From the start of The Match: Champions for Change, it was clear that Phil Mickelson and Charles Barkley should not have been the heavy underdogs. Though Peyton Manning and Stephen Curry beat them on the first hole, Barkley piped a drive, and it was clear their team chemistry was going to play well since, you know, they had a five-time major winner hitting half the shots.
Four hours later, Lefty and Chuck beat Curry and Manning 4 and 3 in the third installment of this series, and that first hole was the only time the entire day they trailed. The strategy was simple for Mickelson and Barkley in the modified alternate shot format. Barkley would hit irons off the tee from his "Chuck tees" (consistently 50-70 yards ahead of everyone else), and Mickelson would hit approach shots. Barkley -- apparently a 25-handicap -- proved himself a good lag putter, while Curry and Manning struggled.
Following a loss at the first hole, Mickelson and Barkley deployed their strategy to perfection, making two straight birdies and ripping off four consecutive holes before Curry and Manning could catch their breath. That's more or less where the score remained for the rest of the match.
Mickelson and Barkley played the front nine in even par -- a minor miracle coming into the day given the state of Barkley's golf swing -- and birdied the first hole on the back nine as well. The question at that point was only which hold would be the last, and at one point, Barkley petitioned TNT executives to fire up old "Law & Order" reruns because the match was going to be over so quickly.
While it lasted the allotted four hours, it was a struggle to get there for Curry and Manning, who managed to make just one birdie, which came on the par-5 15th (and last) hole. It matched a Mickelson-Barkley birdie on the same hole, which ended the match and gave the old man group the 4 and 3 win.
As they were walking off the final green, Mickelson crooned that only two people believed that he and Barkley could win this match, the second victory in three such Match events for Lefty. It was exactly how you would expect Mickelson to act after a win.
Here are some of the highlights from The Match 3.
- Mickelson coached Barkley like he was Bear Bryant getting Alabama ready for its SEC schedule. Lefty gave him wind numbers, the location of the valley and so much strategy to consider I thought poor Charles was going to tell him to cool the jets at one point. He didn't, though, and it worked.
- Barkley was legitimately a good lag putter and set Mickelson up for a lot of putts to win holes. This was clearly their strategy, and it was the right one, but it wouldn't have worked if Barkley couldn't find fairways off the tee with his irons.
- The rest of the TNT basketball broadcasting crew hopped on at one point, and Shaquille O'Neal had the line of the day as Barkley was lining up a putt: "Chuck, if you can't read words, how are you going to read greens?"
- Manning was self-deprecating and played well, but Curry seemed somewhat nervous all day. His swing is butter, and it feels unfair that somebody with that jumper also gets to have that swing, but on the broadcast Andre Iguodala kept saying "plus 1 handicap?" every time he hit a bad shot, and it was low-key the funniest bit of the entire day.
- The only chance Manning and Curry had of winning was asking for the match to go 36 holes. Barkley started fading toward the end and was having trouble focusing after on-course broadcaster Gary McCord stole some of his snacks. Mickelson definitely carried him late.
- I wondered out loud to myself multiple times throughout the round how much I could legally wager on Mickelson (apparently a +5 handicap) against Curry (+1 handicap). That gap was not four shots today, though you can tell from Curry's swing that he can play a little bit.
- One thing today solidified is that Mickelson is going to be wild as a Ryder Cup captain. Nobody has ever loved being asked how to hit a golf shot more than him. Nobody has ever loved talking golf with people he knows he's better than (either currently or historically) more than him. It will be a show.
Add it all up, and the third edition of the Match -- while not as power-packed as either of the first two because Tiger Woods was not involved -- was fun and entertaining. The result mattered little as money was raised for HBCUs and a nice product was put on television for a post-Thanksgiving crowd hungry for some golf. It was a delight to watch -- mostly because Barkley and Mickelson can talk circles around anyone and everyone -- and hopefully not the last of these we get.