Live golf returns to Sky Sports this Sunday courtesy of the TaylorMade Driving Relief skins game, featuring four of the most exciting players in the world.
That might sound like the beginning of a press release from the sponsors themselves, but it really is true: Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson are behemoths of the sport, Rickie Fowler has always been an electrifying player to watch, and there is perhaps no youngster who embodies raw, athletic potential more than Matthew Wolff.
TaylorMade Driving Relief: In brief
- When: Sunday May 17, 7pm BST
- Where: Seminole Country Club
- Who: McIlroy & Johnson v Fowler & Wolff
- Format: Best-ball skins game
- Television: Sky Sports Golf
It's a shame in some respects that the teams aren't lined up differently, McIlroy being paired with Johnson and Wolff with Fowler. At this stage, many of us would've gladly tuned in to watch J.B. Holmes and Ben Crane versus Bryson DeChambeau and Andrew Loupe, but I still would've liked to see McIlroy join up with Wolff or Fowler rather than Johnson.
That perceived imbalance leaves us with McIlroy and DJ installed as odds-on favourites at around the 2/5 mark. Those backing the underdogs can pin hopes to Fowler's course knowledge, as well as the inherent volatility of the format which might be exacerbated by competitive rust.
Skins best-ball. In other words, whoever scores lowest on a hole wins that 'skin' for their team. If it is a tie between the two teams, that skin rolls over to the next hole. That in theory means a team can win the match despite winning fewer holes, and with the final two worth so much, that is certainly true here.
As you can see above, holes vary in value and there are bonuses awarded along the way. Importantly, those bonuses for long drive, birdies and eagles do not count towards the main total. In other words, if you are having a bet you’re betting on the skins game and nothing more (unless otherwise stated by your bookmaker).
Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson
Put simply, the two best players of the decade just gone and therefore one of the most formidable partnerships it's possible to create. Still, there's no denying that as McIlroy has ascended to the very top of the sport once more, Johnson has been going the other way. He's currently fifth in the world and falling, and while this is no Spiethian spiral, fifth is nonetheless Johnson's worst position since 2016. Perhaps the break has come at a good time as he looks to get back to his best, though we'll learn little about that here.
As for McIlroy, what else is there to say beyond the obvious: his golf over the last year has been the best in the world by a margin. Some believe that these two are only held back by their mentality or at least some kind of mental glitch (I am not one of these people), and if you do buy into that it's hard to look beyond them in a relaxed, free-flowing game which should give both licence to fire at will.
McIlroy: I jumped at the chance to do this. With everything that's happened over the past few months, to be able to get together (and) raise money for the frontline workers, the people who are fighting this virus every day, I'm very honoured I can be a small part of it. Selfishly, I'm excited to get back on the golf course again. Dustin and I will have a lot of fun together and our games will fit well. It'll be a tough game. One of the cool things about this, this is the first time Seminole is ever going to be on TV.
Johnson: I’m really excited to team up with Rory and to get back out on the golf course. Seminole is a great venue and it will be cool to show it to the world through this event. I’m sure Rickie and Matthew will be ready for us, but hopefully Rory and I can take them and help generate a lot of money and support for charities and those affected most by COVID-19. Seminole is such a special place. Fortunately for us, we live right down the street from it; it's a course I've played quite a few times. You think 'I should tear this place up' (but) I always struggle there.
Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff
Fowler continues to be simultaneously a popular twitter joke and one of the most popular players around. Like Johnson, he struggled for form and fitness at the end of 2019, and his own world ranking (27th) is now the worst it has been since he climbed to that spot at the 2014 US Open. Again in echoes of Johnson, coach and swing changes have apparently not helped and though he began the year with back-to-back top-10 finishes, an opening 76 at the PLAYERS underscores his inconsistency.
Wolff started much better there, faring best of this quartet with an excellent round of 69. It was a welcome step forward from a player who hasn't managed a full-field top-20 finish since his first start of the wraparound season. In fact in 17 professional starts, he has just one top-10: that thrilling victory in the 3M Open last summer. Perhaps the biggest factor in their favour is Fowler's experience of Seminole, the sort of Ross design on which he's thrived in the past. He's reportedly played it more than the other three combined and is friends with a number of members.
Fowler: We share a lot of similarities - both grown up in California, making our way to Oklahoma State, and here we are. Matt's just getting his start, but he's an impressive ball-striker; he has plenty of speed, and he has more there when he needs it or wants it. I can't overpower him. I'll try and use my wisdom and my years - we'll be working together here. Matt and I are going into this as underdogs - we're ready to bring the upset.
Wolff: It's been really helpful (Fowler's guidance). He came back for homecoming and we just kind of clicked right off the bat. I feel like he's tried to help me out any way he could. One of the first tournaments I played, he gave me a tip - conserve your energy - and it's just nice to have a guy like Rickie, who's been out there for a while, look after me. It's going to be nice to have him on the team. Everything's happening really quickly, but it's a really good opportunity. With DJ and Rory being a team of two number ones, it's pretty intimidating, but anyone can beat anyone on any given day, especially in a skins game.
Seminole Country Club, a revered Donald Ross design in Jupiter, Florida. The course will be appearing on television for the first time, something of a precursor to next year's Walker Cup. Much of its reputation comes from the idea that it is easy enough for a high handicapper to play and enjoy, but hard enough to really challenge a professional. Its routing is particularly famous, echoing courses far away from Florida; some say the constant shifting of wind direction resembles Muirfield.
Couple all that with Ross's classic flourishes and lightning-fast greens, and it's something to look forward to having consistently ranked among the USA's best layouts.
How to watch
Sky Sports coverage begins at 7pm on Sunday evening, after a re-run of the final day of the 2004 Ryder Cup. All 18 holes will be shown live and you would hope we might even see every single shot. There will also be coverage via the PGA Tour's social media channels.
Worldwide, NBC, GOLF Channel, NBCSN, and other PGA TOUR global media partners will broadcast the event.
McIlroy and Johnson are playing for the American Nurses Foundation with Fowler and Wolff playing for the CDC Foundation. Both charities will receive money from the $3million prize fund and $1million bonus pool as both teams begin the event with a fixed amount which they can only add to.
More golf from Sporting Life
- Behind the data: Major expectations
- Talking Golf: Sarah Stirk
- Talking Golf: Nick Dougherty
- Talking Golf: Richard Kaufman
- Talking Golf: Sean Martin
- Shocks of the decade: 20-11
- Shocks of the decade: 10-1
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