Golf on TV: ‘The Match’ between Tiger and Phil aims big, falls short

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 23: Phil Mickelson celebrates with the winnings after defeating Tiger Woods as Ernie Johnson looks on during The Match: Tiger vs Phil at Shadow Creek Golf Course on November 23, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images for The Match) Harry How/Getty Images

Golf on TV: ‘The Match’ between Tiger and Phil aims big, falls short

Golf on TV

Golf on TV: ‘The Match’ between Tiger and Phil aims big, falls short

There are certain immutable facts of televised sports. The hype always exceeds the reality. The coverage always is overproduced. And you always feel ripped off when you buy the pay-per-view coverage.

So by those standards, “The Match: Tiger vs. Phil,” was a pretty standard sports production. Overproduced and unsatisfying.

Here’s how bad it got: When Samuel L. Jackson is the strongest voice on your coverage, you know you have problems.

“It’s not about course management,” Jackson said in the pre-game show. “Nobody paid to see the Babe bunt. So everybody has got to hit a home run today.”

There weren’t any home runs hit during “The Match” at Shadow Creek Golf Club. There weren’t even any ground-rule doubles. The closest we came was on 17, when Woods chipped in from the fringe to square the match. But to do that, he had to miss the green with a short iron from the tee.

“This is some crappy golf. Y’all know that,” Charles Barkley said midway through the round.  “These guys aren’t playing well. Listen, I know I’m not good, but I could beat these two today. Maybe it’s nerves or whatever, but they’re both playing awful today.”

“The Match has been a game of mistakes,” analyst Darren Clarke said.

In a rare epiphany, analyst Peter Jacobsen summarized Woods’ feeble birdie attempt on 16 with pleasing simplicity: “Underwhelming.”

The same could be said of the entirety of “The Match.” Somewhere early in the round, Turner began offering the coverage free of charge on its BR/Live site. That’s roughly the amount the entire coverage was worth.

This was a mess from the outset. I’m always open to new producers bringing new ideas to golf coverage, but Turner Sports’ production team – headed by Craig Barry, executive producer Michael Mandt and line producer Jeff Neubarth – made a totally predictable error.

Seriously, I predicted this a week ago. Despite having the players mic’ed up, Turner Sports cluttered the coverage with seven announcers. Or maybe it was nine. I lost count. All I know is, it was at least seven announcers too many.

Time and again, anchor Ernie Johnson or Jacobsen or Clarke or someone else insisted on chattering when Mickelson and Woods were talking to each other or their caddies.

Johnson kept saying, “Let’s listen in,” as if he were doing viewers a favor by allowing them to hear what Woods and Mickelson were saying on course.

A more confident and daring production team would have looked at “The Match” as a unique opportunity to do something commensurate with the buildup surrounding the event. But, nope, they chickened out. Rather than letting Woods and Mickelson carry the coverage with their open microphones, we got a cacophony of voices that was, at times, maddening.

To be honest, the whole production was maddening. For as contrived as this fiasco was from the outset, it actually had the potential, in more capable and confident hands, to be an interesting experiment.

The Holy Grail of live golf coverage is players and caddies wearing microphones, bringing viewers inside the ropes. In “The Match,” we had a rare opportunity when the game’s most prominent players had bought into that idea.

So what did Turner Sports do? It hired every personality looking for some extra bucks to come to Las Vegas and bloviate on “The Match.” Television producers love to tell people that “less is more,” but the truth is, these guys always think that more is more.

It didn’t help that the principles didn’t seem fully invested. On the sixth hole, Woods proposed a wager, which Mickelson declined. Frankly, I didn’t understand the wager, but as a viewer, my feeling was, if these side bets are for charity, let it fly. Who gives a damn? It’s the least the players could do for all the fans who wasted $20 on this fiasco. But no, Mickelson, the “people’s champion,” as Jackson described him in the first-tee introductions, took a pass.

This was one of those moments when I wanted everyone involved – the players, the producers – to push all of their chips into the center of the table. I wasn’t the only one.

“I want to hear some more smack, I want to hear some more action,” analyst Pat Perez said late in “The Match.” “I want to see some more betting. But we also need some golf shots, some more good golf shots. These are the two icons of my generation. I want to see better shots.”

But no, Woods and Mickelson remained poker-faced, hovering over their chips, playing it close to the vest. This wasn’t a duel in the desert. This was a battle of attrition, ultimately settled under the lights on a makeshift, 93-yard par-3 hole.

The finale seemed so small, so unsatisfying. And yet, so appropriate.

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