PGA Tour Confidential: AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
Every week of the 2010 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 the comments section below.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Truth or dare, folks: who were you rooting for as the players made the turn on Sunday at Pebble and why? I'll get us started: David Duval himself, with the boy in the western shirt waiting for him over the 18th green. He's the closest thing golf has to an iconoclast.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Definitely Duval, although I was also pulling for Johnson. If I'm being honest, I felt like anyone but Holmes. Don't know why, but I find him hard to root for.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Duval as well. Did you see that grin on his face during his post-round interview? I can't remember the last time I've seen him that excited.
Gorant: Looked like he was making a concerted effort to flash the grin several times during the interview. Even took the shades off.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: David said on Friday that he's had a much easier time focusing on the majors because of the exacting course setups, but that he realizes he's got to man-up for the regular Tour events. It would be nice to see him have continued success on that front.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: A Duval win would've been the best story, and heaven knows the Tour needs one.
Morfit: Johnson's win didn't inspire a lot of confidence, but on the other hand he figured out a way, which is part of the game, too. Keep in mind the guy had to play a 5:45 final round, while watching two guys make 9 on 14, Molder in the group in front and then Goydos. Bad golf can be contagious.
Bamberger: Good point, Cameron: having the ams in your group has to add a shot. And how about a tip of the hat to Cameron: getting a little air time with his nonchalant walk on 18 AND making it into the Swimsuit issue. (On the Golf.com promo page.)
Morfit: Wow. It's been a very big day for me. I'd just like to thank the sponsors. And speaking of the Swimsuit issue, I chatted a bit with Matt Jones's fiancee today. She's a former Ms. USA contestant who got a standing ovation when she walked across the range at Bethpage last summer. Book it right now: Best-looking Tour wife, SI player poll, 2011.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I was pulling for Duval. I took some heat from this group when I sang his praises pre-Bethpage. He's going to win. Soon.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I was hoping for Duval so that we would have something to say about him other than "he's close to being in top form again."
Morfit: Duval just didn't play the par-5s very well this week. I watched him hit his second shot over the cliff on 6 Saturday, and he played 'em in even par Sunday. Another lost opportunity for a guy who really, really needs a W and has to be getting tired of moral victories.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Duval would've been a great story, but he's 40 with a lot of scar tissue. His time has passed. Dustin Johnson has a chance to be a star, and maybe a dominant force. I want to see how far he can go.
(Alan Shipnuck answers readers' questions every Friday in his weekly mailbag. Ask a question here.)
Bamberger: Let's give the winner his due. Where do you rank DJ among the young guys? He's SO hungry to win; he says it and you can see it. Lovemark, Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Alvaro Quiros or your favorite name who has the stuff to become truly dominant? I'm still inclined to say Rory, who has every single shot and a putting stroke in development.
Gorant: Johnson is only 25 and has three wins. Did anyone mention that he can dunk? Or that he's 6'4" with huge hands?
Shipnuck: The key is 25. You can easily make the case he is the best young American. And along with Rory Mac, maybe the best young talent in golf.
Evans: Sorry Alan, Dustin Johnson just shot 16-under to win. He's not exactly winning in tight, U.S. Open-quality conditions. Not yet, anyway. But he is very good.
Herre: Yes, Johnson finished with a 74 not exactly stepping on anyone's neck.
Shipnuck: The 74 is not what matters. It's that he got it done, on Sunday at Pebble, when he didn't have his best stuff.
Morfit: Dustin is an interesting story if you look at the big picture. The last thing Tiger needs while he's on his indefinite leave is for some guy who's younger and longer than him to get a full head of steam and start thinking he's a superstar.
Evans: I don't think any of these players will be dominant. It's just not possible in the men's game. The tour is simply too deep, outside of Tiger. The names on Bamberger's list will be excellent money winners, but not great in the way that Tiger, Els, Vijay or Mickelson have been in the last 15-18 years.
Morfit: I don't like that Rory's already got back problems. If they're not that big of a deal, though, I like his chances. Johnson is really good, but his build may give him trouble with the full swing in the future. As he admitted to me once, he's got a lot of arms and legs and torso to keep track of, and when it gets out of synch, look out. He hit some squirrelly shots today and needed all of the help from Goydos and the big lead they started with. And last year's final round here was canceled. I've got to see this guy under a bit more under pressure.
Godich: Anthony Kim needs to contend again, and fast. Other than his near-miss at Congressional last year, he hasn't been in the hunt since 2008.
Gorant: I like A.K. in this discussion, too. He's got the game and that sort of killer on-course attitude. He just has to work on the off-course stuff.
Godich: The 14th was the swing hole. Duval made a bogey, and when's the last time that three players in contention made a nine on a par-5? Goydos and Molder chopped it up. Alex Prugh did the same, after making 10 pars and three birdies in his first 13 holes.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: The 14th was certainly key, but I don't know if it's fair to say that the guys who made nine played it wretchedly. If your third shot rolled back off the front of the green, you were totally screwed. Have we seen a Tour venue with a hole like that in recent years?
