It was a welcome sight.
Live sports on television after the coronavirus crisis has robbed us of them for the better part of the past two months.
Live golf seen on TV at Seminole Golf Club, an American treasure that most of the world has never seen because of its exclusivity, tucked into Juno Beach, Fla., an exclusive enclave alongside the Atlantic Ocean.
Until Sunday’s TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins match to raise millions of dollars for COVID-19 aid, the last professional golf seen on TV was the first round of The Players Championship before the tournament was suddenly canceled on March 12.
That was 66 days ago.
So, the mere sight of Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff playing together was a treat.
That fact that they were playing for a cause — raising a total of $5,503,959 million for COVID-19 relief — was an added bonus.
And the sight of the four stars carrying their own bags — without caddies — and playing in shorts made it all even more cool. It made them look a bit like the rest of us who may have played this weekend in the welcoming warm New York Metro-area weather … minus the combined $155 million in career PGA Tour earnings the four have won.
On paper, the competition looked like a gross mismatch.
McIlroy is ranked No. 1 in the world and has 18 career wins, including four major championships. His partner, Johnson, is a former world No. 1 who has 20 PGA Tour wins, including one major championship.
Fowler has five PGA Tour wins and his partner, Wolff, is in his first year on tour and has one win.
For those scoring at home, that was 38 career wins, including five majors, versus six wins and no majors.
Paul Azinger, one of the NBC color commentators, reported at the beginning of the match that the latest betting line he saw required gamblers to lay out $22 to win $10 if their money was on McIlroy and Johnson.
Fowler, with a birdie barrage in the middle of the round (four in six holes), appeared to be carrying him and Wolff to victory. But a back-nine stretch of halved holes — Nos. 13 through 18 — ended in a $1.1 million carryover. So, the players were sent back to the par-3 17th, playing the up tees at 120 yards in a closest-to-the-pin tiebreaker.
Wolff went first and stuffed a shot fairly close. McIlroy, hitting last, dropped one just inside of Wolff and earned him and Johnson the final $1.1 million. That allowed the favorites to out-earn the underdogs, $1.85 million to $1.15 million in the skins competition. The United Health Group also put up $3 million, and viewers donated more than $1 million.
“I wouldn’t be known for my wedge play,’’ said McIlroy, smiling at the irony of the fact that his wedge play draws the most criticism of his game. “It was an awesome day — all of us out here for a great cause. It was nice to get back onto the golf course and get back to some sort of normalcy.’’
At the end of the day, there were no losers among the four players — regardless of how rusty they looked at times (Johnson, in particular, looked rustiest).
The real winners were the charities the players were competing for — Fowler and Wolff raising money for CDC Foundation and McIlroy and Johnson playing for the American Nurses’ Foundation. Wolff captured both of the long-drive side competitions (Nos. 2 and 14) to raise an added $450,000 in charity money.
“I’m proud to be a part of an event to entertain people at home on a Sunday, but to raise money for people who really need it,’’ McIlroy said.
The NBC broadcast of the unique event featured Mike Tirico anchoring from his home in Michigan, where he welcomed in Bill Murray on an awkward Skype chat and also spoke to President Donald Trump as the players neared the hallway point in the match.
“It’s about time,’’ Trump said of seeing live sports on TV. “It’s a wonderful thing to see. I’m getting a little tired of watching 10-year-old golf tournaments where you know who won. It’s so good to see these great players playing. We want to get sports back. We miss sports in terms of the psyche of our country. We’re getting it back.’’
Not a moment too soon.
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