Americans Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth dominated Tiger Woods and top-ranked Rory McIlroy on Saturday for a 3&2 victory in The Match, a made-for-TV night event.
World No 8 Thomas and 14th-ranked Spieth won three of the first four holes and combined for seven birdies in 10 holes to capture the 12-hole match-play exhibition at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida.
“It was awesome,” Spieth said. “What a cool experience. We got comfortable out there and made some birdies.”
Stars joked with each other in a relaxed atmosphere during the unique four-ball matchup.
“The joy of getting this does not match the joy of standing here with Tiger just being so upset,” Spieth said as all four players laughed.
The Match raised $2.6-million to benefit relief charities for Hurricane Ian, which struck the region earlier this year.
“We were able to do something under the lights that hadn’t happened before in our sport, to grow it in a different way,” Woods said. “And people who got devastated by Hurricane Ian, we were able to create a lot more funds to help them regrow back here.”
Woods, a 15-time Major winner who shares the record of 82 PGA Tour titles with Sam Snead, had played only nine rounds this year while recovering from severe leg injuries suffered in a 2021 car crash.
The casual setting marked the first competitive golf for Woods since he missed the cut at the Open in July at St Andrews.
“I haven’t hit a golf ball in about two-and-a-half weeks so this should be interesting,” Woods said before the start.
Woods, who turns 47 later this month, skipped last week’s Hero World Challenge invitational that he hosts in the Bahamas due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
All four used golf carts and no caddies in The Match, which offered such challenges as hitting tee shots out of their own shadows.
Woods said his son Charlie, whom he will play alongside in a father-son event next week, has outdriven him.
“He finally did it a few weeks ago,” Woods said. “I spun one, he tomahawked one and got me.”
McIlroy, a four-time Major winner from Northern Ireland, captured the Tour Championship and his third FedEx Cup playoff crown in August and defended his CJ Cup title in October for his 23rd PGA victory.
“I did have fun,” McIlroy said. “I would have had a little more fun if we hadn’t been beaten. Hopefully, it’s not the last match that I play.”
Spieth, a three-time Major champion, and Thomas, who won his second PGA Championship in May at Southern Hills, combined to go 4-0 in pairs matches at September’s Presidents Cup and are 8-2 together in Ryder and Presidents Cups.
Under a full moon, Thomas rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt to win the 2nd hole and Spieth curled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-three 3rd for a 2-up lead.
At the 4th, each player could use only one club. Thomas used a 5-wood and plunked his approach into a golf cart left of the green, then rolled the ball to six feet and sank a par putt to win the hole for a 3-up edge.
“I’ve never felt more uncomfortable over a putt in my life,” Thomas said.
McIlroy rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt to win the 615-yard par-five 7th when Thomas missed from 12 feet.
Thomas answered with a 12-foot birdie putt to win the par-three 8th and restore the duo’s 3-up lead.
After McIlroy made a five-foot birdie putt at the par-four 10th, Spieth matched him from six feet to tie the hole and win the match.
© Agence France-Presse