PGA Tour Confidential: 2012 Preview

Tuesday January 3rd, 2012
Last year Jonathan Byrd won the season-opening event at Kapalua -- but does anyone remember?
Kohjiro Kinno / SI

Every week of the 2012 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in our all-new readers' live Confidential and the comments section below.

MAKING KAPALUA MATTER
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Happy '12, Confidentialists. Amazingly, the new season is upon us. Kapalua is a highlight for those of us who cover it, and it looks great on TV, but the tourney is badly compromised because pretty much all the eligible players we care about don't show. How do we make opening day a bigger deal? A later date? A move back to the mainland?

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Both. If the goal is to get more big-name winners, then it should be moved to California, Arizona or Florida (where the pros live) and pushed back about three weeks.

Shipnuck: We could probably lop off one West Coast event and one Florida event and nobody would notice, allowing for a later start.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: How about opening the season with a WGC event? Need to do something big to get attention.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm not worried about the no-shows. The real opening day is still Thursday at Augusta. All this mellow preamble is part of the charm leading to it.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: If a limited-field event in paradise with a big sack of cash for the winner isn't enough to motivate these guys, then it seems pretty hopeless. Speaks to how easy life is on Tour nowadays. Still, it's fun to watch the guys who do appreciate it tee it up when it's winter most everywhere else.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: That's the thing. The tournament as it is now has the most appeal to young guys for whom Maui is still a novelty.

Dusek: It's fun to watch if you are willing to stay up on Monday night to see the final round after a week of late-night bowl games.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Only a sheik with oil money could maybe lure a top-shelf opening-week field.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: It's also hard to make the opening day a big deal when the season ended only a few weeks ago for a lot of guys.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I've always liked that Kapalua is away from the contiguous 48, away from the maw that is the NFL playoffs. But, really, the event hasn't mattered much since Tiger and Ernie were trading eagles back in the day.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I don't think the Monday finish is going to help, either. I don't buy that folks are going to tune in before switching over to the BCS championship game. Isn't Monday a work day? Why not a Sunday prime-time finish after watching some more Tebow, um, magic?

Morfit: I watched the Tebow show in its entirety yesterday, and I would have rather spent the time watching any golf tournament.

Lipsey: Not every event needs to matter. Lots of cold-bound people just like watching Tour players make birdies in a tropical Shangri La.

Hack: I disagree. I think the kickoff event to the season should matter. In the NFL, it's a Thursday night bonanza. In baseball, it's a slate of day games across the land. In golf it's...it's...out of sight, out of mind.

Godich: It's the start of the golf season, in a warm-weather clime. That's good enough for me.

Herre: I agree with Damon. The kickoff should matter. It's a lost opportunity for the Tour, same as the bowl season is a lost opportunity for college football.

Lipsey: All that matters, like it or not, is money, in the college bowls and at Kapalua.

Herre: In the end, Kapalua, like all Tour events, is all about the sponsor. If Hyundai is happy, everyone is happy.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Kapalua is an awesome venue, but with only last season's winners on the invite list, it's not a true start to a new year. I'd leave it in the same spot on the calendar, but kick off the official prize money, stats, etc., next week at the Sony when rookies are eligible to play.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I like seeing the Maui coast on TV, and I don't mind the soft open to the golf season. Hawaii is a special case, but the PGA Tour needs to start requiring its members to play more tournaments. Too many events with too few first-tier stars is the Tour's biggest problem.

Godich: Good point, Mike. How many employers only require you to work 15 weeks a year?

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: They're not employees, though -- they're freelancers.

Godich: Not entirely. If they were purely freelancers, there would be no 15-event minimum.

Morfit: I think they need to play it somewhere less windy and less hilly. Guys are trying to get a barometer on their games, and that's hard to do at the Plantation.

Shipnuck: I love the win-and-you're-in elegance, but should Kapalua invite winners from the last 2 or 3 seasons to get a bigger, deeper field?

Hack: I think the Tour might have shortened the wrong end of the schedule. It's easier to compete against football in September than football in January.

Dusek: Excellent point. We all love seeing the splashing whales and the swaying palm trees, but why does the PGA Tour season need to start just because we've all bought new calendars? Trimming a few tournaments in January isn't going to kill any of the season's buzz because there is no buzz until the middle of March, when we start thinking about Augusta.

Godich: I'm not so sure about September vs. January football, Damon. The anticipation before the start of the football season -- college and pro -- is awfully high. It's pretty much a can't-win situation.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: There's baseball in summer. Let's just cancel entire golf season while we're at it.

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail editor@golf.com or ask it on Facebook.

Gorant: Maybe they should invite last year's winners and anyone in top 50 of the money list who didn't win?

Bamberger: I'd keep it to the winners only from the previous year. The Tournament of Champions has been around for a while, and it has worked for a reason -- you can understand it. I think Kapalua is smart not to oversell it. It's just a pleasant winter's day diversion for most of us, as Rick notes. For me, that's enough.

Herre: Maybe it's time to get away from the win-and-in format altogether. I think the Firestone formula, which includes the top 50 in World Ranking plus 25 other top players from around the world, works and always produces a great field.

