What Next for Prime-Time Golf Show
The national rating from the 'Battle at the Bridges' was 4.6 with an 8 share, the lowest in the five years since ABC Sports began televising the prime-time exhibitions.
Does this mean the end of hit-and-giggle golf under the lights?
Not if Ernie Els has a vote.
'We want revenge,' Els said after he and Woods -- the best two players in golf -- never led in a best-ball match and lost, 3 and 1, to Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia.
This was the first of a three-year contract with the Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe, where the views from the foothills north of San Diego are spectacular, the houses look like palaces and memberships start at $325,000.
Plus, Woods has a deal with Disney-owned ABC to broadcast the matches.
The trick is finding either a format or group of players more appealing.
This one brought together the best players in golf at the end of last year. Woods, Mickelson, Els and Garcia were all ranked in the top four.
That changed by the time the first tee went into the ground Monday night. Woods and Els were Nos. 1 and 2, with a combined nine victories this year. Mickelson dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in more than five years (No. 11), while Garcia is No. 14.
Neither of them had won this year -- until Monday night.
Garcia, who gave Woods his only other loss in prime time three years ago at Bighorn, made a 6-foot birdie putt to halve the 14th hole, then hit a 3-wood under the lights, over the water and into 30 feet for eagle on the 16th to effectively close out the match.
Mickelson did his part with a deft short game to protect the lead.
'Obviously, Sergio and I have not played to our level of expectations, and I don't know what to say about that,' Mickelson said. 'On any given day, anyone can beat anybody. Sergio and I played well, and we beat the best two players in the world.
'Hopefully, this will give us confidence the rest of the year.'
What this does for the next 'Battle at the Bridges' remains to be seen.
Despite the increasingly lower ratings, they are still higher than most regular PGA Tour events that Woods doesn't play.
And unlike Monday Night Football in the preseason, Woods does not come out after the first couple of holes and gets replaced by Andrew Magee.
The national rating a year ago was 5.1, when Woods and Jack Nicklaus beat Garcia and Lee Trevino in a clash of the generations at Bighorn in the California desert.
The year before, Woods and Annika Sorenstam defeated David Duval and Karrie Webb in a mixed-team match that lacked personality and quality golf in an alternate-shot format.
Woods hand-picked this year's teams, wanting to modernize 'Challenge Golf' from decades ago, when Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were a formidable team.
'I was the American. Ernie was the South African. We took on anybody,' Woods said. 'And we got waxed.'
The made-for-TV exhibitions began in 1999 when Woods and Duval, at the time jockeying for No. 1 in the world, played at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Woods won, and the national rating was 6.9.
It moved to Bighorn under a three-year deal, and Garcia made a birdie putt on the final hole to beat Woods. That was highest national rating at 7.6.
'They've all been different,' Woods said. 'That's been the fun part to play in a special event like this. It's different every year, and it's a different challenge.'
The next challenge is finding something -- or someone -- that will give the ratings a boost. Either that, or giving Els and Woods a shot at revenge.
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, part of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward the back-right hole location, about 25 feet away, closer than both Fleetwood and Johnson.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back after the opening round. He tied for second here a year ago.
Johnson is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."