Godich: A nine is a nine no matter how you slice it. Could make for some interesting theater come Open time, especially with the firmer conditions.
Garrity: You might see a player take an unplayable lie from the fairway to improve his chances.
Evans: Players will adjust to that pin on 14 by bailing right and ensuring more pars than birdies. Those three players made nines because they didn't respect the pin position because they thought they should make four.
Shipnuck: Duval called that pin on 14 the smallest target in golf.
Herre: Hate to admit it, but watching those trainwrecks at 14 made the telecast much more interesting for me. Can't recall ever seeing back-to-back nines at a Tour event.
Morfit: Goydos, predictably, led the 9-shooters in the one-liner department. Comparing himself to one of the amateurs in his group: "Then the 18-handicap shows off and chips it in there about five feet." On having to watch Bryce Molder make a mess of the hole: "Bryce made 9 right in front of me, and I had to watch it. I had to watch 18 shots on that hole."
Godich: Goydos may prove to be a great Ryder Cup assistant. He will certainly keep things loose.
Gorant: Goydos cemented his place as the everyman golfer. With three pars, five bogeys and an "other," his scorecard looked like mine.
Evans: Goydos's self-deprecating routine hurts his motivation during the round. It seems like he's playing a character more than finding the moment to finish a golf tournament. It's a mental thing that he has to overcome.
Bamberger: Don't agree. Great journeyman attitude. Out loud: "I can't beat these guys with the Walmarts between my drives and theirs." Inside: "Watch THIS."
Morfit: I agree with Farrell on this one. Goydos was chatting with friends in the gallery, joking that Houdini must have wrapped the sandwiches behind the 10th tee. Being more of a killer might help him. Then again, that's just not who he is, and I respect him for staying true to himself. (And for being a world-class quote.)
Evans: Bob Uecker was never as good at baseball as Goydos is at golf. Let real mediocre people do the self-deprecating routine. I think most people on tour believe anyway that Paul is just putting on an act.
Godich: Well, there's a generalization. Ever think that Goydos tried the serious route and had no success? Maybe the relaxed approach works best for him. It has worked for others.
Morfit: I'll say this about Goydos: He can pretty much write his own ticket if he ever wants to do the TV thing. The guy is very, very smart.
Morfit: Absolutely. And we now have it on record that you suggested it, so you'll be getting a juicy cut of the profits.
Bamberger: Curb Your Enthusiasm, golf-style. So, Goydos in, Tiger out for the Ryder Cup. Call me a nut, but I'm just not missing Tiger's scowling greatness, and I have savored each of his 14 majors but one in person. How about you all?
Herre: Today's finish was fun, easily the most entertaining of the year. But I miss Tiger. After all those great seasons, going cold turkey on him has been tough.
Morfit: I agree with Jim. It doesn't speak well of the caliber of Sunday golf out here when guys can shoot par or over par and win. It's almost impossible to get away with that with TW in the field. Don't forget, Ben Crane missed a two-foot putt on the 71st hole two weeks ago and still won at Torrey. New slogan: "These guys are good enough. I guess."
Godich: I miss him too. Can't wait to see how he plays, how he's received. It will be fascinating to watch, whether he's shooting 63 or 75.
Evans: TW doesn't care about the Ryder Cup, so it might be good for the team morale if he were replaced by someone who wanted to be there.
Bamberger: OK, golf heads, what does this week's tournament tell us, if anything, about the U.S. Open that will be played at Pebble in four months? Of the crowd that was sniffing, including Dustin Johnson, I think it said the most about Duval, who, when he's playing well, can wedge you to death. That will be crucial come Father's Day, with the rough hairy and the greens firm and fast and new grooves at your feet.
Morfit: I watched Duval hit a lot of shots this week, and he still hits his irons great when he's on, and putts well, too. He said the greens at MPCC were so bumpy Saturday that he left at least a shot or two out there. I like his chances in a U.S. Open here, especially if he can log some more top-five finishes between now and June. You don't have to hit driver a ton at Pebble.
Evans: With 100-plus players at the Open, someone like Vijay is going to hit it as far as he can on those wide fairways and graduated rough and set a really fast pace that's going to force a lot of guys to take more chances.
Godich: From what I heard, it's going to be tough to hit a lot of drivers because that is going to bring the trouble into play.
Shipnuck: Goydos was funny on what you can learn this week for the Open. Given how vastly different the conditions will be, he said nothing could be ascertained except for where to dine.
Godich: Agreed. O'Meara won all of those pro-ams, but he was nowhere to be found when the Open rolled in. And let's not forget that they only play two of the four rounds at Pebble.
Morfit: The only two guys to win the AT&T (Crosby) and the Open at Pebble in the same year are Jack and Tiger.
