Tour Confidential: Who is golf's next real No. 1 player? Plus, Trump vs. Hack Golf and whether golf misses Tiger too much
Every Sunday night, Golf.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. Before the Players Championship, four players had a chance to supplant Tiger Woods as World No. 1: Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar However, Gary Van Sickle wrote this week that a “real No. 1 player in the world is someone with staying power, someone we could take a long-term look at and say yes, he’s definitely the best player for the next five years.” Who has the best chance to be that player? Is Players champion Martin Kaymer or Jordan Spieth a candidate?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): It's still Rory. He's in a little bit of a funk and still top-tenning almost every week. History has shown that when he gets hot he gets really hot, and stays that way for a while. I think he's gonna put it all together this summer and begin a long run at number one.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Bubba has long-lasting superstar potential, strictly in terms of talent. You just wonder if he can take the grind long-haul. Kooch seems to be able to handle the grind -- if he can close just a little more reliably, he'd get my vote. In fact, he still gets my vote. He just seems to be in the hunt every week. Good for Kaymer, but he's still too fragile. Spieth? He's awesome in every way...but he's still only got one win.
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Van Sickle makes a great point, but we're probably heading for a period like early 2011 when the top spot changes hands a few times over a short period. Doesn't mean the guys aren't worthy, but they're closely bunched, so it could take time to for someone to separate. In 2012, that guy was Rory. The next pro to run away with it might be Spieth, who just keeps steadily climbing. It could also be Tiger if he comes back healthy and strings together a few wins. Or, it could be Rory again. I think those are three most likely players to take No. 1 and stay for a while, but my guess is the ranking changes hands a few times this summer.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I reject the whole notion of a No. 1 player by any computerized formula. The best player in the game is for you to decide. Right now, I'm thinking about Kaymer, but Langer's in the running and Lydia Ko is, too. As for Adam Scott and, yes, Tiger Woods, attention must be paid. You can fight me on any of those names if that's your thing, but I am tired of all this e-noise. I'm trying to suggest you can decide for yourself. You don't need a computer or a finger in the air screaming, "We're No. 1." The joy of the professional game is what happens on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and especially on Sunday. That's enough. The rankings are a bore.
Mike Walker, assistant managing editor, Golf.com (@michaelwalkerjr): Adam Scott is mathematically inevitable to reach No. 1 sometime soon. We won’t see Tiger-like dominance from Scott, but he is consistent and once he gets to No. 1, he’s going to stay there awhile, even with the anchored-putting ban at the end of next year.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Bubba could major his way to the top spot for a while. I like Spieth, everyone likes Spieth, but he appears to need just a little more time. I wouldn't be surprised if whoever grabs the No. 1 ranking this year gives it back next year to a rejuvenated, healthier and refreshed Tiger Woods. It's going to be a fun battle, I think.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): At this very moment, on some dying planet orbiting a red sun, some doomed, Jor-El-like figure might be stuffing his newborn son into a capsule and dispatching him towards Earth. That boy may have the combination of talent, drive and mental toughness required to dominate golf over a span as long as five years. But I don’t see anyone out there now who does.
2. Justin Rose had to look at four different television monitors to determine if his ball had moved before being slapped with a two-stoke penalty following an incident at the 18th hole on Saturday. On Sunday, the Tour rescinded the penalty, citing the new 18-4 rule against penalizing a player if he couldn't discern with the naked eye that he did anything wrong. What did the Tour do right and what did it do wrong?
SHIPNUCK: They got it right in the end rescinding the penalty, but it was a long, torturous process. It certainly would have helped if the proper call had been made from the beginning. Bonus points to Rose for the class he showed throughout.
BAMBERGER: The Tour officials got it wrong on Saturday night and correct on Sunday morning, when they properly applied a new clause from a new rule. It's never too late to try to fix a wrong, unless the competition is over.
RITTER: Rose's ordeal illustrated the flaws in the rule. When he set up for his chip shot, he noticed his ball do something, which is why he quickly backed off while addressing it. Did it move or oscillate? The rules officials needed several supersonic slow-motion replays and an entire evening to think about it before deciding that HD technology was the only way to know for sure. So, they ruled that Rose saw something he couldn't see with his own eyes, even though that thing he couldn't see caused him to react immediately. Anyone else see a problem here? And if this happened on a Sunday and Rose lost by one, would he be declared a winner on Monday? To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Rose tried to get away with something. The problem is that this rule is written too subjectively, and it's now obvious we're heading for more trouble with it.
