“Tiger vs. Phil: The Match” Delivers the Goods Despite Technical Issues

Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher, USA TODAY

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson played an entertaining, far more serious golf match than anyone might have expected on Friday. It took 22 holes to determine a winner. Mickelson’s four-foot birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole — the third time they played a 93-yard shot from a practice green as a par-3 — sealed the $9 million victory for Lefty:

The players didn’t seem to have any idea, but Bleacher Report’s $19.99 pay-per-view plan came apart at the cyber seams very early in the day. It is important to note here that Bleacher Report has taken an aggressive, pathfinding approach to both new media and what promises to be a future where pay-per-view for live sporting events is the norm. But Turner Sports (parent company of B/R) has also notably made a hash of their Champions League soccer coverage via online streaming, and today’s technical issues forced B/R to tap out and put the golf match on their website free of charge:

I personally know at least one person who is wondering whether he is getting his $20 back:

I wouldn’t bet on it, boss. You got what you paid for…you just didn’t get it exclusively. Per Brian Costa of The Wall Street Journal:

The glitch didn’t affect traditional cable viewers, who still had to pay to watch the much-hyped duel between Messrs. Woods and Mickelson in Las Vegas. But it likely will result in an untold financial hit for Turner, which relied largely on the pay-per-view revenue, along with some sponsorship and ad sales, to cover the cost of underwriting the match.

The removal of the paywall prompted immediate demands for refunds from fans who were charged for the match. When asked whether any refunds would be issued, a Turner spokesman declined to answer, citing an earlier statement released by the network.

Even if you aren’t going to get your money back, well, were you not entertained? Tiger entered the match as a relatively prohibitive favorite, as I described earlier this week, but Phil shrewdly used banter and side bets to keep Tiger off balance over the opening nine holes. The only side bet Phil lost was the one he made pre-match, where he guaranteed he would birdie the first hole. Phil had a 9-footer to win that bet but missed it. Still, the fact that Mickelson was obviously ready to play on the first hole was an ominous sign for Tiger.

Phil won the second hole with par and maintained that 1-up lead until losing the seventh hole to Tiger’s birdie. By that time, Phil had picked Tiger’s pocket for $100,000.00 by hitting it closest to the pin on the par-3 fifth. In truth, the match was all even through seven but Phil was dominating, at least according to one of golf’s young gun major champions:

Phil got into Tiger’s wallet again for another $200,000.00 on the par-3 eighth, just barely putting his ball closer to the pin than Tiger’s after they both hit poor tee shots, and took the lead when Tiger three-jacked from 40 feet. But Tiger grabbed a one-up lead with birdies on 11 and 12, and at that point, B/R’s metrics had Tiger as a better than 70% favorite to win the match. This was according to Crossing Broadcast alumnus Adam Lefkoe, who had a plum assignment as B/R’s public betting action guru and odds commentator. Lefkoe did a terrific job in this role, adding color without over-talking or otherwise deterring from the action.

Perhaps the most crucial moment of the match followed. The 13th hole was a 213-yard par-3. Tiger had the honor, a 1-up lead, and all of the momentum. Mickelson could have been excused if he just tried to regroup. But that’s not Phil. He promptly challenged Tiger to a closest to the pin side bet. Tiger set the wager at $300,000.00, Phil took the action, and Tiger hit a great shot to 15 feet.

This was the moment where it was set to end for Phil. He hits a bad shot there, loses the side bet, goes 2-down…it could’ve ended quickly after that. Not this time. Phil hit it nine feet and made birdie, winning the hole too after Tiger had missed his 15-footer. Phil was now all square again and had taken a commanding $400,000.00 lead in the side action. Notably, there would be no more side bets, because there was $9M at stake.

Phil took the 15th hole with par after the 14th was halved with two narrowly missed birdie putts, and suddenly Phil looked like he could just walk this thing home. But we all knew better, didn’t we? Tiger conjured up a chip-in from an awkward lie behind the 17th green for a birdie 2, and the match was again all even.

To 18, a reachable par-5, they went. Given Tiger’s history, it seemed likely that Phil had left the greatest player of this era on the ropes too long without finishing him and that it would now be the ending everyone expected.

And then it wasn’t. The 18th hole was halved with birdies, and the 19th hole (which was just going back to 18 tee again) ended tied with pars when Woods missed the hole from nine feet, a putt that in his prime he would have poured over the front edge like cream into his coffee.

After that, admittedly, it got a little weird. The sun had set, and the tournament committee had rigged up a short par-3 by cutting a new hole into the 18th green and having the players tee off from a practice putting green 93 yards away. By doing this, the players were able to play this “hole” under flood lights until a winner was crowned. It took three tries — in part because Phil graciously conceded a six-footer for a halve on the 21st hole — but the wait was worth it as Mickelson stiffed his wedge to four feet and coolly buried the winning putt.

Mickelson was, wisely, exceptionally gracious in the post-match interview. “A day like today is not going to take anything away from [Tiger’s] greatness,” said Mickelson. “He’s the greatest of all time. But to have just a little bit of smack talk for the coming years means a lot to me because I really don’t have much on him. He always drops the big picture, and it’s the trump card.”

Is this a bad time to point out that I predicted that Phil would win, if only to set up a lucrative rematch?

Let’s do it again next Thanksgiving weekend, boys. Maybe next time I’ll actually pay the $20 to watch.

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