Shipnuck: Does the Tour need a rule that compels each member to play every tournament in a three- or four-year period? This works for the LPGA with its compressed schedule.

Dusek: Yes.

Gorant: Seems like a good idea.

Morfit: I'm not sure copying the LPGA is a good idea.

Bamberger: No, the Tour is free enterprise at its best. If tournaments want to get more first-tier players, they should figure out how to do it, as the Charlotte event has done, and as maybe the old Hope event is going to do.

Hack: I would like to have seen Finchem do it a few years ago by grandfathering those with tenure and compelling the youngsters who will carry the game forward.

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: It would be interesting to see the sponsors' reactions to a change like that. If one big name sponsor felt like the Tour was trying to take players away from the more successful tournaments (in terms of field strength), it could create a firestorm. There's a lot of money at stake.

Godich: Right. It's a catch-22. Compelling players to compete in specified events means they will drop other tournaments, and that won't make those sponsors happy.

Dusek: The other issue is the growth of the European Tour's Middle East swing. Events in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai start in late January. The top guys make millions playing in the desert, so the PGA Tour needs to get used to opening the season with fewer stars unless it can make its season opener more appealing than those events. Good luck.

Gorant: This discussion begs a larger question about the Tour in general. Should it be a shorter and more defined season to maximize impact and get the best fields, or should it be long and sprawling and focused on getting as many playing opportunities for as many players as possible? I like the former myself.

Walker: I think the solution is something like increasing the required number of events to 20. That ensures more Tiger, Mickelson, McIlroy, etc., but still gives the players some freedom to decide where and when they want to play. The stars would benefit from a stronger PGA Tour.

Morfit: Raising the minimum seems to make sense initially, but you would potentially lose the guys who play both tours, like Donald, Poulter, McDowell and, yes, Rory.

Bamberger: I like the idea of a shorter, more intense season too, but the political structure of the Tour, and how the commissioner keeps his job, would never allow that to happen.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: How can the PGA Tour generate more buzz for the start of its season? Or should it leave things the way they are?

Tiger Woods, 2011 Chevron World Challenge
Adam Davis / Icon SMI
Tiger Woods won his final event of 2011, the Chevron World Challenge.


NEW YEAR, NEW STORIES
Shipnuck: Looking beyond Maui, what do you see as '12's theme?

Herre: I see lots of belly putters and the continued emergence of a new generation of top players. Of course, Tiger will continue to be a newsmaker.

Reiterman: Tiger, Tiger, Tiger.

Bamberger: The biggest thing going into '12 (shoot me now if you like) is this: Will Tiger get his groove back? And if he doesn't win in '12, that will be the thing going into '13 as well.

Morfit: It'll be all about Tiger for the first half. If he plays terribly, the second half will be about someone else.

Lipsey: I see two possible scenarios: More entertaining but not too memorable golf, or Tiger turns it back on.

Dusek: All eyes will be on Tiger, which is nothing new, but the theme is going to be the start of the Rory McIlroy era. Luke Donald isn't going to go away, but I think Rory is going to do a lot of winning.

Rouse: Tiger's return to the top, of course. Why even pretend that's not the case? But I think we are going to see a couple of wins for Hunter Mahan this season, and I think he will be a big factor in the majors.

Shipnuck: I think Rory is the biggest story in the first half. He'll play a lot early in the year in the Middle East, his return to Augusta will be fascinating, and then he gets to defend the Open.

Ritter: If they can both win somewhere before the Masters, Rory vs. Tiger will turn into the biggest story of season.

Herre: Would love to see that happen. Rory as Nicklaus against Tiger as Palmer. That kind of generational battle would turn on fans.

Morfit: Rory vs. Tiger with some cameos by Rickie Fowler and the rest would be magical.

Lipsey: Whether Yani keeps it up and how Lexi does are probably as compelling as Tiger's plight, though the women, who don't play in the U.S. until March, will never get much buzz.

Gorant: As compelling? The women could be starting next week and playing naked and it wouldn't be as compelling as Tiger's plight.

Hanger: It will be interesting to see if Rory can compete with Tiger in garnering headlines. Can he emerge as a player who interests golf fans and the general public, in the way that Tiger and Phil do?

Hack: Tiger is the theme for '12, Rory and Lexi are sidebars, and in a fair world, Yani would be bigger than all of them.

Walker: Tiger's win at the Chevron was a season-ending cliffhanger worthy of 24, so his re-emergence will be the theme of the early season. Maybe the "return of the Americans" as well, especially in a Ryder Cup year.

Godich: The continuing emergence of young players, and no clear-cut No. 1 player. We will have a handful of players who win twice, but nobody will dominate.

Gorant: Tiger Woods = 2012 POY.

Morfit: I'll give you Comeback POY, but I don't know about POY.

Shipnuck: Of course, Tiger likely won't play in the U.S. until Pebble in mid-February.

Godich: And therein lies the problem. Majors aside, how many times will Rory and Tiger tee it up in the same event? We need more head-to-head meetings.