VAN SICKLE: The Tour didn't apply the new rule soon enough. That should've been an easy decision Saturday night. That said, this is the first time it's come up. This amounted to a dry run that should help in all future occurrences. It was trial and error. The right decision was arrived at, however, so no harm, no foul.
WALKER: The wheels of justice moved slower than Jim Furyk lining up a four-footer, but the Tour got the call right. You really couldn’t ask for a better case to demonstrate what the 18-4 rule means. The next time this comes up, the resolution will come a lot sooner.
PASSOV: The Tour did everything wrong -- and then everything right. Rose and Garcia consulted with each other, then looked at a big screen next to 18. That should have been the end of it. I'm not a big "protecting the field" guy. They should have applied the new 18-4 rule right away, regarding culpability and high-def. Someone should explain why they didn't rule that way from the start, but at least they got it right in the end.
SENS: They corrected an error because he shouldn’t have been penalized in the first place. Rose and his playing partner (Sergio Garcia) watched a video replay of the “incident” and neither was able to see the ball move. That should have been good enough under the current rule, methinks.
3. Tiger Woods checked in via his blog this week to say that his rehab is going well and he’s hoping to be back this summer, but he doesn’t know when he’ll actually return to competitive golf. Woods has missed time due to injury in the past. Why does his absence loom so large this season?
BAMBERGER: Woods's absence looms large because he has been, by far, the most compelling figure in golf for 20 years. If you aren't noting his absence or feeling it, you don't care about men's professional golf.
SHIPNUCK: Because this keeps happening, and he'll be 40 next year. We are all dying to see Tiger go on one last run and remind us that watching him at his best is among the most thrilling things ever in sport, but as his body continues to break down, it gets harder to believe that he'll recapture the magic.
VAN SICKLE: Funny, I didn't notice that Tiger and Phil were missing from The Players all weekend. Did you quit watching basketball when Michael Jordan retired or do you still like basketball? It was great fun watching Martin Kaymer try not to throw up on the final three holes. If you need Tiger to enjoy golf, maybe you don't actually like golf.
SENS: Tiger’s been absent in the past, but back then, we all pretty much assumed that he’d be back soon enough and dominating in his old entertaining ways. That certainty is gone. We’re now more keenly aware that Tiger is not forever, and that golf is a lot more interesting when he’s around.
PASSOV: Tiger's absence looms especially large this time around because so few stars have ascended to fill the void. There were what, like five straight Florida/Texas events where the proven star faded and a journeyman came through. If Phil, Rory and Adam were locking horns on a regular basis, we wouldn't be missing Tiger so much.
WALKER: I don’t really get it, but it’s not healthy. Woods hadn’t won the Masters in eight years but his absence there was all people were talking about until Saturday afternoon. Mickelson and McIlroy being nonfactors this season doesn’t help. More memorable finishes like Sunday at the Players, with that incredible putt by Kaymer on 17, will help.
RITTER: A single player can't fill Tiger's void, but no one has stepped up to become the new sheriff -- and the best rivalry on Tour is still Tiger vs. Jack's record. Phil hasn't clicked. Jimmy Walker's hot start has all but worn off. Spieth is rising but not there yet. Patrick Reed is, in fact, not currently in the top five. Bubba's your Player of the Year at the moment, but for now the season feels a little rudderless.
4. Donald Trump says efforts to attract new golfers like HackGolf’s 15-inch holes “bring the game down” and that golf needs to remain an “aspirational game.” HackGolf supporter and TaylorMade CEO Mark King says golf needs to experiment to bring in new players. Who’s right?
SHIPNUCK: They're both right. I like King's thinking that a 15-inch hole is great for beginners. I took my daughters, 10 and 8, to a putting green the other day and they were incredibly frustrated not being able to make putts, even from two or three feet. A bigger cup on certain courses would solve that. But for non-beginners, I like the game the way it is, just like The Donald.
WALKER: Trump is right. Golf’s appeal is in its difficulty and its rich tradition. Changing the game to attract new players will actually turn more people away. Nobody claims that basketball rims are too high at 10-feet for regular people to dunk like LeBron.
BAMBERGER: I think King has the right idea, and the PGA does, too. They're not saying a 15-inch hole is golf as we know it. They are looking to draw people to the game. Believe it or not, many people have found their way to golf through mini golf, pitch-and-putt golf, par-3 golf. There's nothing wrong with what King and his people are trying.
