Tiger vs. Phil: A friendly match with the warmth of a boardroom


The new $10 million friendship between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson is so adorable. It just bathes you in warmth, that after all these years of frostiness they've had a rapprochement and decided to help each other with the upkeep on their Gulfstream G550s. It's so endearing, the idea of those two bro-buds playing a winner-take-all match in Vegas on must-see TV. What a romp this will be.

There's nothing more bonding than a mechanically engineered, shrewdly calculated "challenge" event for a quick eight figures. Next, why don't Tiger and Phil stage a fight with axes and long swords, full Viking style, wearing animal pelts? It wouldn't be any less contrived.

They are on the back end of their careers, and maybe the 50 millions don't pour in like they used to. Things aren't set in stone yet, but Mickelson confirmed to Golf Channel this past weekend that they've been in negotiations for this joint venture for some time. Which sends you spinning back to the cute meetups that Mickelson and Woods have been having, or staging, over the past few months. First there was that practice round together at The Masters. Then that joint news conference with all the sweet back-and-forth teasing after they were paired together at the Players Championship.

"The excitement that's been going on around here, it gets me thinking: Why don't we just bypass all the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head-to-head and just have kind of a high-stakes, winner-take-all match?" Mickelson said, as if the idea had just come to him. "Now, I don't know if he wants a piece of me, but I just think it would be something that would be really fun for us to do, and I think there would be a lot of interest in it if we just went straight to the final round."

And, gee, didn't Woods swallow the bait, as if it was the first he'd heard of it. 

"I'm definitely not against that," he said. "We'll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable."

Then come to find out that they're not talking about just one match but maybe a whole series of them around the world. The idea is that they essentially will own the events, so they cut out most of the middlemen when it comes to TV revenue, merchandising and sponsorship. 

"As we've developed a good relationship, we've started to collaborate on some other things that have allowed us to achieve things that we couldn't do on our own," Mickelson told Golf.com. "Like this match. I couldn't do it on my own. He couldn't do it on his own. But together, we're trying to create something pretty special."

Don't you wish you could be in the room for the negotiations?

Tiger: I'm not doing this unless I get the Emperor Suite at the Mandarin. 

Phil: I get the Emperor suite. You haven't won a major since 2008. You can have the Chairman Suite at the Venetian. It's got a massage room.

Tiger: Hey Cheesesteak, let's count the number of your majors. It'll only take a second.

Phil: Yeah, okay, and after that we can go to the museum to count yours. 

Tiger: If I don't get the Emperor Suite, then give me the Marcus Aurelius Villa at Caesars. The one with the exotic fish tank and the Garden of the Gods swimming pool.

Phil: The Rolex people already have that booked. What about the Presidential Suite at the Bellagio, with the solarium? Or the Sky Villa at the Palms, with the infinity pool and the butler?

Tiger (pulling out a U.S. Open Trophy): Feel the weight.

This is the sort of charming repartee Tiger and Philly are promising the audience. Mickelson says that both players will be mic'd up, so: "You will hear a lot of the comments that you don't hear on regular TV. We both like to talk smack, and we both have fun with what we're doing. And the fact that this isn't an official tournament, that it's just a head-to-head match, you'll hear some of the little nuances, some of the little things that you don't normally pick up."

As Woods says: "Phil and I have great banter. We give each other the needle. We always have."

Won't it be fun to listen to them yell "Fore!" on each other's putts? Or say pithy things such as, "Except for distance and accuracy that was a great shot, Tiger." You can be guaranteed of one thing: At some point during the "match," one of them will pull out a green Masters jacket, put it on as protection against the desert air and say, "I got a couple more of those in my bag in case you're chilly."

Neither one of these guys is ever going to be wearing a sandwich board for extra money, but you wonder if this whole thing isn't about keeping themselves in the style to which they've become accustomed. Woods hasn't won a tournament since 2013 and is still trying to get the Tag Heuers and Gillettes back after his infidelity scandal. Mickelson has won just once in the last 4 1/2 years. They both enjoy expensive vehicles and pastimes and carry sizable overhead. Let's see, $10 million for one four-hour round of golf, that's $2.5 million per hour, or $41,666 per minute, and $694.44 per second. Enough to keep gas in the yacht and make sure neither has to downgrade to a noisy Embraer or a Bombardier.

It will always be a visceral pleasure to see either of these men hit a golf ball and genuinely compete. Just as it never got old watching Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer tee it up. But the idea that either of them will feel any "discomfort" or tension standing over a putt on a casino golf course is nonsense. The net worth of each is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions, according to Forbes. The $10 million winner-take-all is certainly worth bestirring themselves for, but the real stakes, the real pot of gold, is in their financial cut of the event.

Uncomfortable? Uncomfortable would be a contest to see which one could dig a 100-yard trench with a hand trowel. If they were playing for 10 million of each other's money, maybe it'd be interesting, but to act like this is anything other than a money grab in the dying days of their earning power is nonsense.

They sound like two actors trying to animate the material of a bad script. Vegas is an appropriately fake setting, with its blue-green Shangri-La mirage-like golf courses. (A likely destination is the Steve Wynn-built Shadow Creek, where the green fees are $500.) They will mug and smirk and toss insults and desperate gags. But it all will feel more like a seance, like two guys trying to conjure back their lost primes. I might watch it, while I finish knitting a sweater for my niece. It should be fun - if you don't mind being taken for an imbecile.


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