After a grueling week of play at the U.S. Open, the Payne’s Valley Cup exhibition at Tiger Woods’ new course design in Missouri — also entitled Payne’s Valley — was a nice reprieve and an enjoyable five hours from four of the best players in the world. Woods and Justin Thomas beat Europeans Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy in a faux Ryder Cup-style match that featured six holes of four-ball, six of alternate shot and seven of singles play that was capped by a closest-to-the-pin competition with two all-time greats — Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player — at the closing hole.
McIlroy and Rose got off to a hot start by winning the four-ball portion of the contest to take a 1-0 lead after six holes, but Woods and Thomas stormed back over the next six holes to notch a point of their own. In the singles, Woods and Rose were pitted against each other while McIlroy and Thomas recreated their 2018 Ryder Cup singles match. Rose turned it on and lit Woods up coming home after nearly making an ace at No. 16, but the best bit of the day belonged to McIlroy and Thomas.
McIlroy touched the lip on three of their holes, left a chip 1 inch from falling and birdied the 18th but somehow still J.T. by a hole going to the par-3 19th. Thomas could not stop laughing about his fortune, and at one point McIlroy joked that he was going to decline to give Thomas the ride home (think plane, not car) to Florida that Thomas was expecting.
Thomas birdied the 19th hole as the other four made par; the foursome teed it up next to Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player (that’s 48 majors on one tee box, if you’re counting) just for fun. That meant Rose beat Woods in their singles match and Thomas beat McIlroy 2 UP. The tiebreaker for the event, which ended 2-2, was whoever finished closest to the on the 19th, a cavernous hole surrounded by cliffs and water. J.T. was the winner there, which meant the Americans won overall.
The entire thing was a blast, and I’m not sure anyone really cared about the score. All four were trying to figure out who won when it was over. J.T. carried the day on television — as he often does — and Tiger’s first public course shined. It was a terrific encore to last week’s U.S. Open.
Throughout the round, we heard Rose and Woods talk about shafts, McIlroy and Thomas discuss pizza options (McIlroy is a Domino’s fan), and all four share a lot of intriguing banter that was neither trash talk nor forced. It was the perfect amalgamation for a mic’d up event like this one.
It was the last we’ll see of these stars for a few weeks, too. They’ll likely pop up in the middle of October for the events that were supposed to take place in Asia but are now being played in California and then the Masters in the middle of November.
It’s always a pleasure getting to watch this level of golf, even more so when we get to hear what players like these are thinking and why they do what they do (Rory explained why he put certain clubs in his bag for Winged Foot, for example). More of these four-man exhibitions would be great for golf and fun for everyone at home. And hey, if you pay close enough attention, you may even learn something from four of the best minds in the game today.