The ninth iteration of The Match was already running a little long. Then, after Rose Zhang poured in a short birdie putt to tie Max Homa on the 12th and final hole of the evening, it was about to run a little bit longer.

All it took after that, though, was one short wedge shot from Rory McIlroy, who locked up the skins game title by hitting one to two feet at The Park in West Palm’s par-5 18th. Below are our takeaways from a night where fun was had by (almost) all.

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The Park is awesome

Much smarter people than I have written about what makes this place so special, but once you get to see it in person it really hits home. It’s a literal playground for people of all ages. The putting course, which sits adjacent to the bar, is a spot I could see never leaving. But just a few yards away is a lit par-3 course AND a fully lit range. Then there’s the course itself, which has the same vibe and feel as every other Gil Hanse renovation has these days, and I mean that as a compliment. Big, wide, undulating fairways. Really cool greens with runoff areas that test every aspect of your short game. It even tested four of the world’s best in McIlroy, Homa, Zhang and Lexi Thompson, who didn’t have her best stuff but did manage to chip in for eagle at the drivable par-4 second. Awesome layout, awesome hang. I need to come back and actually experience it all rather than just tweet about it all.

Fun was had by (almost) all

During every one of these made-for-TV affairs, the usual suspects have to make it known that THEY AREN’T WATCHING. But because of the venue, more hardcore golf fans tuned in, and then they went after someone on the broadcast rather than the broadcast’s existence itself—DJ Khaled. “Who is he?” and “Why is he here?” they cried. To have fun. To make people smile. To bring in some eyeballs that would otherwise NEVER watch golf and are now tuned in on a freaking Monday night in primetime. It’s really not that deep, people. Add in Paul Bissonnette, AKA Biz, and you had a pair of electric personalities doing their best to bring some much-needed energy to the evening. As McIlroy said in the pre-Match press conference, these things are about experimenting and trying new things. Playing under the lights, having DJ Khaled and Biz team up in a cart, one-club challenges, etc. It’s not the Masters and nor does it have to be. And I promise you, this April, you will still have your Masters. On Monday night, Feb. 26, it’s OK to experiment.

Rory comes up clutch

Skins always turn into a math equation on the final hole, but no one needed a calculator to know that the final hole on Monday night was for everything. The carryovers meant McIlroy had to win or push, and when the push happened and they decided on a 100-yard wedge shot playoff, he was in danger of losing despite having a $600,000 lead over Lexi Thompson. Then he went first and stuffed one to two-and-a-half feet. Clutch. I speak for everyone when I say if Rory just pretends that the Masters is all for charity in a few weeks time, he might finally slip into a green jacket.

We almost lost Rose Zhang

I’ve written this exact sentence at least five to seven times before, but these events are quite hard to follow in person. Seemingly everyone inside the ropes has a cart but myself, and often times you feel in the way of the TV people trying to get from point A to point B. In fact, my left forearm took a fierce shot from somebody’s camera. Little did I know Zhang almost suffered a way worse fate:

Chaotic scenes. That was way, way too close for comfort. Fortunately, she’ll be able to stay on this schedule now:

What an animal. And this is after we heard she arrived at the course at NOON to begin practising. For an exhibition match. In fairness, she said she hadn’t been on the course in a month and was clearly a little bit nervous. But the swing held up well. She is the leading mayoral candidate of TempoTown, USA.

More under the lights, more LPGA/PGA Tour crossovers

As McIlroy said, these matches are little “labs” to experiment with. Clearly, the under-the-lights experiment is working. The visuals are very tough to beat and this match in particular was so well lit you could follow the ball all the way through the night sky to the point it first landed. This time of year at night in Florida is also as peak weather as it gets. As for the competitors, the LPGA-PGA Tour crossover might need to be the move going forward. I’ve never been a hater of the NFL/NBA players, but the golf is not exactly quality. People want to see very good golf shots at very good courses, and this edition of The Match checked both those boxes.

Main image: Cliff Hawkins

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