Lights. Camera. Camaraderie? From the nerd-party awkwardness of its 2018 debut to a Saturday night speakeasy featuring four of the world’s most popular tour pros, the latest version of “The Match” finally produced the loose, natural vibe essential to making made-for-TV golf watchable. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, a formidable Ryder/Presidents Cup partnership built on blazing intensity, showed us their lighter side in steamrolling Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, 3 and 2, a triumph significant only in that Spieth-Thomas won the battle of wits in equally convincing fashion.
Who knew the stone-cold serious Thomas could be so funny? Or that his close friend Woods, now comfortable when moonlighting as a living legend, could take such a ribbing? The evening air was full of sarcasm at Pelican Golf Club near Tampa, appropriately named in that the winners piled up seven birdies in 10 holes and gulped down a pair of very large fish without a single belch.
It was nice to see four zillionaires having so much fun. This was 180 degrees from the weirdness of Tiger vs. Phil four years ago, when Woods and Mickelson struggled in the role of acting as if they liked each other. Conversation that night was forced and flaccid, the golf sloppy and time-consuming. Tiger wanted nothing to do with a rematch but did return in May 2020, partnering with Peyton Manning to beat Mickelson and Tom Brady in an engaging bout, but again, the pace of play was egregiously intolerable.
That had been the last time Woods was seen competing in the dark. Joined by better company in the seventh edition of the series, his limp was heavy but his spirits bright—Thomas might be the only guy on earth who can verbally jostle with the 15-time major champion and leave everybody grinning. All four players made ample contributions to the jocularity fund, complemented by an assist from TNT wisecracker Charles Barkley, but Thomas was the star of a show fit for weekend prime time.
He jabbed at Sir Charles for the better part of the two and a half hours, mostly making fun of Barkley’s weight and his decision to attend Auburn—Thomas went to Alabama. Like any sharp comedian, he saved his best for last. “That could be Match 8,” he pitched shortly before closing out the icons. “Chuck versus a plate of cheese fries.”
Barkley certainly has been an asset over the duration of the series, offering levity even when levity was no less a priority than brevity. Cutting the matches to 12 holes was obviously a good move, although this time around, a lot of viewers probably wished the foursome was going all 18. Spieth and Thomas were 3 up after four, necessitating the importance of the players interacting in an entertaining manner, and they delivered.
Not that Woods, McIlroy, Spieth and Thomas hang out in bars together, but the closeness of the four superstars was wholly responsible for the mood of the festivities. Nobody could have expected Tiger to test Brady’s ability to take a verbal punch, as the two men are nothing more than casual acquaintances, although Manning’s fun-loving personality made that rainy Sunday a success.
Still, it was no match for this Match. McIlroy’s gentlemanly disposition is a huge reason he has become so popular in recent years. His overt stand in opposition to LIV Golf has further endeared him to the masses, and his friendship with Woods clearly has grown now that Tiger doesn’t step on necks for a living. That said, the Northern Irishman is no standup comic, nor did he have to be with Thomas and Woods exchanging barbs.
We call it chemistry. Spieth had his moments, and yes, he yells at his golf ball even when it doesn’t really matter where his golf ball goes, but for the most part in Tampa, the tenacious Texan aptly played the role of straight man. His bond with Thomas is uncanny, and with microphones picking up a lot of the dialogue between the two when reading a putt or choosing a club, the little stuff we’d never hear from a PGA Tour event were available for viewer consumption.
The evening had started with a 30-minute, sit-down chat called the Conversation—all four guys taking questions from host Brian Anderson. There were sponsors to feed and softball inquiries meant to be crushed, but overall, the show was a success. The three youngsters deferred to Woods when appropriate, a polite nod to the premise that the voice backed by the largest amount of greatness goes first. Although some issues were left untouched—the LIV Golf issue was conspicuous in its absence—there was enough heft in the content to make it more interesting than watching four superstars warm up on the range.
Coming off the four-quarterback showcase in June, when Brady and Aaron Rodgers beat Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes in Las Vegas—amateur golf at its most intriguing—this was a very good year for the Match. Anything involving Woods has a much better chance of being a winner, owing not only to his immense popularity, but the probability that we won’t see him play very often down the road.
If and when he does agree to a future engagement in this series, the inclusion of Thomas is a must. In a tough-to-sell format that has endured its share of clunkers, this baby needs all the help it can get. Tiger’s feisty little buddy knows exactly how to rock the cradle.
View more on Youtube Justin Thomas Trolls Tiger Woods #capitalonesthematch 😂
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth didn’t hold back against Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in this year’s #CapitalOnesTheMatch.
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