McIlroy and Johnson Take the Honours - But Good Causes Are the Real Winners
AND so professional golf finally made its long-awaited televised return, with the TaylorMade Driving Relief, supported by United Health Group, a skins match that saw Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson take on Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff at Seminole Golf Club in Florida in aid of Covid-19 relief work. It wasn’t really about the golf and there are those who had mixed feelings about it, but it raised a fortune and yes, it was great to watch some live sport again. It has been far, far too long. It also gave us a glimpse into our immediate future.
We were told it would be different and it most certainly was, with not a spectator in sight. And with all four men wearing shorts and carrying their own clubs, it was like spying on a friendly Sunday fourball. And that, in effect, is exactly what it was, albeit with rather more money at stake. It also begs a rather obvious question: they were playing in temperatures of almost 90F, so why will they have to wear trousers when the PGA Tour returns next month? It is ludicrous.
All four players started off with $500,000 for charity. Holes 1-6 were each worth $50,000, 7-16 $100,000 each, the 17th worth $200,000 and the 18th a cool $500,000.
There were also bonuses for birdies and eagles.
Closest to the pin. For $1,100,000.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 17, 2020
It came down to the final shot.@McIlroyRory and @DJohnsonPGA win the Taylormade #DrivingRelief and $1,850,000 charitable dollars for COVID-19 relief efforts! pic.twitter.com/WIF9JHZvQC
PGA official Mark Russell was the only man allowed to touch the flags but on several occasions clearly got within two metres of the players, who were also allowed to use rangefinders. There were only six cameramen on the course (all wearing face masks), along with a drone. Unsurprisingly, there were lots of mentions for TaylorMade from the American host broadcasters, NBC.
And somewhat bizarrely, they also wheeled out Donald Trump, who used the occasion to blow his own trumpet and use the opportunity as a political platform.
There were also plenty of gimmicks. For instance, there was a long-drive prize at the second hole, and it didn’t matter whether or not they found the fairway. Wolff secured it with an outrageous hit of 356 yards and landed a $100,000 charity bonus.
356 yards. 368 yards. $450,000 for charity. @matthew_wolff5 absolutely roasted his tee shots on No. 2 & No. 14 to win both #DrivingRelief long drive contests today. #SIMdriver pic.twitter.com/edsfLerb1J— TaylorMade Golf (@TaylorMadeGolf) May 17, 2020
Early on, it was quite clear that the guys were rusty, with lots of greens being missed. But they had fun, and it was refreshing to hear them enjoying each other’s company.
Johnson was first to strike paydirt, a birdie at the par-five third putting $150,000 in the bank, after which he said: “It’s fun to be back out here with the guys, raising money for a good cause. We are all now looking forward to the return of tournament play.”
Next to collect some money was Fowler, with a birdie at the fourth worth $50,000, while Johnson added another $50,000 at the fifth, where a par was good enough.
Unsurprisingly, there were a few gremlins in the system, with the pictures freezing and commentary being lost.
McIlroy’s first birdie of the day came after a magnificent approach to the sixth hole. At that stage they had earned $750,000. Now they were playing for $100,000 a hole. The most encouraging thing was that here we had a world-class fourball playing the opening six holes in well under 90 minutes.
McIlroy and Fowler both birdied the seventh, making the eighth hole worth $200,000. That was shared too, and when Fowler birdied the par-five ninth it earned him and Wolff $300,000 and took them into the lead with $850,000. They all parred the 10th hole and when Fowler birdied the 11th it took him and Wolff to $1,050,000, after which Wolff offered to carry Fowler’s clubs.
And when McIlroy missed a short birdie putt at the 12th, Fowler grabbed the chance with his fifth birdie of the day to take his team’s total to $1,150,000.
The 13th, a glorious par three, was halved in par. The 14th offered another long drive incentive, which was won again by Wolff, who collected a staggering $350,000 for the cause with another shot in excess of 350 yards. If this young man, who is still only 21, can ever learn to harness his extraordinary power with the most idiosyncratic swing on the PGA Tour, who knows what he may achieve?
There were clearly some problems - Steve Sands, who interviewed the players on the course, was not two metres from Wolff as they chatted while walking down the 14th, and was obviously reminded of the fact in his earpiece - it only goes to prove just how difficult it is going to be enforce this when the action returns for real. The 14th was halved with birdies, meaning a carry-over to the 555-yard 15th of $300,000. None of the four could birdie the hole, so the 16th hole was worth $400,000.
The 16th is a 410-yard par four - Wolff drove into a greenside bunker! As did McIlroy. FOUR HUNDRED AND TEN YARDS! McIlroy almost holed his bunker shot for eagle and when Wolff matched his birdie it meant they were playing for $600,000 on the 17th. Fowler also birdied the 16th - his seventh of the day.
The 17th was shared in par and so they came to the 18th, a 445-yard par four, with $1.1m at stake. Fowler found a bunker with his second, while Wolff left himself with a long birdie putt as McIlroy and Johnson both produced stunning approaches. When Wolff narrowly failed to convert, it all came down to McIlroy and Johnson. McIlroy missed and so did Johnson. So off they headed back to the 17th, where they would all play shots from 120 yards, with the player finishing nearest the hole claiming the $1.1m for their charity.
And cometh the hour, cometh the world No1. McIlroy produced the goods, with his team winning a total of $1,85m. Fowler and Wolff won $1,150,000. A further $1m was raised through the birdies scored. In total, the event raised more than $5.5m. And in the end, that is all that really mattered.
McIlroy said: “I am really proud to be part of an event that has raised so much money for people who really need it. It has been a huge effort to stage this event. It was nice to get back on the golf course."
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