By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Bragging rights will be worth more than the $9 million prize money to Phil Mickelson when he takes on Tiger Woods in an 18-hole winner-takes-all pay-per-view showdown in Las Vegas.
For two of the world’s richest athletes the prospect of pocketing millions for playing an afternoon round at Shadow Creek Golf Club on Friday may not set the heart racing.
But for Mickelson the thought of forever being able to wave that cheque in Woods’ face was something priceless that left him giddy with excitement ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday clash.
“It’s great to win the $9 million but I just don’t want to lose to him and give him the satisfaction because the bragging rights are what is going to be even worse than the money,” Mickelson said at a news conference on Tuesday to drum up interest in “The Match”.
“Every time I see you I want to be able to rub it in. I want to sit in the Champions locker room at Augusta and talk smack. I want that.”
That was about as close as Woods and Mickelson, two of the most fascinating and successful golfers of their generation, came to trading shots as they attempted to help sell the pay-per-view duel which can be seen for a modest $19.99.
Despite their best efforts the obligatory trash talk around the golfing cage match has been forced and limp.
Fifteen years ago the dislike was real and palatable, the jabs they took at each other stung.
But that once frosty relationship has thawed to the point that they play practice rounds together.
Anyone expecting the sort of foul mouth baiting that is part of boxing and UFC promotions were left sadly disappointed as the news conference turned into a love-in.
The 42-year-old Woods and Mickelson, 48, spent so much time lavishing praise on each other that it was hard to remember there was time when they actually disliked each other.
Even an attempt to end the news conference with a traditional boxing nose-to-nose stare down ended in farce with neither man able to keep a straight face for more than a few seconds before breaking into laughs and a hug.
“He’s one of the greatest players to ever pick up a golf club,” said Woods, the winner of 14 major titles.
“Greatest of all time,” replied Mickelson, who has five majors in his trophy case.
One aspect of the event not manufactured is the competitiveness Woods and Mickelson bring to the golf course.
The showdown will be highlighted by several side bets and Mickelson wasted no time throwing down the gauntlet by betting Woods $100,000 that he would birdie the first hole.
Woods took the bait but not before upping the ante, telling Mickelson, “Why not $200,000”.
“So you think you can make birdie on the first hole,” said Woods smiling. “Double it.”
The biggest bet being put down, however, is the one made by WarnerMedia and Turner Sports who are gambling there is enough interest to make the unique pay-per-view event a success.
“This is me versus him, this is winner take all and it has a unique special feel golf doesn’t have all the time or rarely has ever had if ever,” said Mickelson.
“I am hopeful that this is received well, I am hopeful we provide a glimpse into the future of what sport-watching is all about.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Ken Ferris)