Tiger Woods is bringing back The Match, but who should replace Phil Mickelson as his opponent in the made-for-TV affair?
Whether you loved the spectacle or thought it was a waste of $19.99, The Match is returning to television.
The well-publicized, made-for-TV meeting between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas last November ended with Mickelson winning $9 million. Now Woods is looking to make it a regular affair, agreeing on Wednesday with GOLFTV to host a series of matches around the world, the first taking place in Tokyo at a date still to be determined.
Woods already has a partnership with GOLFTV, the streaming service launched by Discovery in 2018. The announcement on Wednesday of this new series is another step in their relationship with the 14-time major champion, and Woods is ready for it.
“We looked at it and said that’s pretty interesting,” David Zaslav, president of Discovery, said at the World Congress of Sports in California on Wednesday. “One million people came in and wanted to watch it. Could we improve on it? What could we do? So we’re going to do a number of those types of events and Tiger’s excited about it.”
Zaslav didn’t elaborate on what type of format will be used in this matches, only saying most of them will take place outside the United States. The rest, he says, is up to Woods. “Tiger is going to decide what is the best format. Should it be one-on-one? Two-on-two? Should we have two matches going on at the same time? But he’s all in,” Zaslav said.
If Woods’ new series is to be a success, he’s going to need an opponent that rises to the star power of Mickelson. Here are the four most intriguing matchups for Woods, players who will be sure to draw the same kind of attention as the first one did last year.
Other than Mickelson, no other potential opponent can bring as big an audience as Rory McIlroy. Woods and McIlroy are arguably the two most recognizable golfers on the planet right now. Their Round of 16 meeting at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last Saturday was must-see TV. It doesn’t hurt that the Northern Irishman has been the best player on the PGA Tour in 2019. McIlroy has finished inside the top 10 at all seven events he’s played this year, including a win at the Players Championship three weeks ago.
Already a four-time major champion at the age of 29, McIlroy is at the top of his game right now. This season he ranks first on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee, tee-to-green and total strokes. He’s fourth in driving distance and scoring average. He’s now up to third in the World Golf Rankings, and heads to Augusta next week as the favorite to win the Masters and complete the career Grand Slam.
If organizers are concerned with matching Woods against his toughest opponent and having the highest ratings they could get — and of course they are — McIlroy is the obvious choice.
With the first event of Woods’ new head-to-head series taking place in Tokyo, Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama as his opponent makes sense. At every tournament he plays, Matsuyama is swarmed by Japanese media who look to relay back home how their native hero is doing. So far in 2019, he’s doing pretty well. Matsuyama has three top-10 finishes this year. He’s second in strokes gained: approach-to-the green and trails only McIlroy in tee-to-green.
Still just 27, Matsuyama already has five career PGA Tour titles and reached as high as second in the World Golf Rankings. A match against Woods on his home soil will go a long way toward promoting the game of golf in Asia, potentially sparking a boom in the number of Asian players joining the PGA Tour.
Tiger/Phil vs. Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka
If Woods isn’t limiting himself to just one-on-one matches, a generational meeting between the game’s most established stars and the two players who embody the new breed of pro golfer should be considered. Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson aren’t just good friends and workout partners, they signify everything that Woods helped bring to the game of golf: Powerfully built athletes with a dedication to fitness.
Koepka and Johnson are two of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour and have had the success to match their power. Koepka, 28, has three major championships on his resume, beating Woods at the PGA Championship last August.
The 34-year-old Johnson, meanwhile, is the No. 1 ranked player in the world and has 20 career PGA Tour titles, the most since 2008. He won the WGC-Mexico Championship in February and has five top-10s in eight starts this year. Johnson is just behind McIlroy in total strokes gained and is third in scoring average.
Playing with Woods will be the man who beat him in The Match at Shadow Creek in November. Woods and Mickelson have been rivals for the better part of 20 years, but against Koepka and Johnson, they’ll be paired together in an effort to show that the old guys still have it against the younger breed that wants to replace them.
Tiger/Phil vs. “Moliwood”
For a more international flair to a Tiger-Phil pairing, look no further than the team collectively known as “Moliwood.” Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and Italian Francesco Molinari became European heroes at the Ryder Cup in Paris last September, becoming the first European twosome to go 4-0 at a single Ryder Cup.
The success they had in Paris has translated to the PGA Tour in the past year. Fleetwood nearly won the U.S. Open last June with a final-round 63 and has finished third and fifth in his last two stroke-play events. Molinari, meanwhile, won his first career PGA Tour event at the Quicken Loans National, Woods’ own tournament, by eight shots in July and his first major at the Open Championship three weeks later. He added a third title last month at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, shooting 64 in the final round.
“Moliwood” are already heroes in Europe, and if Woods brings his series to that continent a meeting between them will bring a Ryder Cup-like atmosphere to the match.