Written by Chris Kubala
It’s been a long road for sports since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down pro sports in North America in mid-March. We’re only now seeing things come back to some sense of normalcy with the return of UFC and NASCAR over the past week. The PGA Tour is still targeting a return to the course with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth on June 11, albeit it with no fans. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any golf action to enjoy and potentially put a wager on over the weekend however.
The TaylorMade Driving Relief match paired up world #1 player, Rory McIlroy with Dustin Johnson to square off with Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a match-play, skins game type format. In the tournament, the proceeds were going to charity as the McIlroy/Johnson team played for the American Nurses Foundation while the Fowler/Wolff duo were playing for the CDC Foundation. The match was televised on NBC and people were also able to donate to the coronavirus relief fund. All told, more than $5.5 million was raised for the relief fund, in addition to the $3 million purse that went to the aforementioned charities.
As it turned out, the match was a showdown that went right down to the wire to determine a winner. On a course that was in immaculate shape and that had less than 50 people on the course, including television personnel. Everyone in that limited group on the course were tested for COVID-19. Fittingly, in a made for TV event, things went down to a winner take all closest-to-the-pin contest from the tee of the par-3 17th hole, which took place from a forward tee of 120 yards. Wolff landed his shot within 18 feet of the hole while Fowler missed the green for his side. Johnson hit a bunker, leaving everything up to the #1 player in the world, McIlroy. As it turned out, he delivered, hitting left of the hole and ending up 13 feet short of the hole to come up with the victory. That skin was worth a hefty $1.1 million and determined the winner of the match. The teams had split the skins starting at the 12th hole on with both teams missing a chance to win on the 18th hole.
For the match, McIlroy and Johnson won 11 skins for a total of $1.85 million while Fowler and Wolff earned seven skins and $1.15 million. In a separate pool set up by Farmers Insurance for birdies, Fowler led the way with $270,000 earned while McIlroy had $175,000. Wolff added $135,000 while Johnson brought up the rear with $75,000 on his two birdies. Wolff earned an additional $450,000 for relief funds by claiming the longest drive on a pair of par-five holes. He blasted a 356-yard drive on the second hole and a 368-yard bomb on the 14th hole.
For those of you who were betting on the event, the McIlroy/Johnson team was a -220 favorite while the Fowler/Wolff duo was a +190 underdog. This was the primer for next week’s The Match: Champions for Charity, which is expected to be a ratings bonanza for TNT and TBS and raise $10 million for coronavirus relief. McIlroy may have summed it up best for anyone that is a fan of sports with his statement:
"It was an awesome day. It was nice to get back on the golf course and get back to some sort of normalcy."
There may not be a better way to put it than that.