The vision for Capital One’s The Match—being played for a seventh time this weekend—has always been to provide a made-for-TV product that’s a little different, pushing the boundaries of the traditionally buttoned-up sport to appeal to a wider audience, all while raising millions of dollars for charity. Originally conceived as a pay-per-view duel between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for $9 million over Thanksgiving weekend in 2018, The Match has evolved into a sports spectacle as much as a golf one, with Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Charles Barkley and Steph Curry all making appearances.
In its previous iterations, we’ve seen Woods and Mickelson go extra holes, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau “settle” their bizarre feud, Barkley display his resurrected golf game and Rodgers put on a clutch-putting clinic … twice. With all the highs, though, The Match has often been hampered by awkward, forced trash-talk and fits of poor golf leading to anti-climactic finishes.
On Saturday in Belleair, Fla., the franchise seeks to remedy both ailments as it returns to its all-golf DNA, pitting Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy against Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth under-the-lights at Pelican Golf Club. As we approach the 12-hole match (coverage starts at 6 p.m. on TNT), we’re looking back and ranking each of the first six editions of The Match.
6. Phil Mickelson/Charles Barkley vs. Stephen Curry/Peyton Manning (The Match 3, November 2020)
Let’s start with the good. The third edition of The Match raised $5,455,000 for historically black colleges and universities. If nothing else, the day was a success on that front.
The match itself, though, left a lot to be desired. After losing the first hole, Mickelson and Barkley stormed to a 4-up lead after 10 holes, aided by Barkley’s shockingly solid play and Curry’s struggles. Barkley put his revamped, hitch-free swing to the test and didn’t miss a fairway until the fifth hole.
Riding the high after going 4 up through seven, Barkley looked into the camera and delivered one of the lines of the day, advising the channel execs to “Get some of those ‘Law and Order’ reruns ready in about five more holes.”
It proved only a slight exaggeration, as Mickelson and Barkley cruised to a 4-and-3 win over the pre-match favorites. The day lacked energy, and the tired narrative of Barkley being a poor golfer was overplayed, to say the least. Shaquille O’Neal joined the telecast to throw shade at his friend, saying “Chuck, if you can’t read words, how you gonna read greens?” OK, that’s a solid dagger. They were few and far between.
5. Bryson DeChambeau vs. Brooks Koepka (The Match 5, November 2021)
One lengthy eye-roll from Koepka at the 2021 PGA Championship set off a series of back-and-forths with DeChambeau that inevitably led to this bout at Wynn Golf Club in Las Vegas. A heavyweight battle on paper, the match was all Koepka, as he took an early lead and cruised to a 5-and-3 (!) win in this 12-hole duel.
The uncomfortable tone was set on the first tee, when Bryson offered the crowd “Brooks Koepka cupcakes,” in a bizarre interaction that was matched with a trademark Koepka smirk. If nothing else, the beefed-up nerd taking on the beefed-up frat-boy narrative was holding strong.
The awkwardness continued, as Mickelson, who was in the booth, asked DeChambeau after a long drive, “Do you feel that hitting bombs like that is attractive, makes you feel physically more attractive?” Bryson did little to quell the advance, responding “Oh, very. It’s hot.” Sheesh.
Aside from a few of these strange comments, Mickelson was excellent on the call, providing keen insight into the mental strategy employed by him and Bryson. Alongside Mickelson in the booth, Barkley gave some trademark one-liners:
“I don’t got a college degree, but a lotta people working for me got ’em.”
“Yoga is just stretching. They call it yoga to charge you more.”
Long live Sir Charles.
4. Bryson DeChambeau/Aaron Rodgers vs. Phil Mickelson/Tom Brady (The Match 4, July 2021)
Before the match in Montana, Rodgers quieted expectations, saying he hadn’t played much golf over the previous year, estimating nine rounds in total. The rusty facade didn’t hold up for long, though, as Rodgers rolled in putt after putt, arguably carrying a struggling DeChambeau to a 3-and-2 victory.
