Remember “The Match”? A made-for-TV, head-to-head matchup between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson during Thanksgiving 2018? It was an aimless slog, almost completely devoid of any of the distinctive personalities and phenomenal shotmaking of its principals. It was overpriced, dull and pointless … and damn, what we’d give to watch it live right now.
Mickelson got the golf world buzzing Sunday night with a tweet, responding to a fan’s inquiry about The Match II by simply saying, “Working on it.”
Working on it
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) March 30, 2020
Granted, this is vintage Phil — holding all the cards and making sure you know he wants you to think he’s got all four Aces — but it doesn’t take a whole lot of speculation to see how this could be a good, and workable, idea.
Sports all over the spectrum are getting creative in dealing with the coronavirus lockdown. A hastily created NASCAR virtual racing league drew nearly a million viewers in its debut last week, and on Sunday got the promotion to a full network TV broadcast. The UFC is trying to bring an April 18 quarantine-everyone bout to life. The Big3 basketball league and the Premier League are each considering similar lockdown-only events, and both the NBA and Major League Baseball are gaming out ways to play games without fans.
Golf has a built-in advantage over all those sports, though, in that its competitors are rarely within handshake distance of one another, and even then only a handful at a time. A full-field event without galleries wouldn’t even violate the no-groups-greater-than-10-people rule, as long as everybody played reasonably rapid golf making their way around the course.
Which brings us back to The Match: 2 Tiger 2 Phil. When the first one lurched its way onto pay-per-view, it was billed as the start of a franchise, a series of events that could pit Woods and Mickelson against one another in a series of showdowns that could include other players. Tell me you wouldn’t watch Phil and Tiger teaming up with (or against), for instance, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy. They’re eager to get back out on the course, we’re eager to watch anything new — it’s a theoretical win-win.
The desire for the match is overwhelming; there are only so many times we can watch replays of old Masters events. The money’s certainly there too — every golf fan on the planet would drop $19.95 to watch some fresh links. What’s left is a matter of logistics.
Setting up another Match wouldn’t be all that difficult from a technical perspective; it’s been done before, and there are plenty of broadcast production crews sitting idle right now. Smart venue choice, clever production choices, remote broadcast crews, no postround handshakes or one-on-one interviews … all these would help streamline the delivery of another match to TV. The larger issue is one of safety in a time of pandemic.
How do you ensure that everyone involved with the production is safe, both in transit and at the event? How do you make sure nobody carries an infection back home with them? Is it morally defensible to test healthy people for the sake of entertainment when tests are necessary for more serious cases and for health-care workers?
(One other consideration: Woods’ health. He’d already dialed back his schedule in preparation for a now-postponed Masters; would he risk his health for a glorified exhibition? Or would he view this as a chance for a landmark moment in his career?)
The last time around, Mickelson won $9 million for defeating Woods, a victory which led to one of the great Phil stories of all time, where he told singer Jake Owen just what to do with the money Owen had spent on the PPV. If all that money went to charities this time around, Match II could go down as one of the great sporting events in the coronavirus era.
The key to bringing back sports will be controlling who’s involved in the return, and carefully screening them to ensure they’re healthy. The way that, say, the UFC handles its upcoming planned bout could go a long way to determining whether it’s feasible to even think about bringing back sports in some slimmed-down, unplugged form.
Every sport will have to crack the safety-logistics-fan code over the coming months. Golf has a head start on all the others just because of its structure. If we could get Tiger and Phil out on the course sooner rather than later, who wouldn’t watch that? Even a dull round of golf on TV sounds like heaven right about now.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
More from Yahoo Sports: