LAS VEGAS — Phil Mickelson won “The Match” on Friday, or perhaps we should say he survived it, finally outlasting Tiger Woods over 22 holes and eventually a chip-and-putt shootout to clinch a $9 million bounty and some bragging rights over his long-time rival.
Mickelson knows the value of a dollar, but as he sat with victory assured and darkness having long since descended on Shadow Creek, it was the latter that meant most to him in the moment.
“Just know that I will never let you live this down,” Mickelson said in a joke-but-not-a-joke kind of way, after sinking the most lucrative putt of his life on the fourth extra hole of the pair’s pay-per-view exhibition showdown. “I will bring this up every time I see you. It is not the Masters or the U.S. Open, but it is nice to have something on you.”
Woods holds the edge in majors, 14 to Mickelson’s five, but however contrived (and objectionable to some) this event was, its conclusion was as memorable as tournaments with generations worth of historic prestige.
It wasn’t a classic in terms of quality of play, but it offered drama galore throughout its final hour, starting when Woods escaped probable defeat for the first time with a clutch chip-in from the fringe of the 17th green.
Mickelson missed a putt for the win their first time through 18, then Woods was wide from 8 feet on the first extra hole. At that point, the match became a shortened playoff, aiming at the 18th green again (and again and again) but from just 93 yards away. Mickelson saw two more chances at victory evade him, including a simple-looking 6-footer, before, at last, a perfect chip to 4 feet allowed him to drain the clincher and pump his fist in triumph.
“It was an entertaining match,” Woods said. “I had plenty of opportunities to make putts to put pressure on Phil. I had a chance to win the match. That was an opportunity that got wasted.”
Woods rarely discovered his best form, and had his 48-year-old opponent managed to find any kind of putting rhythm, Mickelson may have run away with the match.
Instead, Woods, who led just once (after winning the 12th) before his late burst, stuck around just long enough for his championship instinct to surface at last and provide what eventually became a thrilling and breathless finish.
For all the intrigue of being able to listen to the mic’d-up players and without the natural noise of a championship event, it was a tense affair throughout, with neither player able to produce much in the way of sparkling moments of inspiration.
Both men seemed to be conscious that their every word would be heard by a television audience and while they were comfortable talking smack to each other at the news conference promoting the match, the chatter was largely constrained to pleasant small talk once things got under way.
But the end made up for it. No matter how much you’ve got stashed in the bank, $9 million is a lot of loot to have hanging on a single putt.
“I felt a lot of pressure,” Mickelson said.
These are two players that once had little time for each other but while the relationship has thawed significantly, they still like to beat each other as much as ever.
If not for technical issues that caused Turner and BR/Live to ultimately give away the $19.99 online stream for free following issues with the purchasing mechanism, the match may well have gone out as a commercial success as well as a worthy spectacle.
Hearing what they had to say was just fine, nothing special, and a series of side action charity wagers saw Mickelson’s causes $400,000 ahead and injected a bit of extra life. But most of all, the best thing about it was the same thing that made them all-time greats of the sport.
They care about winning, especially against each other.