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Benson: Tiger Woods taking MJ's spot for our Sunday viewing pleasure
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Benson: Tiger Woods taking MJ's spot for our Sunday viewing pleasure

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Woods Mickelson Match

Tiger Woods, left, and Phil Mickelson share a laugh on the 11th tee box while playing a practice round for the Masters in April 2018 at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. Woods and Mickelson will play with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a charity match for COVID-19 relief efforts Sunday in Florida.

Michael Jordan was just what we needed the last five weeks. "The Last Dance" was must viewing for a sports-deprived nation.

Kids who never saw Jordan play were treated to his exploits. Those of us who remembered those electrifying days were delighted to relive them, especially being cooped up in our houses because of a global pandemic we never thought possible.

ESPN is trying to capitalize on the momentum — and mega ratings — that "The Last Dance" provided. This Sunday, in place of Jordan and the 1998 Bulls, at 8 p.m. will come a two-part documentary on disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Not a chance on my TV. 

Jordan wasn't the perfect human being, either. He had things that put his image and reputation down a couple notches and, frankly, weren't really covered in "The Last Dance." What Jordan never did, though, was cheat the public in competition.

The same weaknesses could be said — even more so on the personal side — are there for Tiger Woods. Thankfully, the all-time golfing great is making a return, too, just when his presence is vital.

Woods and Phil Mickelson will be joined by football stars Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in "The Match: Champions for Charity." The $10 million exhibition for COVID-19 relief, with Woods pairing with Manning and Mickelson taking Brady, occurs at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe South, Florida, and will be televised by TNT, TBS and truTV.

Woods Mickelson Match

Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, and retired Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will participate in a star-powered foursome Sunday. “The Match: Champions for Charity” will be a televised exhibition featuring Tiger Woods and Manning against Phil Mickelson and Brady. 

There figures to be more ribbing and trash talking than last week's return to televised golf when Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson beat Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in another exhibition.

It was cool to see those PGA Tour guys carrying their own bags. Got a feeling you won't get Tiger and Phil doing that.

Woods is much like Jordan. They belong in a class of their own on the Sports Mount Rushmore. It used to be that way with Muhammad Ali, too. They demanded our attention every time they got on the stage because you were never quite sure if something spectacular would happen or it was the final time we would see their greatness.

We had all thought there was no "last dance" for Woods. His body was breaking down by numerous injuries, and his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' major championship record of 18 was going to fall four short.

Like Jordan, Woods shouldn't have been counted out. After back surgery, he came back strong in 2018, holding the lead on the back nine of The Open Championship and nearly winning the PGA Championship in St. Louis. 

Then came last spring. Woods stared down the opposition again and captured the Masters, his first major title in 11 years. 

Woods may never win another major. His aching back began acting up again earlier this year, forcing him to take a break. The pandemic might have helped Woods' golf game, though. We'll find out Sunday afternoon.

Either way, seeing Tiger talk smack with Mickelson, Brady and Manning will be worth it. Charles Barkley is on the broadcast crew, which should make the dialogue even more enjoyable.

Now, if we can only get MLB back on the field.


Jim Benson's favorite stories from 2019

Sports reporter Jim Benson picks some memorable writes from this year. From covering the Illinois State basketball team to a golf professional retiring after being in the Bloomington-Normal Community for 28 seasons to a wonderful tribute to a devoted Normal West fan to Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy supporting the local Red Cross, 2019 was full of a little bit of everything. Thanks for reading. 

Illinois State basketball player Keyshawn Evans wanted Melinda and Wes Johnson, his "surrogate" parents in Normal, with him on Senior Day alon…

Contact Jim Benson at jbenson@pantagraph.com.

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