VAN SICKLE: Hack Golf is an experiment worth trying on a small scale as a way to attract juniors and beginners. I wouldn't rip out the regulation holes on a regulation course to do it and alienate the golfers who are already hooked, though. Anything radical that gets attention and draws players in, whether it's zip-line golf or big holes or Jimmy Fallon on a magazine cover couldn't hurt a game that is already metaphorically on the ropes.
SENS: It doesn’t have to be either/or. King has pitched the 15-inch hole (and other HackGolf ideas) as a supplement to golf-as-we-know-it, not as a replacement. They can coexist. I’m an aspirational golfer. I aspire to have the money and free time that some lucky folks have to play golf as they want it, when they want it. Meantime, though, it’s nice to know that some people are seeking to create additional options for those with less-than-unlimited access to the traditional game.
RITTER: Trump and King are both right. If larger holes became standard, they would be a drag for folks like Trump who are serious about the game and drawn to the challenge. But Hack Golf could hit home with casual players and especially families, and for that reason it's a concept worth exploring, even if it's limited to special outings and events.
PASSOV: They're both right. I don't want our amazing game to be dumbed down in any way. Mr. Trump is 100 percent right. But there's room for both. Just as pint-sized baseball players can get hooked on T-ball before facing 90 mph fastballs a few years later, 15-inch cups might just work to attract and retain some newbies.
5. Word is strong that Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland will be awarded the Open Championship in 2019. What do you think of an Open at Portrush? How much would a Portrush Open be a forced response to the PGA of America contemplating taking the PGA Championship there in 2020?
PASSOV: Whatever the politics involved in awarding an Open to Royal Portrush -- and this is Northern Ireland, so politics ARE involved -- is almost moot for me. Just to see a major played there again, on one of everyone's favorite links courses on Earth, has me salivating.
SHIPNUCK: It would fabulous -- that's one of my favorite courses. And I hope it forces the PGA to rethink it's overseas aspirations. There is already one major in the linksland. If the PGA wants to go abroad, they need to look at Australia or Asia or South America. Why be a derivative of the Open?
VAN SICKLE: I don't see the connection between a PGA going overseas and an Open returning to a long-abandoned site that has already hosted an Open. An Open at Portrush will generate a huge amount of enthusiasm and interest in Ireland. Maybe even money. It's good marketing, simple as that.
WALKER: An Open Championship in Northern Ireland needs to happen soon, while McIlroy and McDowell are in still in their primes. The course, the setting, the history…everything about this Open would be special. If the R&A brings the Open to Portrush because they felt pressure from the PGA of America then we all need to thank the PGA of America.
BAMBERGER: I've been to Portrush but haven't played it. What light, what grass, what dunes. I love the idea of an Open there. And I love the idea of the PGA having a wild road trip. There are other places besides Portrush. They say Ballybunion is lovely in August.
SENS: The course itself is more than worthy of the event, and it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t at least partly inspired by the PGA of America, especially when you consider the recent tension between Ted Bishop and Peter Dawson
6. The Players Championship, like the Masters, is presented with relatively few commercial interruptions. Does the lack of commercials noticeably improve the rhythm of the TV broadcast and/or your enjoyment of it?
SENS: Oh, not at all. I get unparalleled enjoyment from the sight of silver-haired couples clasping hands while gazing over flower fields from their reclined positions in adjacent bathtubs as a voiceover warns me to seek medical attention if my erection lasts for more than four hours. Who needs uninterrupted golf action when you’ve got that?
SHIPNUCK: This is a rhetorical question, right?
PASSOV: Fewer commercial interruptions make things flow much better -- and make me feel like I'm watching a very significant event. Hey, I love each and every one of our advertisers, but score one for the Players by limiting the number.
RITTER: Kaymer's final holes were compelling, and staying with the leader between shots heightened the tension. I don't know anyone who's watched a live sporting event and said, "Man, I sure wish there were more commercials."
WALKER: The telecasts of Masters and the Players are so much more dramatic and I feel so much more connected to players’ rounds. I suspect the frequent commercial interruptions during normal broadcasts are a real turnoff for casual fans.
BAMBERGER: It depends. Some years, the spots are better than the golf. I like the kid in those e-trade ads.
VAN SICKLE: It makes scheduling bathroom breaks more difficult, but I guess that's what DVR's are for.
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.