Four marquee players from different regions of the world teed it up Monday for a little skins competition at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Japan, and when it was all done, the most unexpected member of the quartet walked away with the big prize.
Jason Day topped Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama at the inaugural The Challenge: Japan Skins, pocketing $210,000 of a $350,000 purse and bragging rights for a highly contrived but still enjoyable event.
The format for this showdown was standard skins material: the first six holes were worth $10,000; the next six, $15,000; $20,000 for holes 13 through 17; and finishing with a cool $100,000 for the 18th hole. Players had to win the hole outright, otherwise the total rolled over to the next hole.
Day won the 17th and 18th, part of his run of eight skins scattered across the course. Woods finished second with six skins and $60,000. McIlroy won $60,000 for five skins, and Matsuyama got onto the board with one skin worth $20,000.
The Challenge was, in part, a promotion for the Zozo Championship, a new PGA Tour event taking place at the same course later this week. But beyond that, there was more than a little gimmickry involved. On the fourth hole, the players could choose which of two separate greens to approach after hitting their tee shot. On the seventh, each player joined with a rugby player in town for the Rugby World Cup for a one-hole scramble. And on the par-5 14th, each player had to play the entire hole with just one club. (Day won the skin with a 6-iron.)
This marked Woods’ first on-course appearance since surgery on his knee a couple months ago, and it took him a few holes to get into the swing of the match.
“I did not play well at the beginning,” he said. “I hit a lot of bad shots and did not putt well. Once I got into the flow of competing and feeling the round, it just got exciting. We were competitive, the banter was great, the back and forth.”
McIlroy, meanwhile, answered a question about his thoughts on Brooks Koepka’s declaration that McIlroy wasn’t a rival:
Back in the olden days of golf, skins games pairing big names were classic late-year TV material — most often over Thanksgiving weekend — and nobody took any of it too seriously. Woods has now played in seven skins events, for instance, and has won exactly zero.
“He hasn’t won one yet, so I’ve got that on him, which is good,” Day laughed after the match.
Made-for-TV golf events tend to be cringeworthy plods — see the Tiger/Phil match last Thanksgiving — and there were plenty of lackadaisical holes and bits of forced “conversation” in The Challenge that fit that category. But what The Challenge showed is that there is potential in this format, specifically by spreading the competition out over four people. One or two multimillionaires don’t much care if a putt for $10,000 goes in. But put a guy in the mix who’s burning for a little competition, as Day was, and it lights a fire under the rest of the quartet.
Woods will be a part of these made-for-TV spectacles for some time going forward, and that’s fine — he’s the biggest draw in the game. But if the PGA Tour wants to grow its reach, and give some of its deep bench of stars some more airtime, it’ll rotate in the cast of characters throwing down with Woods every so often. Anything golf can do to broaden attention past the majors is a worthwhile endeavor, and a Skins Challenge fits right into that category.
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