It’s been four years since the first edition of The Match, the made-for-TV series of silly season golf events featuring everyone from PGA Tour legends to current NFL and NBA all-stars.
In that time, golf fans have been treated to seven different matches, most recently the first to be played under the lights featuring Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who lost to Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida.
Even though the first edition of The Match – Woods vs. Phil Mickelson in November 2018 in Las Vegas – didn’t quite live up to the hype, it proved there was a market for the competition. Over the years the matches have grown into charitable causes benefitting COVID-19 relief and HBCU’s while still providing golf fans a unique product outside of 72-hole stroke-play tournaments.
So, which one has been the best?
The Match: Champions for Charity
The best match yet. Champions for Charity, held May 24, 2020 at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida, was the sequel to the first Match and once again featured Woods and Mickelson, who were this time partnered with NFL legends Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, respectively. Woods and Manning won, 1 up.
The match raised more than $20 million for COVID-19 relief when it was desperately needed, was a record golf broadcast, and on top of that, we all watched Brady rip his pants on national television. In all seriousness, the players delivered (despite the weather), as did on-course analyst Justin Thomas, who showed he has a bright future in TV when he’s done being a top-10 golfer in the world.
In fact, one of the best parts of the broadcast was the verbal haymaker Thomas threw at broadcast host Charles Barkley when he said, “Chuck, I’d love to see your fat ass try to dunk a basketball right now.”
It was entertaining, compelling and charitable all at the same time. What more could fans ask for?
The Match: Quarterback edition
The second best match might just be the only one so far not to include a professional golfer.
In the summer showdown between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers vs. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, the NFL vets and rising stars dueled till the very end at the Wynn Las Vegas, where Rodgers walked in the winning put yet again (more on that to come).
It was different from the previous five versions of the series, and the personalities delivered.
The Match IV
The top two and worst were easy to pick, but these middle matches could be interchangeable in the Nos. 3-5 spots. For me, I’ll take the fourth installment, played July 6, 2021, at The Reserve at Moonlight Basin in Big Sky, Montana. Mickelson and Brady were back, but once against lost, this time to then-newbies Aaron Rodgers and Bryson DeChambeau, 3 and 2.
The Match IV benefitted the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Feeding America and the Montana Food Bank Network. More than $2.6 million was donated to My Brother’s Keeper and more than 6.3 million meals were donated.
Coming into this one, I’m not going to lie, I felt a little bad for DeChambeau. I mean, the guy was taking shots from his own teammate. After a bad joke on the first hole followed by a bunny-ears photo, the stage was set for some cringe-worthy attempts at humor from the big bomber. And then he chipped in for birdie on the first hole to give he and Rodgers the lead.
Mickelson and Brady led for just three holes as Rodgers carried his own weight off the tee and on the green. At one point six of his seven drives were played, and then he started a trend of walking in putts.
Rodgers brought the dry humor and jokes, Mickelson and DeChambeau gave tips and advice while launching bombs, Brady was Brady and a good time was had by all.
The Match VII
Held under the lights at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida on Dec. 10, 2022, this one featured the return of Tiger Woods alongside Rory McIlroy in a 12-hole bout with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
Spieth and Thomas won with ease, 3 and 2, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, across four team competitions in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, the young Americans are 8-2-0, not to mention the fact that Woods is dealing with plantar fasciitis as well as his continued recovery from a single-car accident where he nearly lost a leg.
The chirps were pretty good, but most of the good lines came from Spieth and Thomas. Woods was Woods and made his classic quips, but fans were left wanting more from McIlroy. That said, the night golf visual was a fun change of scenery and opens the door for more adventurous matches in the future.
The Match: Champions for Change
The third Match, Champions for Change, also ended early. Held November 27, 2020, at Stone Canyon Club in Oro Valley, Arizona, Mickelson teamed up with Barkley to take down Peyton Manning and Stephen Curry with ease, 4 and 3. In the 15 holes it took Mickelson and Barkley to win, $4.4 million was raised for History Black Colleges and Universities. Thanks to the additional challenge holes, the total grew to $5.4 million.
Three analysts (Andre Iguodala, Gary McCord and Cheyenne Woods), two guys (Brian Anderson and Trevor Immelman) in the booth and four mic’d up players during a pandemic-impacted broadcast was a recipe for disaster on the production side for viewers. On the course, Barkley’s re-vamped swing and the hilarious trash talk kept this event from being bad, but certainly didn’t provide the same juice as the others.
The Match: Bryson vs. Brooks
For all the build-up, all the speculation, all the beef, Brooks vs. Bryson at the Wynn Golf Club, Nov 26, 2021, didn’t offer much drama. Koepka took down DeChambeau, 5 and 3, and you could argue the best part of the telecast was actually the guys in the booth. Putting Barkley and Mickelson together on the mic was a layup.
Koepka stuck it to just outside 10 feet on the par-3 6th, which resulted in 500,000 meals being donated under his name, due to winning the closest to the pin contest on that hole. DeChambeau missed his birdie bid, which was inside 15 feet from underneath the hole, opening the door for the four-time major champion to extend his lead. Koepka walked in the putt to go 3 up, then iced his nemesis: “Any questions?”
The back-and-forth banter saved this one from ranking as the worst match.
The Match: Tiger vs. Phil
The original $9 million, winner-take-all bout at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas was highly anticipated, and like many over-hyped events fell a little flat.
Sure, the match went to a playoff that ended on a makeshift 22nd hole won by Mickelson, but just because it was close doesn’t necessarily mean it was good. Technical issues plagued the broadcast forcing Turner and other providers to dish out refunds. Not a great start.
The front nine was bad, there’s no other way to say it, but as the match went on it got closer and more exciting. Much like the play, the hyped-up banter left something to be desired. The most damning criticism of the first match? Rickie Fowler called it a “pillow fight.”