Rory McIlroy delivered the winning shot Sunday as live golf returned to television for a skins game that revealed plenty of rust and raised more than $5 million for COVID-19 relief funds.
McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, who had not won a skin since the sixth hole, had a chance to win the final six skins worth $1.1 million on the final hole at Seminole in the TaylorMade Driving Relief exhibition. Both missed, and they returned to the par-3 17th for a closest-to-the-pin contest.
From a forward tee at 120 yards, Matthew Wolff was 18 feet below the hole. His partner, Rickie Fowler, missed the green. Johnson found a bunker. Down to the last shot, McIlroy barely stayed on the shelf left of the pin, measured at 13 feet.
“Air five,” McIlroy said, alluding to the social distancing in place at Juno Beach, Florida.
The final carryover gave McIlroy and Johnson $1.85 million for the American Nurses Foundation. Fowler, who made seven birdies, and Wolff made $1.15 million for the CDC Foundation.
“I’m proud to be part of an event to entertain people at home on a Sunday afternoon and to raise money for people who need it,” McIlroy said as he played the 18th hole.
Wolff, a 21-year-old Californian with big game and plenty of swagger, earned $450,000 for relief funds by having the longest drives on two par-5s — 356 yards on No. 2 and 368 yards on No. 14.
Fowler’s seven birdies were worth $270,000 in a separate fund from Farmers Insurance, while McIlroy made four birdies in regulation worth $175,000 and Wolff had three birdies for $135,000. Johnson, who showed the most rust, had two birdies for $75,000.
PGA Tour Charities allowed for online donations during the telecast and raised more than $1 million. The donations will continue until Tuesday. When the exhibition ended, more than $5.5 million had been pledged, starting with the $3 million guarantee from UnitedHealth Group.
Players carried their own bags.
In a telephone interview during the match on NBC, President Donald Trump called the return of golf and sports in general “important in terms of the psyche of our country.”
Television had a skeleton crew on the grounds. The play-by-play and analysts were 200 miles away in St. Augustine, Florida, and host Mike Tirico was at his home office in Michigan. The match went more than four hours, primarily because players were at times held in place to give the six TV cameras time to get in position on the next hole.
Mark Russell, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competition, was the only one to handle the flagstick. Bunkers didn’t need to be raked because this was the only match on the course, which closed for the summer last week.
“It was an awesome day,” McIlroy said. “It was nice to get back on the golf course and get back to some sort of normalcy.”
The players wore microphones, though the banter was limited and ended early.
Most of it came from McIlroy, who had to make a short birdie putt on the second hole to match Wolff’s birdie. He rolled it in and said to Wolff, “I think you forget I’ve won two FedEx Cups that total $25 million. That doesn’t faze me, youngster.”
Fowler played the best golf and staked his side to the lead with four birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn, including a 20-footer on No. 11 that was worth two skins at $200,000. He raised his finger, and McIlroy said, “Did you hear all those cheers?” There were no fans, and fewer than 50 people were at Seminole. All were tested for the coronavirus.
That was the start of golf’s return. The last live competition on TV was March 12, the first round of The Players Championship. It was canceled the next day, along with other tournaments that were scrapped or postponed.
Next up is another exhibition match on May 24 down the road at Medalist, where Tiger Woods plays when home. Woods and Peyton Manning will face Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in a match billed as “Champions for Charity” that will raise $10 million for COVID-19 relief efforts.
The real golf show is to return on June 11, with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. The tour has said it will not allow fans for at least a month, perhaps longer depending on how it goes. Players will have access to charter flights and a designated hotel.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.