Golf is the big win­ner in Tiger, Mick­el­son re­match

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Craig Dolch Columnist TCPalm

Craig Dolch says af­ter nearly 100 days with­out a tour­na­ment, fans will feast Sun­day.

For golf fans, the world will inch to­ward nor­malcy Sun­day when they finally see Tiger Woods hit a golf ball.

It will have been 98 days since we’ve seen his swing.

Not that it mat­ters how well Woods plays in The Match: Cham­pi­ons for Char­ity at Medal­ist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida. This event, which fea­tures Woods and Pey­ton Manning tak­ing on Phil Mick­el­son and Tom Brady in a best- ball match, will raise more than $ 10 mil­lion for COVID- 19 re­lief efforts.

But with Woods, it al­ways mat­ters what he does. Or, in this case, what he hasn’t done the past three months: play com­pet­i­tive golf.

Woods hasn’t writ­ten a num­ber on his score­card since Feb. 16, when he shot 77 to finish last among the play­ers to make the cut in the Gen­e­sis In­vi­ta­tional he hosts at Riviera.

Woods skipped the first three tour­na­ments of the four- event Florida Swing, in­clud­ing his home­town Honda Clas­sic, be­cause of back is­sues that have ne­ces­si­tated four surg­eries and cost him years in his chase of Jack Nick­laus’ 18 ca­reer ma­jors.

Woods in­sisted he would have been healthy to de­fend his Mas­ters ti­tle in April, but the coro­n­avirus pan­demic made that a moot point.

So now he returns. But how strange will it be for Woods to smack his driver and not hear thou­sands of fans scream­ing their ap­proval dur­ing this spec­ta­tor­less match?

On the flip side, how sweet will it be to finally hear Woods’ com­ments dur­ing a round be­cause the play­ers will wear mi­cro­phones? What’s the over/ under on the num­ber of barbs that will be ex­changed be­tween this four­some that has com­bined to win 20 ma­jors and eight Su­per Bowls?

Woods doesn’t just move the nee­dle. He can give it.

“There has been a lit­tle bit of trash talk al­ready,” Woods said. “Whether it’s ‘ I might need ex­tra cad­dies to carry my Su­per Bowls,’ be­cause he has more Su­per Bowls than my part­ner. Or, ‘ I’ve got more ma­jors than Phil, so I’m gonna have to have a truck come up to the first tee and U- Haul it out.’

“We like to give out the nee­dle, and to give out the nee­dle you gotta be able to take it. There will be ban­ter back and forth, but it won’t be as rough as what we have in our text ex­change.”

Tiger and Phil have been as close to a ri­valry as golf has seen in the last two decades. Tiger has more ma­jors ( 15 to 5) and PGA Tour ti­tles ( 82 to 44), but Mick­el­son won their made- for- TV match in Las Ve­gas in 2018. There won’t be any losers Sun­day. “This is differ­ent than what Phil and I did two years ago,” Woods said. “That was he and I just hav­ing a great time, try­ing to show­case golf in a differ­ent way.

“We’re com­ing to­gether to show­case golf in a differ­ent way, but it’s about char­ity. That’s the rea­son why we’re all do­ing this.”

Pick­ing a win­ner in a four- man best­ball match be­tween two of the world’s great­est golfers – and two of the best NFL quar­ter­backs – is never easy.

Look at what hap­pened in last Sun­day’s Tay­lor­Made Driv­ing Re­lief char­ity skins match at Semi­nole, where world No. 1 Rory McIl­roy had to hit a wedge in­side 18 feet on the last shot for him and Dustin John­son to eke out a vic­tory over un­der­dogs Rickie Fowler and Matt Wolff at Semi­nole.

The NFL isn’t the only sport where “on any given Sun­day” speaks the truth.

Yet Woods and Manning should be fa­vored. The Medal­ist is Woods’ home course, the place where he plays most of his golf away from the PGA Tour. ( A Medal­ist mem­ber said this week that he doesn’t re­call Mick­el­son play­ing there.)

Not only does Woods know every inch of real es­tate at the Medal­ist, the course even has tees named af­ter him. Ar­chi­tect Bobby Weed put in place five “Tiger Tees” when he re­designed the course five years ago. They are on five par- 4s ( holes 1, 2, 9, 15 and 18), which aver­age 494 yards and stretch the par- 72 course to 7,515 yards from the tips.

These tees weren’t added just for Tiger, not with a mem­ber­ship that in­clude bombers such as John­son, Brooks Koepka, etc. But they’re called the Tiger Tees for a rea­son.

“We needed to make some ac­com­mo­da­tions for this gen­er­a­tion of golfers that has taken the game to another level,” said Weed, a pro­tégé of Pete Dye. Dye co- de­signed the Medal­ist with Greg Nor­man ( a Medal­ist co- founder who was an­gered when he wasn’t asked to do the re­design).

“We don’t want these play­ers to have to throt­tle back too much,” Weed said. “They can be as ag­gres­sive as they de­sire, which is in­ter­est­ing from an ob­server stand­point. Pete left behind a great foot­print, and we have a good un­der­stand­ing of what it takes to chal­lenge Tour play­ers.”

No doubt Mick­el­son will be hit­ting bombs, as he loves to say, every chance he can Sun­day, although there will be no fans on the grounds for Lefty to give his cus­tom­ary thumbs- up af­ter every good shot.

Sun­day’s tele­cast by Turner Sports ( 3- 7 p. m. ET) will make for in­ter­est­ing the­ater in­volv­ing four ath­letes who are among the best in their re­spec­tive sports.

It’s just the se­cond time golf will be tele­cast from the Medal­ist. Nick Price beat Nor­man in a “Shell’s Won­der­ful World of Golf ” show in 1995.

It seems that long ago when we saw Woods twirl a club.

KYLE TERADA/ USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Phil Mick­el­son and Tiger Woods walk on the first hole dur­ing The Match in 2018 at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Ve­gas.

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