The host course—The Reserve at Moonlight Basin—provided a stunning backdrop, with moose and bears lurking off the fairways that often sat well below the tee, providing for some massive drives from DeChambeau and company. It’s a good thing the setting was so picturesque as the pace of play in this one was quite the opposite.
With few spectators, Tom Brady’s energy (the guy loves competition) carried the day, notably on the 14th hole, when players were allowed just one club. Missing a five-footer with a 7-iron, Brady let out a passionate scream, to which Bryson commented how he loved the emotion. In an uncomfortable standoff, Brady stared him down for seconds on end, giving the match the edge it desperately needed.
3. Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson (The Match 1, November 2018)
Suffice to say with the two best players of their generation squaring off in a $9 million winner-take-all match on the day after Thanksgiving, the inaugural match at Shadow Creek had lofty expectations. For much of the day, the play was underwhelming, with both guys struggling to make a putt longer than five feet. Even Rickie Fowler, not known for throwing heat, described the duel on Twitter as a “pillow fight.”
However, it was a competitive pillow fight, at least. Tiger delivered a signature Woodsian moment on the par-3 17th, facing a 1-down deficit with Mickelson in close for birdie. A chip-in, fist pump and Mickelson miss meant they were going the distance. The match went to extra holes and eventually the guys were taking dollar-bill divots out of the practice putting green, playing to a makeshift 90-yard par 3 under floodlights. Mickelson delivered the final blow (finally) on the 22nd hole, making birdie.
The close match was dampened by a persistent cloud of awkwardness, as both guys seemed unable to discern if this was a hit-and-giggle needling session or a serious competition.
2. Tiger Woods/Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson/Tom Brady (The Match 2, May 2020)
Let’s be honest, any golf on TV during the spring of 2020—in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns—would have been well-received. Despite a rainy day at Medalist Golf Club, the second edition showed much improvement over the lackluster inaugural 22-hole “battle” between Woods and Mickelson.
The trash-talking started on the range, as on-course reporter Amanda Renner asked Manning who he would’ve chosen for a caddie had he been allowed one. “Bill Belichick,” Manning said as he turned to Brady, a recent Patriots defector. Early 1-up lead.
Brady struggled mightily off the tee early. Barkley was throwing daggers from the booth, offering up $50,000 of his own money if Brady hit the green on a par 3. Yet, Brady produced the best moment in The Match history to date on the par-5 seventh when he spun his approach back into the hole as his mic dangled from his ripped pants. “Shut your mouth, Chuck,” he said in addition to a few more descriptive phrases.
Tiger striped it off the tee all day. Justin Thomas was excellent as an on-course analyst, providing timely insight and needling. And the match was competitive, with Woods and Manning holding off a charging Brady and Mickelson to win, 1 up, on the final hole.
1. Tom Brady/Aaron Rodgers vs. Josh Allen/Patrick Mahomes (The Match 6, June 2022)
It’s a bit ironic that the most entertaining match so far in this golf franchise featured … no professional golfers. Instead, it was four star NFL quarterbacks battling at Wynn Golf Club in the heart of Las Vegas in the most recently played edition of the competition. The five previous matches were all hampered by a lack of on-site fanfare, each having either sparse crowds or none at all due to COVID-19. Not so this time in Vegas, as boisterous fans lined the fairways, hurling their fair share of trash talk towards the players.
The banter between quarterbacks was well-timed, perhaps none more so than Tom Brady’s quip after chunking an iron shot. “I call that a little Josh Allen-y,” Brady said to Allen, who struggled with his game throughout. Other highlights included players tossing a football at a large cutout of Barkley’s head to secure a mulligan and Brady promptly shanking a shot after analyst Trevor Immelman gave him a swing tip.
For the second-consecutive match he appeared in, Rodgers delivered the closing blow, rolling in a 10-foot slider to give he and Brady the victory on the final hole in the back-and-forth match. The fifth installment of The Match had it all.