet you think this is the easiest $9M you will ever make.” It is difficult to argue with that sentiment.

The possibility of a duel between the Ryder Cup teammates has been mooted repeatedly down the years.

Woods, a 14-time major winner, has won more than £88m prize money on the PGA Tour in comparison to Mickelson's £68m.

"It's an opportunity for us to bring golf to the masses in prime time during a period where we don't have much going on in the world of golf,” Mickelson said. "It's a way to show a side you don't normally see by having us wearing microphones to hear some of the interaction between us.” In other words, exactly the same as Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, the excellent series that pitted top players against one another at venues all around the world, albeit that programme was readily available and accessible on network televsion, rather than being showcased on an audience-limiting pay-per-view.

Despite the good-natured approach, there is no chance of the duo sharing the purse, with Mickelson saying that the event had to be winner-takes-all. "If you [don't] do that, it undermines it," Mickelson said. "The whole point is the winner-take-all thing. That's the exciting part about it."

Former world number one Woods returned to golf this year after missing most of the previous two years due to recurring back problems. The 42-year-old finished tied for sixth at The Open and was second at the PGA Championship earlier this month while 48-year-old Mickelson missed the cut in the latter.

These head-to-head encounters in sport are not unusual. Fans of a certain age will remember the Battle of the Sexes, when 29-year-old tennis star Billie Jean King took on 55-year-old Bobby Riggs and defeated him over three sets. That match attracted massive attention and was viewed by an estimated 90 million people around the world and was subsequently turned into a movie. It would be a huge surprise if Woods v Mickelson comes anywhere close to attracting that sort of attention.

The Viewpoint - Golfshake Ambassador Matt Holbrook

"Let’s face this for what it is, a CHANCE to watch two of the game’s all-time greats going head to head. Between them they have accumulated 19 major championships and 122 PGA Tour victories. 
"Regardless of personal opinion they will always been seen as two of the most successful and popular golfers in history.
"As a golf fan, who wouldn’t pass up on the opportunity to see them facing off?
"Whilst it COULD be a spectacle, my thoughts are it’s going to be slightly more light-hearted as both players and caddies are going to be wired up to microphones giving fans the chance to capture all the banter that will no doubt be flying between player to player as well as giving us the fascinating dialogue on offer from player to caddie. 
"Could this also be the return of head to head matches? I’m sure most of you have seen the re-runs of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf on TV (albeit early in the mornings!) and this style of ‘contest’ may well just reignite the appetite for them.
"I can’t be 100% sure where this money ($9m to the winner) is coming from. I know both players have gone on record saying they will make some ‘just for fun’ side bets with their own money and these will be going to a charity (That’s a good point!). 
"Now – I know these guys are used to playing for millions of dollars week in week out. But I repeat. $9 million. There are players out there struggling to make a living and provide for their families while playing this wonderful game – and I can’t help but feel that this amount of money, for this kind of event isn’t quite right. Could 
grassroots golf not make use of this kind of money? 
"We have two guys, who have earned, on merit, millions and millions of dollars during their careers, who will no doubt arrive on their private jets to this event. You know where I am going with this.
"Shadow Creek Golf Club is the chosen venue and at the time of me typing this the organisers are still deciding whether to allow fans into the venue to watch. Just let that sink in. 
"Two of the greats going head to head, and the organisers are still deciding whether to let fans go in and watch.  If this event wasn’t supposed to be a spectacle for global golf fans, then go off and do it quietly and don’t make such a big deal out of it. 
But of course, fans will be allowed to watch, in the comfort of their own home at a cost on PPV."

History of Challenge and Money Matches

Challenge matches and exhibitions - like Tiger vs Phil - have been part of the game since the earliest years of professional golf, dating back to the days of Allan Robertson, Old and Young Tom Morris, and the Parks. Without major tournaments, it was a way to earn a living, as wealthy amateur placed wagers on the matches that were lucrative for the time. 

Later, the likes of Harry Vardon and John Henry Taylor toured the United States and Canada, taking on the best players, while names such as Walter Hagen regularly visited the British Isles and beyond. In 1956, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan famously battled top amateurs Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi in a match that was immortalised in an award-winning book. Matches between top professionals were commonplace throughout the 20th century - the Big Three of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus travelled the world.

Such ventures were later made even more visible with the launch of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, which pitted the greatest players on the most revered and spectacular courses throughout the 1960s, with the series later being revived for a second run between 1994 and 2003.

The concept of challenge and exhibiton matches isn't new. The stakes and hype are bigger, perhaps, but it seems unlikely that Woods v Mickelson will recapture the magic of generations past.

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