Will Tiger and Phil's gamble on The Match pay off in Las Vegas?

AKRON, OH - AUGUST 01: Phil Mickelson (L) and Tiger Woods meet during a preview day of the World Golf Championships - Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club South Course at on August 1, 2018 in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Will Tiger and Phil's gamble on The Match pay off in Las Vegas?

PGA Tour

Will Tiger and Phil's gamble on The Match pay off in Las Vegas?

LAS VEGAS – Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson both talked a lot about risk during this week’s media rundown ahead of The Match Friday at Shadow Creek Golf Club.

It is true that neither player risked their own money for the $9 million cash prize, but that’s almost beside the point. If this thing is a success it could generate more than 10 times that much off future installments. If it doesn’t, Woods and Mickelson have risked hyping up an event that’s never been done before and might not have mass appeal.

Beyond that, the bragging rights will be real. That might sound trivial considering all the prestigious titles and majors Woods and Mickelson have already bagged. They’ve resembled a pair a carnival barkers in the months leading up to The Match, but we’ll finally see the competitors come out when they go head to head at 3 p.m. ET Friday.

That’s what has to happen for viewers to become invested, and it almost certainly will because these guys aren’t laying it on thick when they talk about the pride factor involved in a one-on-one showdown such as this.

“Every time I see you, I want to be able to rub it in,” Mickelson told Woods earlier this week. “I don’t want it to be rubbed in. I want to sit in the champion’s locker room in Augusta and talk smack. I want that.”

There’s no doubt Mickelson would take every opportunity to bring up a potential victory like this. He’s a great player but the resumes just don’t match up. This is an opportunity for him to get the upper-hand in something that matters, something he can point to and say he got the better of Woods.

“It’s my chance after losing so many majors to (Woods) and so many tournaments to get a little something back.”

Woods was still the heavy favorite as of Thursday afternoon, at -200. The general public expects him to win, even more so after the victory at East Lake. Woods doesn’t have much to gain here perception-wise, which begs the question – Why give Mickelson the opportunity?

Alabama doesn’t play nonconference road games because they don’t have to. Woods didn’t have to do this. He could have said the idea and format just wasn’t for him. But he opened up to the experiment and allowed for more personal access than he tends to give in the days ahead.

Why?

“I’m just trying to be nice,” Woods said, laughing Tuesday afternoon in Shadow Creek’s swanky locker room about 10 miles north of the Las Vegas strip.

“You couldn’t say that sincerely, could you?” Mickelson replied.

Woods got serious for a minute.

“This is something as we’ve gotten older and closer together, this has kind of evolved,” Woods said. “We were saying earlier, 10 years ago this probably wouldn’t have happened. We didn’t really know each other that well. But we’ve become a lot closer because of what happened in 2014 at the Ryder Cup, trying to put together teams so that our relationship just blossomed. … He’s helped me through some difficult times when I was trying to chip and couldn’t physically do it. He was over there supporting.”

Originally the two thought about teaming up for The Match and finding other opponents. Said they’d like to pair up together at a future Ryder Cup. But this is how it worked out.

A Mickelson victory won’t change the past, but it gives him a reliable counter to every Woods jab. Taking $9 million off an opponent speaks loudly no matter who’s footing the bill. If Woods wins, that’s expected.

That’s why Woods has more to lose Friday, and it’s why his willing involvement has been an intriguing part of the story in a match that hopes to leave a lasting impression.

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