Despite mixed results, Tiger Woods remains a headliner in made-for-TV golf

Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

Despite mixed results, Tiger Woods remains a headliner in made-for-TV golf

Golf

Despite mixed results, Tiger Woods remains a headliner in made-for-TV golf

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At 2, Tiger Woods made his TV debut when he scampered onto the set of The Michael Douglas Show with his little golf clubs in tow and wowed the host, Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart with golf skills well beyond his years.

En route to becoming the only player to win three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles from 1994-96, Woods lured hundreds of thousands of viewers to tune in to watch the event for the first time.

Then, shortly after he said hello to the world and turned pro, ESPN cut away from its NFL wrap-up show hosted by Chris Berman to take viewers to the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational to show Woods winning his first PGA Tour title in a playoff against Davis Love III.

It was obvious to all that Tiger mania was a happening as he became must-watch TV. Shortly thereafter, Woods would become the headliner of made-for-TV golf.

Woods wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to entertain, compete and cash in as he became the leading star of two established made-for-TV events – The Skins Game that began in 1983 and the PGA of America’s Grand Slam of Golf that was played for the first time in 1979.

But this being Woods, and TV executives fully aware and awed by the Nielsen ratings, another made-for-TV show was created to take advantage of his popularity – an event called Monday Night golf.

All in all, Woods had mixed results in the televised exhibitions.

For instance, he played The Skins Game on seven occasions – in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 – but never won one of them.

He had his moments. He cashed for the first time in his first Skins Game on the sixth hole, when a birdie was worth two skins and $40,000. And he finished runner-up in his last two appearances in the former Thanksgiving outing. But he never delivered in the biggest moments – and he had chances – and fell to the likes of overall champion and good friends Fred Couples twice and Mark O’Meara twice, and Tom Lehman, Greg Norman and Fred Funk.

On the other hand, he owned the PGA of America’s Grand Slam of Golf, a 36-hole event patterned off the old World Series of Golf. Playing in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005 and 2006, Woods won all of them.

There were plenty of highlights in his seven victories, all played on the stunning Poipu Bay Golf Course on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. In his first two victories, when the format was match play, Woods won in his debut, 2 up against Vijay Singh in the championship match, then defeated Love III, 3 and 2, in the championship match the following year.

In 2000, stroke play was the format and Woods won in a playoff against Singh. In 2001, he won by three shots over David Duval.

In 2002, he destroyed Love III, Rich Beem and Justin Leonard. After an opening-round 66 gave him a 3-stroke lead, Woods fired a tournament-record 61 and won by 14 shots.

Three years would pass before Woods once again displayed his authority in Hawaii. In 2005, he shot 67-64 to win by seven shots with Phil Mickelson his closest pursuer. The following year, he capped his dominance in this event by posting 70-66 to win by two shots over Jim Furyk.

That same year, Woods played in his final Monday Night golf event that was created solely because of Woods. Played in the summer months and in prime time on the East Coast, the matches came to an end under the lights and gave the sport a boost in the hottest months of the year.

Tiger Woods and David Duval on Aug. 2, 1999 at the “Showdown at Sherwood.” Photo: Mark Terrill/Associated Press

The first Monday Night event came in 1999 and was billed as the Showdown at Sherwood in California, where Woods met David Duval in a match between the top two players of the time. Woods won 2 and 1 to collect $1.1 million. The event drew a 6.9 Nielsen rating, making the TV execs at ABC ecstatic.

The event shifted to the mountains of the Palm Springs area in California the following year, and Sergio Garcia was Woods’ opponent.

Billed as the Battle at Bighorn in Palm Desert, Woods won 1 up. The Nielsen rating was a whopping 7.6.

The second Battle at Bighorn brought a change of format, as Woods was paired with Annika Sorenstam and David Duval was paired with Karrie Webb. Woods and Sorenstam won with a par on the first playoff hole.

Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods pose with their winning check for $1.2 million following the “Battle at Bighorn” in Palm Desert, Calif., on July 30, 2001. Photo: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The next year, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino joined the happening at the third Battle at Bighorn, with the Golden Bear teamed with Woods. Woods made nine birdies and he and Nicklaus won, 3 and 2.

With the event losing a touch of luster, and the ratings dropping, a change of venue and another format change came in 2003. Now billed as the Battle of the Bridges in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Woods paired with Ernie Els against Garcia and Phil Mickelson. Woods and Els, ranked 1-2 in the Official World Rankings, lost 3 and 2.

In 2004, again at the Bridges, Woods and long-driving Hank Kuehne faced Mickelson and the longest hitter in golf, John Daly. Woods and Kuehne made three consecutive birdies and then an eagle on the back nine to flip the match and won 2 and 1. In Woods’ last match at the Bridges, he teamed with Daly and lost to Mickelson and Retief Goosen, 5 and 3.

Woods’ next made-for-TV event came in 2012, when he faced Rory McIlroy at Lake Jinsha International Golf in China. Few in the U.S. were able to watch, and McIlroy won the stroke-play event by one shot with a 67.

Years would pass as Woods battled injuries and contemplated retirement. But a life-changing fusion surgery to his back brought him back.

Ahead of his remarkable victory that shook the golf world in the 2018 Masters, Wood and Mickelson played a practice round at Augusta National. Perhaps the two were formalizing the details of what would become The Match, an 18-hole pay-per-view, made-for-TV spectacular in Las Vegas later that year.

Nov 23, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Phil Mickelson (right) reacts after the winner's belt didn't fit as Tiger Woods (left) looks on after The Match: Tiger vs Phil golf match at Shadow Creek Golf Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Mickelson reacts after the winner’s belt didn’t fit as Tiger Woods looks on after The Match: Tiger vs Phil at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas in 2018.. Photo: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

The Match didn’t live up to its billing at Shadow Creek 15 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. Both players were not at their best, and Woods’ highlight came on the 17th hole when he canned a birdie putt to square the match. But Mickelson won on the third playoff hole – which was a 93-yard makeshift hole that included the 18th-hole’s green with the tee box in back of the clubhouse.

Still, there was enough interest to move forward with the upcoming event called The Challenge: Japan Skins. Ahead of the ZoZo Championship, Woods will face McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama in a one-day Skins game on Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. local time (11 p.m. ET on Oct. 20).

Both the Skins Game and the Zozo will be at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan.

If Woods remains healthy – he’s had five surgeries to his left knee and four to his back – expect more made-for-TV events.

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