LAS VEGAS – The Match with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson has promised spectacle if nothing else, and we got it from the jump Tuesday afternoon.
There was a lighthearted tone with casual vibes for the press conference ahead of their $9 million game Friday at Shadow Creek Golf Club in Las Vegas. We’ve already strayed far from the traditional golfing realm and the lead-in media event just confirmed these are uncharted waters.
Mickelson was in full sales mode and promised “major championship intensity” once tees are in the ground at 3 p.m. ET Friday afternoon. By design, there was none of that Tuesday. Instead we got plenty of loose trash talk that was hokey but didn’t seemed forced.
Woods got a shot in about Mickelson’s lack of U.S. Open wins. Mickelson said he was willing to bet $100,000 that he birdies the first hole Friday and Woods told him to double it. The moment resulted in the first of many side bets that will come out of the players’ wallets – $200,000 on an opening birdie for Phil. While probably planned in advance, it’s still startling to hear those numbers risked on a single golf hole.
It’s also startling to see the apparent ease in Woods and Mickelson’s give-and-take these days. Granted they’ve had some practice in front of the cameras with HBO’s “24/7” documentary series, but it comes across as genuine up close. Woods offered some serious praise and Mickelson called Woods the greatest golfer of all time, also referring to his 2000 U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach the greatest accomplishment in golf history. Maybe in all of sports.
Mickelson also talked about the fact that this is an unprecedented event and nobody really knows how high the interest level is or what kind of viewership numbers it will bring.
Tuesday was about selling the idea that nothing like this has ever happened before, a free-wheeling show to entice viewers. It hit the mark in that sense and definitely didn’t do anything to dampen expectations.
The bigger picture here – and the potential for a slate of future matches with different characters – is about what happens Friday. The gambling aspect is huge and makes sense now that the national narrative has softened on sports betting. It will introduce a new audience to the concept of live betting, with fans able to wager on a shot-by-shot basis using real-time odds.
Both players and caddies will be mic’d up and that idea caters to everyone. The hardcore fans should enjoy pre-shot discussion and minutiae while the casual viewer gets let in on how these guys talk during, say, a Tuesday practice round with big money on the line. The trash talk needs to come across as genuine in order to work. It needs to feel like we’re actually being let into their world rather than watching an ad-libbed performance.
If it doesn’t hit for whatever reason, Mickelson acknowledged this could be a one-and-done deal. If it’s a success, there’s going to be a race to capitalize as quickly as possible. Woods and Mickelson have expressed a clear understanding of that and know the risk involved should this thing bomb.
Tuesday was a good start in that regard. Press conferences at major tournaments can take on a recycled feel, but this was something new. A gambling-infused brand of sports entertainment that doesn’t really exist as of now.
The game plan seems solid on paper. Whether or not it continues to evolve and take hold as a proven revenue generator with mass appeal depends on the execution come Friday.