TAKEAWAYS FROM THE MATCH II

For sports fans, 'The Match II' was a sight for sore eyes

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for The Match.

I'm not the biggest golf fan. I'll watch the majors. I'll watch Tiger Woods play if he is in contention at a tournament but for the most part, there are plenty of other sports I would watch before I would sit down and watch golf for five hours. We are all struggling to find compelling live programming due to COVID-19, especially compelling live sports programming. The biggest storyline in sports the last 5 weeks has been watching The Last Dance on ESPN featuring Michael Jordan and 1997-1998 Bulls. As fun as that was, reacting to a story that ended 23 years ago is not what the typical sports fan was hoping to watch during the prime sports months of the spring.

However, everything changed on Sunday with The Match II: Champions for Charity. A fantastic event that Turner and Capital One put together at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida to raise money to combat the ongoing virus. Instead of Tiger and Phil playing against each other as they did in 2018's first installment of The Match, they would go against each other with a legendary QB playing with each of them. The storylines were there for The Match. Tiger Woods playing with Peyton Manning and Phil Mickelson playing with Tom Brady. Superstar athletes that all sports fans respect regardless of sport.

The most recent charity golf outing, The TaylorMade Driving Relief skins game, featuring Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Matt Wolff didn't keep my attention. If you are a hard core golf fan, I'm sure that you loved watching those guys play but to the casual sports fan, the game of golf needs Tiger Woods or Phil Micklelson playing to get a big rating. While there was undoubtedly star power when you have Dustin Johnson and Rory Mcllroy playing, The Match featuring four sports legends felt like a way bigger event of a higher magnitude.

The expectation coming in was that we as fans watching at home would get to hear the players mic'd up, talking trash, and having fun. However, until you actually see a plan like that executed it felt as if many people were skeptical especially after the first Match was negatively impacted due to technical issues. TNT took a chance and made the broadcast so enjoyable. The booth of Brian Anderson, Trevor Immelman and Charles Barkley, with Amanda Balionis and Justin Thomas as on-course reporters had a great balance of golf analysis and plenty of laugh out loud moments. Brian Anderson is as smooth as any top-notch broadcaster out there and anything Charles Barkley says can go viral at any given moment. Justin Thomas has a future in broadcasting whenever he decides to stop dominating the PGA Tour. Despite horrendous weather throughout, TNT did a remarkable job keeping the broadcast on the air.

Charles Barkley's mouth even helped create the moment of the entire match. As Brady struggled mightily on the front nine, getting roasted on social media by everyone for finally not being great at something, Barkley told Brady he wanted to challenge him sometime on the course. Things changed on the 7th fairway for Brady as he found himself standing over an approach shot. With Barkley's challenge in mind, he flew a wedge just a few yards past the pin, spinning it back into the cup for a birdie. It was one of the most impressive shots any golfer can have let alone an amateur playing with two of the all-time greats with millions of sports deprived fans watching. Brady telling Barkley to, "Shut your mouth, Chuck. Take a little of that medicine" was laugh out loud funny

Both the amateurs held up well with the pros. Give Tom Brady credit for getting things together after a rough start that even featured the 6x Super Bowl winner splitting his pants as he and Mickelson really challenged Woods and Manning late and nearly pulled off a big comeback after trailing 3-0. It felt like Brady was struggling worse than Johnny Drama was when he used Brady's clubs during a season 6 episode of Entourage. Manning's tongue in cheek dry humor made him highly entertaining the entire afternoon. From ribbing Brady about Bill Belichick, Eli Manning and Nick Foles, to laughing at his own expense, it is easy to see why Peyton remains one of the most likable athletes ever.

The pros held up their end of the bargain. Tiger Woods didn't miss a fairway. His swing looked sharp and he moved around well. It's unclear when we will see the 15x major winner play next but when we do we are all going to watch. Phil Mickelson was steady throughout and kept him and Brady in the match after Woods and Manning grabbed the lead early. Mickelson provided all of us at home with a bunch of free golf lessons. It was fascinating to see him try to teach Tom Brady where to putt the ball on the greens.

The collection of epic moments, awesome golf shots, and finally a live and competitive sports competition helped The Match become a major success. TNT says it was the most watched golf event in cable TV history. From 5:45 PM - 6 PM Eastern, the broadcast peaked with 6.3 million viewers.

Sports fans are starved for content and it certainly helps when the content was as interesting as The Match II lived up to be. How about the next time they play, we get Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan against Phil Mickelson and LeBron James for The Match III? You know that Michael will be ready to gamble. I can't wait to see the hot takes about that foursome...

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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