Tiger, Phil, Peyton, Tom: $20 million and a ton of rain

© Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

“Like throwing a little swing pass to the running back.” That was Phil Mickelson, coach Phil, giving advice to partner Tom Brady, before Brady had a little chip shot only a few people not named Phil Mickelson could hope to execute.

And before Brady a while later holed a shot from the fairway — and split his pants. Never mind fixing my swing. Get a needle and thread.

Did we mention Tiger Woods, who deserves being mentioned whatever he’s doing — and who Sunday, in a return to what some say was golf but was more a celebrity showdown, seemed completely recovered from the back injury that in March kept him from the final tournaments before all sport was halted?

There was Charles Barkley jabbering, Peyton Manning jabbing and donations pouring in as steadily as the rain pouring down. Another event to raise money for COVID-19 funds. But not just another event.

Which certainly is part of the reason the match, Champions for Charity at the Medalist Golf Club, Tiger’s home course on Hobe Sound in Florida, raised more than $20 million — half of which came from pledges by the four players and Warner Media prior to the start.

Serious? You mean Masters or U.S. Open serious? No way. But with live sports and needed donations keeping us attentive on a Sunday afternoon, it was serious and joyful.

As golf and indeed all sports are meant to be: tumultuous merriment, according to the definition by the late Heywood Hale Broun.

Tiger and Peyton finished as 1-up winners, thus gaining a measure of retribution from that lifeless match last winter in Las Vegas, in which Mickelson beat Woods. That was strictly for TV. So, to be sure, was this but only because of the restrictions imposed by the virus.

Justin Thomas, a PGA champion, was out there for commentary, both insight and insults; he went to Alabama and Barkley, involved because he’s with Turner broadcasting, which carried the match, went to rival Auburn.

The way Arnold Palmer was more camera- and crowd-friendly than Jack Nicklaus — Frank Deford once wrote that Jack was nothing more than the clubs he pulled from his bag — so is Mickelson different from Woods. Phil waves at fans (or did before COVID-19). Tiger looks at what must be accomplished.

Pro golf needs both, as it needs four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, who phoned in Sunday with a large donation, Rory McIlroy and other stars. Golf is a sport of personalities, of recognition.

You want to raise $20 million for charity, you bring together Tiger and Phil, and Manning and Brady, a blending of 20 majors and eight Super Bowl wins. Is that enough?

Perhaps not for those who want our games to be more than a glamorous exhibition, unique as it might be. But we must be patient. Three weeks ago, we didn’t even have this much.

Mickelson, who will be 50 in mid-June, never has lacked for humor, at others’ expense. Back when he was an amateur playing overseas, he hit into the gallery and later observed, “I thought these Irish lasses are supposed to be pretty.” Yuk, yuk.

He’s a master at needling opponents, especially in a setting such as Sunday’s, where the only thing at stake among four of the most famous sportsmen in the United States was ego.

Take away the fancy golf carts — no caddies permitted, no fans allowed — and despite reputations and honors, these were four guys at play, missing a shot or two in awful weather but not missing many chances to use a zinger.

The two pros and Manning wore shorts. Brady, maybe because he just left the Patriots and joined the Tampa Bay Bucs, wore trousers. Tom has played in the AT&T Pebble Beach with his dad, Tom Sr. Manning and brother Eli also have been in the AT&T.

As Woods walked to the first tee at the Medalist, the rain, which had quieted, fell heavily once more, and one of observers said to Tiger, “You live here. What do you do in conditions like this?”

Woods answered, “I don’t normally play in conditions like this.”

He did Sunday, as did Mickelson, Brady and Manning. It was wet, wild and — for both for sports and charity — a memorable, if soggy afternoon.

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