HBO’s ‘24/7’ unable to light a spark in ‘The Match’

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HBO’s ‘24/7’ unable to light a spark in ‘The Match’

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HBO’s ‘24/7’ unable to light a spark in ‘The Match’

HBO Sports’ “24/7” franchise has won 18 Sports Emmy Awards chronicling athletes’ preparations for major sporting events, including boxing title matches and preparations for hockey’s Winter Classics. HBO’s “Hard Knocks” is the gold standard of sports reality television, and “Real Sports” has done some fabulous investigative journalism.

Now the creative people at HBO and the powerful “24/7” franchise have been dispatched to follow Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as they prepare for the post-Thanksgiving golf cash bonanza in Las Vegas.

Deploying “24/7” and the theatrical narration of actor Liev Schreiber to preview the match – uh, excuse me, “The Match: Tiger vs. Phil” – feels like a reach. “The Match” doesn’t seem big enough for the “24/7” brand. It’s like sending an ESPN “30 For 30” crew to Yankee Stadium to chronicle an Old-Timers’ game.

But that won’t stop our heroes from playing along. There is a persistent effort by Woods, Mickelson and the crew to try to make viewers care about their Nov. 23 contest at Shadow Creek Golf Club. But that’s a mighty tough sell.

The camera crew follows Woods as he preps at Medalist Golf Club. He arrives at a par 3, where he envisions a closest-to-the-pin side bet with Mickelson. (Woods calls a “KP.” “I know ‘KP’ is weird because it’s actually closest to the pin, which is CP, but we always call it KP. I don’t know why,” he says.) So you’re expecting to see Woods stiff the iron shot and make the putt. Nope. He pulls the iron, blows the putt past the hole and settles for a boring par.

On another “highlight,” Woods went through a detailed description of how he would play a 7-iron approach, then mis-hit it into a swale left of the green. Correction: “The wind got it,” Woods said. On another approach, he hits it close, then misses a 4-footer.

In most documentaries, these forgettable moments would end up on the cutting-room floor. In this “24/7,” that’s all they’ve got. They have to fill 45 minutes, so mundane stuff like that ends up in the final cut.

Walking off a green, Woods said, “If we’re playing the next hole, I know we go long drive. Him being 48, I’m 42, I can get him on the next hole.”

I found myself imagining Tiger Woods, sitting in a rocking chair 40 years from now, telling anyone who will listen, “I remember when I blew it past Phil on the sixth hole at Shadow Creek. Oh, kids, you should have seen me…”

Mickelson had his own rocking-chair moment recalling a 2000 victory over Woods at the Buick Invitational. “That felt good … That was awesome,” Mickelson said.

That’s great. I’m sure Buick Invitational historians will be rhapsodizing about that moment for decades to come.

Here’s the thing: Good documentaries play out effortlessly because no manipulation is required. You just turn on your camera or your tape recorder and listen to your subject. Your biggest concern should be: How will I fit all of this great material into the time and space that I’ve been allotted?

That’s not a concern on this “24/7.” Woods and Mickelson work hard to build up the drama, to no avail. In one scene, which HBO’s publicity staff sent out to promote the show, Mickelson, doing his damnedest to make viewers care, recalled a Pebble Beach pro-am pairing with Woods that got “pretty intense.”

You read that correctly. Lord help any viewer who gets worked up over any pro-am pairing, regardless who is involved.

We, as fans, want to see great players compete on Sundays for major championships. But there’s a problem. Woods and Mickelson peaked more than a decade ago. Mickelson hasn’t won a major in five years, Woods a decade. At this point, we’re unsure how much they have left in the tank.

There’s another problem: They have nothing to lose. We care about sports because wins and losses have meaning for the athletes and, by extension, their fans. But what meaning is there in “The Match”?

At one point, Woods said, “It’s not only for the amount of money, but it’s also the fact that I’m able to take it off of Phil.”

News flash, Tiger: You’re not “taking it off of Phil.” Neither of you put up your own money. Instead, it’s just a couple of old warhorses milking gullible sponsors for a big payday.

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