There’s no doubt that the format suits McIlroy’s aggressive go-for-broke style of play. “I’m a huge fan of the skins format. I love the way it rewards attacking play and think it suits my game quite well.
The ‘Skins’ are back. And no one’s surprised that Tiger Woods will be part of the winner-takes-all format. So will Rory McIlroy. Throw in Jason Day for good measure, and while you’re at it, get the local favourite—Hideki Matsuyama—too. That mix works: especially since you’re doing this in Japan—golf crazy Japan; lots-of-money-to-spend-on-golf Japan. The PGA Tour has seen the future brothers. It’s in Asia.
For those who may not know, the ‘Skins’ format is basically the pros doing what we rank amateurs do every weekend; a standard Nassau which involves a specific amount of money up for grabs on every hole: if the hole is tied, then the prize money snowballs to the next hole, and so forth, until someone wins a hole. It’s a gripping format, both for players, and in this case, those watching. If there ever was a format made for television, then this is it. This event, coming at the end of the regular season on the PGA Tour, has being billed as ‘The Challenge,’: right along the lines of ‘The Match,’—a similar one-on-one event between Woods and arch-rival Phil Mickelson that took place a few months back. That pay-per-view event was stitched together by GolfTv—Discovery Inc’s OTT channel and app—that’s positioned as a one-stop platform for golf programing from around the world. ‘The Challenge,’ which will be played on October 21, is the channel’s latest salvo to push its offerings and drive viewership.
According to a report in Associated Press, ‘The Challenge,’ will have a total purse of $350,000; most holes will be worth $10,000 or $20,000 while the 18th hole will be worth $100,000. Now, by no means is that a lot of money for the dramatis personae on this stage: Woods, McIlRoy, Maruyama, and Day play for way more that, week-in and-out on the PGA Tour. For Woods though, the participation is likely part of the 12-year, $2 billion deal that he inked with GolfTv last year that involves the golfer contributing exclusive content to the channel that’s broadcast to over 220 countries around the world. The icing on the cake, for the PGA Tour at least, is that all four golfers will headline the Tour’s first event in Japan—the ZOZO Championship—that will be held at the same venue as ‘The Challenge’—the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan, the following week.
Woods hasn’t teed it up since the BMW Championship last month, and not played in Japan since 2006. “I haven’t played a skins format in quite some time, so it will be fun to try something a little different and add a few strategic elements as we compete,” Woods quoted in a press release. “There has always been some friendly banter between us, and that will continue until we get to the first tee.” McIlRoy, the reigning FedEx Champion, who edged out Brooks Koepka last week to win the PGA Tour Player of the Year, will be making his debut in a televised exhibition match. “There are so many fun elements to the challenge that will have me wanting to take home that title – playing with Hideki on his home turf, Tiger coming back to Japan with a green jacket,” said the Ulsterman. “The motivation is certainly there for me, and I’m a huge fan of the skins format. I love the way it rewards attacking play and think it suits my game quite well.”
In addition to the Skins, the 18-hole event—that is expected to finish under floodlights—will also feature ‘special in-match challenges.’ “This is our opportunity to think outside the box,” said Alex Kaplan, president and general manager of Discovery Golf. “We’ll put guys in different situations, and it will be a surprise to them what they are. There’s going to be some fun tweaks these guys aren’t used to.” McIlroy, for one, is relishing the challenge. “There are so many fun elements to ‘The Challenge’ that will have me wanting to take home that title—playing with Hideki on his home turf, Tiger coming back to Japan with a green jacket—the motivation is certainly there for me,” said the four-time major winner McIlroy.
There’s no doubt that the format suits McIlroy’s aggressive go-for-broke style of play. “I’m a huge fan of the skins format. I love the way it rewards attacking play and think it suits my game quite well. Any time I can go directly at pins to try and make birdies and eagles, I think it puts me at an advantage. The other fun thing about skins is how you find yourself rooting for the other guys if you’re not in a position to win the hole. You’re hoping they can tie with someone else so you can play for that skin on the next hole. With the skins format, you’re always in it until the end.” But the real edge, or pressure, depending on how he responds to the challenge, will be on Matsuyama. The prospect of a Japanese winner, besting three of the best players on the planet, on home ground, is likely to draw huge galleries for the exhibition match. “I’ll be grateful for all the support from the fans in Japan, but with the popularity of Tiger, Rory and Jason, I know they’ll also be strongly supported wherever they play. It’s amazing to have these great champions playing in Japan,” Matsuyama said with typical grace—a cardinal rule of social etiquette in Japan. It’ll be great to watch them too.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game