LAS VEGAS – The experiment is over, all the cards are on the table and Phil Mickelson is leaving Las Vegas with $9 million in his pocket.
Months of build-up finally led to the actual playing of The Match at Shadow Creek Golf Club, where Mickelson beat Woods on the fourth sudden-death playoff hole Friday to take the cash prize.
“Just a very special day and something I’ll always be appreciative of,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson made the winning birdie putt on a modified 93-yard par 3, with a tee box set up on the practice green and both players hitting into the 18th green from there. The Match was all square after 18 holes and took one more trip up the par-5 finishing hole and three on the shortened extra hole to settle it.
Woods missed the green long on his first two attempts at the shortened hole and Mickelson knocked it tight on their third loop. Woods missed his birdie try and Mickelson converted as the remaining VIPs, many of whom likely had a financial interest, cheered him.
It was dark and cold by then. Floodlights illuminated the 18th green and created a primetime feel for an event that began at noon local time. It’s too early to know whether it was a real success, something worth repeating and tinkering with. A far as the actual competition goes, there’s no question it provided the excitement organizers were hoping to capture thanks to a back-and-forth back nine.
Both players shot 3-under 69 on the afternoon and got off to a slow start. Woods missed a short putt on the second hole to fall one down, and he never seemed entirely comfortable on the greens.
Woods was one down at the turn, one up after a birdie at 11 and back to all square after a bogey at the par-4 15th.
“We’ve been doing this for so long. It reminded me of old times to go head-to-head against one another,” Woods said. “It was going back and forth and nobody really had control of the match.”
Mickelson had a chance to close Woods out at the short, downhill par-3 17th, but Woods chipped in to win the hole and at that moment there was a real excitement in the air. Roughly 1,000 VIPs were admitted for the week and when Woods’ ball dropped into the cup, the well-dressed spectators got loud.
“Absolutely I felt pressure,” Woods said. “It was a must-make chip to have a chance to not have it on Phil’s putter there. To be able to hole that chip felt good, and then got it to the last hole and I had a chance to win there.”
Said Mickelson: “He does that crap to me all the time.”
But Mickelson left with the lasting bragging rights. His 4-foot putt to win will surely grow in length as he tells the story in coming years. Mickelson was underneath Woods’ shadow for decades and his resume pales in comparison, but he’ll always be able to point out the day he got the better of Woods when they went heads-up on the national stage.
It didn’t take long before he started getting in Woods’ ear about it.
“This has been very special,” Mickelson said. “I know big picture your career is the greatest all-time. I’ve seen you do things that are just remarkable. But just know I will not ever let you live this one down. I will bring it up every time I see you. … It’s not the Masters, it’s not the U.S. Open, I know, but it’s something. It’s just nice to have a little something on you.”
The same can be said for The Match in general. It wasn’t close to a major tournament or established event in terms of importance. But this was never about prestige. It was about putting on a show, and Woods and Mickelson delivered on that end.
“I’m having a lot of fun watching this,” said Michelle Wie, chatting with a reporter near the clubhouse after walking the first nine holes. “I think it’s a really interesting format. It’s very entertaining. Two idols, two legends. So this is really cool.”
Whether or not we’ll see future installments in some format depends on the reaction of the general public.
“I guess it will depend on if people enjoyed it and want more, but I don’t know what (the reaction) is right now,” Mickelson said. “I just know that today was a really special, fun day.”