As golf exhibitions go, this probably once seemed like a good idea.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in a prime-time television special playing 18 holes for — and let’s pause for a moment here — a cool $10 million. Put it under the lights in Las Vegas with some cool celebrities following inside the ropes, and it becomes must-see TV.
Back in 1999 anyway.
A concept past its time is heading to prime time, at least according to hints dropped by both Woods and Mickelson. The two say they are deep into negotiations to play a winner-take-all match with $10 million on the line.
The best part for both players? Neither will have to reach into his own pocket to pay the other off.
“I would hope for a sponsor,” Mickelson said last week at the Scottish Open.
That takes some of the drama away from the match, mostly because $10 million isn’t life-changing money for either man. Woods has won $111,878,724 in official money in his career, while Mickelson is not far behind at $87,533,019, and both have made many times more in endorsements.
It’s not even unheard of in golf, with the FedEx Cup winner pocketing $10 million at the end of every PGA Tour season.
Still, it’s enough for more than a few more tanks of gas in the Gulfstream. And it’s enough to get Woods to want to reprise the series of exhibitions he once did in his prime before the unusualness of the event wore off and the ratings went in the tank.
Woods may not be the player he once was, but at 42 he remains the biggest draw in golf. Mickelson gets some eyeballs, too, though at the age of 48, he’s getting more attention lately for breaking rules on the golf course than winning tournaments.
The two were never real rivals, and never real friends. Woods was almost always the dominant No. 1, and had little use for chit chat with any player — much less Mickelson — in his prime.
But reality TV isn’t always real. And the lure of this TV special — for die-hard golf fans, at least — would be Mickelson and Woods finally facing each other with microphones picking up every comment.
“We are friends so we are always trying to make each other uncomfortable and needle each other,” Woods said Sunday after practicing a few holes at Carnoustie, the site of this week’s British Open.
If Woods and Mickelson really want to make each other uncomfortable, of course, they would be playing for their own money like nearly every weekend golfer does. And if they really want to needle each other, it wouldn’t be hard to come up with some zingers.
Imagine Woods about to try to reach a par 5 over water in two as Mickelson looks on.
“That shot looks tougher than trying to pass a DUI test with five different drugs in your system,” Lefty might say.
“What do you know,” Woods might reply. “I may have had to go to rehab, but you could have gone to prison with that insider trading scheme with the biggest gambler in Las Vegas.”
Or this, as Mickelson stands over a 20-foot downhiller to win the match on the 18th green:
“Don’t hit it too hard, Phil. You know what happened when you did that at the U.S. Open and you ran and hit the ball again while it was still moving. Does the movie ‘Happy Gilmore’ come to mind?”
“Well at least he hit the ball,” Mickelson might reply. “Not like the time the 9-iron went through the windshield of your SUV.”
Yes, indeed, nothing like a little friendly banter to spice things up. If Woods and Mickelson really wanted to go at it, they could turn their exhibition into must-see TV.
But while this is about money and trying to stay relevant to a new generation of fans, it’s also about image. Woods is working hard at rehabbing his, while Mickelson is surely more than eager to flash his smile and sign some autographs in a prime-time special.
Between them they’ve won only one tournament since the end of 2013, but they are arguably the only two players who can carry a prime-time match on their own.
The ratings won’t be as spectacular as they were when Tigermania raged and Woods faced off against David Duval in the Showdown at Sherwood nearly 20 years ago, but in today’s fractured media world they don’t need to be.
Just more proof that it’s not 1999 anymore.