TIGER VS. PHIL LACKS HEAT

How many will pay to watch a duel be­tween two fad­ing stars, Doug Fer­gu­son won­ders.

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS -

The win­ner be­tween Tiger Woods and Phil Mick­el­son might be the least rel­e­vant as­pect of their Fri­day night match in Las Ve­gas.

Far more com­pelling was the out­come of a 72-hole ex­hi­bi­tion played over two cour­ses for an ob­scene amount of money Harry Var­don re­ceived, nearly seven times more than what he had won from his one-shot vic­tory over Wil­lie Park Jr. in the 1898 Bri­tish Open.

That next sum­mer, Var­don and Park played an ex­hi­bi­tion billed by the Bri­tish press as the great­est golf com­pe­ti­tion ever. Var­don won 100 Bri­tish pounds ($169 Cdn) with his 2-up ad­van­tage at North Ber­wick be­fore 10,000 spec­ta­tors, and an­other 100 pounds for com­plet­ing the 11and-10 rout at his home course of Gan­ton.

So Woods vs. Mick­el­son is noth­ing new, ex­cept the pub­lic is not al­lowed at Shadow Creek.

What’s unique about this ex­hi­bi­tion, with $9 mil­lion sup­pos­edly go­ing to the win­ner, is the de­liv­ery. This is golf ’s first ven­ture into pay-per-view, and or­ga­niz­ers were smart to keep the price at $19.99, which is about 25 per cent of what a com­pelling heavy­weight fight would com­mand.

How many peo­ple care enough to sign up on Black Fri­day?

“Um, no,” Rory McIlroy said when he was asked last week in Dubai if he would pay to watch. “I con­tem­plated it. I was hav­ing lunch with Phil at one of the FedEx Cup events and I said, ‘I might watch it.’ He took $25 out of his pocket and said, ‘No, here’s $25, I’ll pay for it for you.’ Thank you.”

Woods and Mick­el­son re­main the two big­gest names in golf, even in this tidal wave of youth, but their one-sided ri­valry — Woods was the only ri­val Mick­el­son had, not the other way around — has been dor­mant for five years. This feels old, and the re­lent­less pro­mo­tion at times has made it feel con­trived.

Is it a bad idea? Not at all. There is no down­side to Woods and Mick­el­son squar­ing off in a pay-per-view event on a beau­ti­ful golf course at Shadow Creek that ev­ery­one seems to know but hardly any­one has seen. But when the big­gest up­side is that there’s no down­side, sell­ing it be­comes an up­hill bat­tle.

There will be plenty of talk­ing, and Mick­el­son is rarely with­out words. There will be side ac­tion. That’s part of what makes this dif­fer­ent from the “Show­down at Sher­wood,” a Mon­day night ex­hi­bi­tion be­tween Woods and David Du­val in 1999 when they were in their prime and bat­tling for No. 1 in the world.

The ques­tion is whether it has a fu­ture.

That’s about the only thing that piques the in­ter­est of Alas­tair John­ston, vice-chair­man of IMG who knows a lit­tle about these golf ex­hi­bi­tions.

John­ston was deeply in­volved with the Skins Game when it be­gan in 1983 un­til it had run its course in 2008. In the midst of that run were the Mon­day night matches that fea­tured Woods against Du­val, Ser­gio Gar­cia and then a team for­mat that ended — thank­fully — when it had Woods, Mick­el­son, John Daly and Retief Goosen.

“It’s very tough for me to crit­i­cize it, but it’s very tough to praise it,” John­ston said.

“I’ll be in­ter­ested, from a pro­fes­sional stand­point, in how many view­ers it gets, how many pay,” John­ston said.

“How many peo­ple ac­tu­ally care to spend money on that, and does it lead to other op­por­tu­ni­ties and dif­fer­ent de­liv­ery sys­tems? Golf hasn’t been tested like that. That’s what in­trigues me.”

The PGA Tour has ap­proved only one of these matches, even as there is talk of a fran­chise.

His­tory sug­gests this won’t have much stay­ing power. The Skins Game was ideal for Thanks­giv­ing week­end, and there was plenty of star power among Jack Nick­laus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Wat­son, Fred Cou­ples and oth­ers.

Golf has that now with a strong core of young ma­jor cham­pi­ons, and per­haps that’s in the fu­ture.

But more episodes of Woods and Mick­el­son will get old, and his­tory sug­gests that Woods and any col­lec­tion of play­ers might not be enough.

So the only out­come on Black Fri­day is how many care, even when it in­volves the one player ev­ery­one loves to watch.

John­ston re­calls not so fondly the time he put to­gether a unique con­cept in 1997, the year Woods set 20 records at the Masters and won by 12. He was to play against Michael Jor­dan, Ken Grif­fey Jr. and Kevin Cost­ner. For ev­ery hole Woods won, they could choose which club to take out of his bag. They had walk-up mu­sic. It was taped to be shown on Christ­mas Day. It was called “Tiger & Friends.”

But then Jor­dan and Cost­ner had to pull out, re­placed by NASCAR driver Jeff Gor­don and ac­tor Chris O’Donnell. And then it rained. The fore­cast is for sun­shine and mild weather in Las Ve­gas on Fri­day.

That’s a start.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The type of TV match be­tween Phil Mick­el­son and Tiger Woods doesn’t have a great track record of viewer in­ter­est.

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