Shipnuck: Phil talked a lot about recon. His analysis: on the fast fairways of the Open, very few drivers will be needed. Look for a great iron player and/or a short-game whiz to win.
Herre: If Alan's right, any numbers of players could win the Open even Paul Goydos, the ultimate course manager. I was truly shocked by his 9 at 14.
Evans: I think just the opposite of Phil. The fairways are wide, and the guy who drives the ball long and straight is going to make birdies and turn the tournament into a putting contest. Phil can't win hitting 6-irons into greens.
Hack: Does this mean Mickelson might go sans driver, like the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008? He wouldn't pull that stunt again, would he?
Bamberger: Stunt? Phil? Never!
Hack: Speaking of Phil, I would have put his over/under on West Coast wins conservatively at 1.5. I'm surprised he'll leave his native state empty-handed.
Bamberger: Tiger has fooled us into thinking that you can win one in three, one in four. Nobody does, except Tiger.
Morfit: For what it's worth, he says he's hitting it well but not making anything. Again. "It takes a lot of momentum out of you when you keep hitting it 8, 10, 12 feet and you keep missing the putts. I'll get that turned around."
Bamberger: Let's take an LPGA visit here. The ladies finally begin their season next week. You have an hour with the new commissioner, Michael Whan. What would you tell him? Global, yes, we're already seeing that. But what else? I really think, with fewer tournaments, you MUST go to courses that make us want to watch, old gems and new ones, where fans can move around and follow the action and create excitement. You must start with your core constituency. Others, please?
Herre: I think the LPGA has to take the lead in getting more women into the game. That would be good for golf and great for growing the LPGA fan base. As for venues, wonder if Cypress Point would consider an LPGA event?
Bamberger: Great thought, Cypress for the ladies. The first truly progressive club among the elite clubs going way back when.
Gorant: I'm not sure I have much advice for him, but I think an interesting thing is happening with the women. As the number of tournaments has gone down, they've gotten better fields every time out. The top names are teeing it up almost every week, and that makes for better watching. Makes you wonder if that's a formula for even greater success for all of golf: a more condensed season with the best players teeing it up just about every week. Not good news for the Paul Goydos types though.
Morfit: I think it's more about the personalities. Get these women on Leno, get them on the next CSI, whatever it takes. How often do these women even get recognized in airports? I'd guess not very often. There's no way that should be the case.
Godich: Yeah, it's all about exposure. I actually got hooked watching the Solheim Cup last year. Some quality golf, real emotion, exciting finish.
Evans: Well, Mike Whan will tell you that they won't resort to gimmicks to make the tour more popular. The LPGA has a great stock of young players who could make women's golf both accessible and interesting to the average golf fan. Just let them play.
Bamberger: Maybe I'm drinking the Kool-Aid because I had a long (four minutes) conversation with Bernhard Saturday night, but I am really enjoying the old guys. Tommy Armour! Golf's coolest customer. Fred. Watson. Dr. Langer. The telecasts are WAY behind the quality of the golf, but I think the Champions hasn't looked this good in years. A Top Flite X-out to anybody who can give us an original thought about the Champions Tour.
Morfit: A big reason why the Champions Tour is so great is because these guys have 30-plus years experience relating to the fans, being telegenic, keeping the sponsors happy. Padraig Harrington made this point earlier this week at Pebble when he was asked why he's such a good interview, and he said it's because the Irish writers have interviewed him after every round since he was 14. At the end of the day, it's showmanship that keeps these purses inflated.
Bamberger: That and chatting up corporate big-wigs. A lost art in the Tiger Era. Harrington has the right attitude, and so does Geoff Ogilvy: it's fun to talk golf with a press corps that really does care about golf. Tiger could never figure that out. The golf press never intruded on his off-course life, for good or for bad. We cared about the golf. He never read that part of the Nicklaus, Palmer and even Watson playbook.
Hack: Couples will make a killing on the senior circuit. He's still great, first of all, and now he's with all his pals. The vibe at Champions tour events more closely resembles the Silly Season than anything else. Fred will need a wheelbarrow to take home all the cash he's going to win.
Gorant: A wheelbarrow will kill his bad back. How about a forklift?
Morfit: When I spoke to Couples for a Golf Magazine Q&A last year, he seemed more excited about getting to hang out with Jay Haas and that gang than in actually raking in a bunch of dough. Looks like he's going to get to do both.
Bamberger: I don't think so. Fred and Watson looked like they were way into it down the stretch last week. This week was about manning up in grueling conditions. You never see that in December.
Godich: I always wondered how motivated these guys would be once they hit 50, what with the chunk of change they made on the regular Tour. I guess Fred is plenty motivated.
Hack: No doubt they'll grind and compete, but the camaraderie is very thick out there. To me the weeks just have a different, more laid-back feel. I think it'll suit Couples.