Morfit: Good question, Mark. It'll be fun to see which tournaments Rory plays. Has anyone put PGA Tour and WTA schedules next to each other to check for overlap?

Dusek: Rumor is that Tiger will be playing at Pebble Beach with Tony Romo.

Herre: Another guy who can't throw a spiral.

Hack: Romo has plenty of time to get his golf game ready.

Morfit: Romo seems like a nice guy with a big game. Don't know what he's doing playing football.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What do you think will be the biggest theme of 2012?

IN 2012, WILL 58 BE THE NEW 59?
Shipnuck: Bubba Watson recently shot 58 in a casual game, and that wasn't with a belly putter or the new 73-degree wedge. Given that the Tour still plays courses that are laughably short for the modern game, is this the year that guys shoot 58 or lower in competition?

Bamberger: Yes! In 2012, 58 is the new 59. Very possibly in Palm Springs.

Lipsey: Perhaps. It'll happen sooner than later. But breaking 60 will never happen with any frequency. The mental blocks to breaking 60 are too huge for it to happen more than once in a blue moon.

Gorant: No. The psychological hurdle is too tough.

Bamberger: I disagree. Guys rarely break 60 because it's incredibly hard to do, not because of a mental hurdle. You usually have to hole out one or two times to get in range through 15 holes, so what are the chances you'll hole out again from off the green?

Hanger: A 58 is possible, but no more likely than it has been the last several years.

Dusek: Maybe someone will shoot 58 or 59, but I think the 59s we saw from Stuart Appleby and Paul Goydos were more coincidence than trend. Lots of guys are going to shoot low scores, but absolutely everything has to go right to shoot 60 or better.

Herre: Some smart sponsor is going to set up a course that will yield a slew of low numbers, then sit back and let the argument rage. I could see a divide formed between tournaments that will hunger for that kind of attention and more traditional events that will turn up their noses at goofy golf.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Is this the season someone shoots 58 or lower in competition?

Rory McIlroy
Thomas Lovelock / SI
Rory McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open ... will he win more majors in 2012?

 

THREE PREDICTIONS
Shipnuck: My New Year's resolution is to not make outlandish predictions in Confidential. Well, at least it lasted two days! Who wins more tourneys in 2012, Tiger or Rory? I say Rory. Who wins more majors in 2012, Rory or Luke? I say Luke. (Check out the venues.) Who emerges as the best American? I say Dustin Johnson. (I know, it's absurd.)

Morfit: As crazy as it sounds, I think Tiger will win more in 2012. But I don't think he'll be back to six a year. I'll say two or three.

Reiterman: I think Tiger still has a few more "Tiger" years in him. I say he wins at least four times this year. (And no, I haven't been drinking . . . yet.)

Hanger: My completely subjective speculation: Rory wins more tourneys; Luke wins his first major, and Rory wins one too; and Tiger re-emerges as the best American.

Lipsey: Rory wins one, Tiger wins three. Neither Luke nor Rory wins a major. (Though Yani wins two.) Tiger reasserts himself as the best American.

Morfit: I like Gary Woodland as best American. The guy has been getting better fast.

Bamberger: Now, more than ever, the only tournaments that will matter to Tiger are the majors. I think Rory wins more. Who wins more majors in '12 between Rory and Luke? The greatest chance is for neither to win any. Best American? I like Luke, of the Chicago/North Palm Beach Donalds. If you really insist on looking at passports, I like Nick Watney.

Hack: Rory wins more around the world (four tourneys to two), but Tiger wins more in the states (two to one). Rory wins more majors than Luke (one to zero). The best American? Nick Watney.

Dusek: I agree that Rory will win more than Tiger, but Rory will win at Augusta and Royal Lytham & St. Annes, edging Luke's win at Olympic. The best American (meaning money and wins) will be Bubba Watson.

Godich: Rory wins more than Tiger in '12, but neither wins a major. Luke wins a couple of times. He won't win a major, but Lee Westwood will finally break through. And Hunter Mahan will have a monster year and provide the point that puts the U.S. over the top at the Ryder Cup.

Herre: This could be the Year of Luke. I see him finally winning a major and remaining No. 1. Best American? Lots of parity there. I'll go with a guy who, potentially, can make a ton of putts -- Hunter Mahan. I'll say Woods wins one major, the Masters, which reignites Tigermania, and Rory will take it from there.

Ritter: I think Rory gets more worldwide wins than Tiger, but they both win more than once. Rory and Luke get shut out at the majors, and the American most likely to make the leap -- see Webb Simpson, 2011 -- is Gary Woodland.

Rouse: I'm on Team Rory on this one. I think he'll win more tournaments than Tiger, as well as majors. Luke will go 0-4 in the majors, and Webb Simpson will establish himself as the best American.

Walker: Rory McIlory wins more than Tiger. Also, McIlroy is more likely to win a major than Donald. Phil Mickelson -- who can't even slump without his slump being overshadowed by Tiger -- is best American. I liked how he looked at the Presidents Cup.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Who gets more wins in 2012, Tiger or Rory? Who wins more majors: Rory or Luke? Who will be the best American by season's end?

 

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