Maybe my expectations were just low after the last one of these in 2018, but I thought today was tremendous from start to finish. JT on the mic, Brady in the trees, Phil reading the course and Tiger not missing a single shot. So good.— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) May 25, 2020
One team never led. The other never trailed. And despite all of that, Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning beating Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady 1 up at Medalist Golf Club in The Match: Champions for Charity was the most compelling version of this event we could have hoped to see on Sunday. Not only that, but a total of $20 million was raised to contribute to coronavirus relief efforts.
In the beginning, absurdity reigned. The first hole of the event lasted for what felt like 30 minutes as Brady and Manning looked for lost golf balls and everybody tried to get comfortable both with the in-cart cameras and being mic'd up with an earpiece. It was -- in a very authentic way -- a bit disastrous but also a complete and total blast.
Then the golf got going as Woods and Manning won the third and fourth holes to lead 2 up early on. Tiger was brilliant all day, pounding drive after drive and rarely (if ever) missing a shot. Manning was a worthy partner for Woods, too. He poured in the birdie putt on No. 4 to give that duo the 2-up lead.
On the other side, Brady seemed lost for most of the front nine. He hit chips that were about four grooves too low and somehow had a left and right miss going off the tee. To exacerbate the situation, he didn't pull his driver out all day, leaving himself at a distance disadvantage off the tee.
Add it all up, and it's easy to see why Mickelson -- who was trying to carry his two-man squad through the best ball portion of the event on the front nine -- and Brady struggled early on. They lost the sixth hole as well to go 3 down, and it looked as if the rout was on.
Then something funny happened on the par-5 7th.(and potentially his entire life) when he holed out from approximately 150 yards away for birdie. It was a genuinely unbelievable moment that somehow included Brady telling Charles Barkley (who was commentating) to "take a suck of that" after Barkley started jawing about how he thought he could beat him. Even more unbelievably, Brady and Mickelson almost lost the hole when Woods lipped out an eagle putt.
Brooks Koepka had tweeted a promise of a $100,000 to his charity foundation if Brady made a par on any front-nine hole, and that shot by TB12 made him pay.
The Woods-Manning lead remained 3 up going to the back nine, where Mickelson and Brady started feeling themselves. The format flipped to modified alternate shot at the turn, which means that everybody hits a drive but you alternate shots until your team holes out. After pars at the 10th, Mickelson drove the green on the par-4 11th and Brady sank the long eagle putt, which led to yet another amazing high-five attempt in a sport not short on them.
The next scoring opportunity came at the 14th as Manning -- at the tail end of a driving rainstorm -- missed a jaw-droppingly short putt to halve the hole. It looked from there as if Mickelson and Brady, who somehow played better alternate-shot golf than best-ball golf, would have a chance to tie the match up or even take the lead, but Woods and Manning played the last four holes in 1 under to secure the 1-up win.
Maybe the best cumulative hole of the day came at the par-3 16th when Mickelson, Brady and Manning all hit their tee shots to within 8 feet and Woods -- obviously the chump of the group -- had to putt first. Both teams made birdie there, but Mickelson and Brady couldn't summon another bird on the last two holes to tie things up. Before the hole began, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson committed to donate 100,000 meals if anyone hit it within 12 feet off the tee. He wound up donating 300,000 meals considering three golfers accomplished the feat in thrilling succession.
The entire event was a revelation. Mickelson and Manning were an appropriate amount of funny, and Lefty's in-match tutorials about what shot he was trying to hit were spectacular. Brady turning the tables on what could have been a train wreck of a day was very Brady of him, and Tiger missed exactly zero shots. All of this while Barkley and Justin Thomas traded barbs and $20 million was raised for coronavirus relief.
Maybe my expectations were lowered after the first match back at the end of 2018, but I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this one. More player interaction, outstanding alternate-shot golf, the greatest player of all time feeling his swing on his home course and the greatest talker of all time feeling his mic on national television probably helped.
While I don't know if this event means anything for the future landscape of golf, I do know it could not have been more enjoyable in the present. As the sun faded at Medalist Golf Club over what could have been just another coronavirus day in a seemingly never-ending string of them, instead we got to talk about the money that was raised, the golf that was played and an invigorating five hours of sport that was much-needed after two months of an extinguished existence.