Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducted an e-mail roundtable featuring the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors. This is the last roundtable of 2010, but we'll resume the discussion in the first week of January.
IS TIGER BACK?
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: In this, the final PGA Tour Confidential of the 2010 season, it's our job to put a bow on one of the most interesting golf weekends in recent memory. There was great action in South Africa and Orlando, but there's really only one place to start Thousand Oaks, Calif., where Graeme McDowell won the Chevron World Challenge.
After carding three rounds in the 60s and taking a four-shot lead into Sunday, the wheels came off for Woods when he made a 7 on the par-5 13th hole to go two shots behind Graeme McDowell. But that approach shot to the 18th was vintage Tiger. McDowell made an all-world birdie putt to force a playoff and then drained another long putt on the 18th hole in the playoff. What will you tell your friends who are now going to assume Tiger is back.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger is back.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I'd say Tiger is back, probably. It takes time to make a swing change, and I'd say he's really close to believing in it enough to be dangerous.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Let's end the silliness about how long it takes to make a swing change. Tiger hasn't won in eons because he's not playing well. His game, not his swing, has been AWOL. Tons of guys on Tour are reshaping their swings and find ways to win.
Morfit: Come on, Rick. Get real. You know as well as anyone it takes something to groove new habits and get comfortable with them on Sunday afternoons. The one thing I wonder about is Tiger's putting. Maybe he's made most of the really clutch ones he's going to make.
Lipsey: Swings don't win tournaments. Clutch play and holing putts do. When Woods says he's not winning because of his rebuilding effort, it's another way of saying his confidence is not good.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I've gone with this from the start, so I'll stick with it now: Multiple wins for Woods in '11. I feel a little better about it, too.
Dusek: After going 65-66-68-73 and losing in a playoff, you guys are ready to claim that Tiger Woods is back? As in, we should expect a win at Torrey Pines or wherever he starts his 2011 season? To most people, that would be what "back" means.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: You can't say Tiger is back. The Tiger we knew, or thought we knew, is not the Tiger who played last week. Wins, I don't think, will ever seem easy for him again. But he'll win. And he'll look, as he did last week, like a workhorse doing it.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I don't think you can make a judgment one way or another off the result of an exhibition against 17 other players, but losing a four-stroke lead on Sunday does not bode well.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger's biggest edge was his head. No one was tougher, or believed more. Yang and the 72nd-hole miss at the Barclays chipped away at that. Now that edge is gone. Getting it back is more important for Tiger than any swing tweak.
Bamberger: As seldom as he plays, and given his historic greatness, I think we can expect Tiger to contend in maybe one of every three events he plays, and win one in three of those in which he contends. Three wins, one a major, in '11.
Evans: This is the realistic Tiger, who is no longer invincible, just great like a dozen other players around the world. Even after the golf world announced that Jack was back in 1980, it was another six years before he would win another major. He was back, but it didn't mean he would play consistent golf and win lots of majors again. Tiger will be like Muhammad Ali and regain his title a number of times, but he won't ever be the fighter or golfer that he was in 2000 or 2001.
Gorant: Disagree. I think he'll dominate again. Hicks asked him today, "Do you truly believe you can be what you were again?" Tiger said, "No, I can be better." The guy hasn't changed inside. He's still an alpha dog. He's got the off-course stuff settled again, and now the drive and the focus will take over.
Herre: I have to agree with Farrell, which is another reason why I don't believe Woods gets 19 majors.
CAN MCDOWELL KEEP THIS UP?
Dusek: Let's get back to Graeme McDowell for just a moment. Could he have had a better 2010? Multiple wins on the European Tour, a victory at the U.S. Open (at Pebble Beach no less), clinches the final match of the Ryder Cup, and now beats Tiger Woods at Tiger's own event. Is it realistic to think that he can back that season up in 2011, or does he have to come back to Earth a little?
Shipnuck: I've been saying for months that G-Mac is player of the year. This was the exclamation point.
Lipsey: Unlikely he'll do much in 2011, because rarely do guys back up a year like that. But G-Mac will be a stud for a long time, popping up like Ian Woosnam with great spurts.
Bamberger: It's not realistic. He likes life too much. He cannot putt like that forever. But you'll root for him every time he's in contention, or I will. He's a breath of fresh air for golf.
Morfit: I think he can back it up. He is rising to the occasion the way only Woods could. That tends to build on itself.
Herre: Love the way McDowell stays in the moment. A real gamer. Still, who makes back-to-back 20-footers to knock off Tiger? That kind of magic doesn't last forever.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Graeme McDowell has been on the rise for a while. It's not like he sold his soul to the devil for a U.S. Open. He'll be one of the names you see in the mix at majors and big events going forward. Nice plus to have him on the PGA Tour this year.
Dusek: I have heard that he loves Robert Johnson records.
Dusek: The year is going to end with Lee Westwood, golf's new crown prince of Twitter, as the top player in the world. He won against an impressive field in South Africa this week. Thoughts on Westwood.
Morfit: Good to see him win again. It had been a season of a lot of top finishes until this week.
Shipnuck: He's getting better at closing the deal. His long game is so solid that he's in contention every week, so if more of those top-5s become wins, he could have a long reign at No. 1.
Lipsey: Love him, but he's going to drop dead if he keeps globetrotting. Hard not to chase big checks, but that isn't a long-term winning strategy.
Walker: Now is the time of year for globe-trotting. It was kind of exciting to have the No. 1 battle unfold over two continents this weekend. Preview of 2011?
Lipsey: He trots all year all over the world. But I guess I might too if people paid me what they pay him.
Bamberger: As a No. 1 player in the world, he's way south of Tiger Woods, probably a little north of Tom Lehman and about even with Vijay Singh.
PARITY OR MEGA-STAR?
Dusek: For just a minute, forget TV ratings, sponsorship money and all the things we get hung up on. Tiger may be on his way back, but I think we can all agree that about half a dozen guys could pop into the No. 1 ranking before Augusta. (Geoff Ogilvy won the Australian Open Sunday. Remember him?) Do you get more excited about golf when there is a single, historically dominant player and a pack of chasers, or do you prefer a wide-open field?
Lipsey: I love the stars like Shark and Tiger.
Shipnuck: Both! Dominance is fun but especially meaningful if there are strong challengers.
Bamberger: As a reporter and a fan, golf is at its best when great talent is bunched together. There were years when we weren't watching Tiger's golf; we were watching Tiger's dominance.
Walker: I don't have a lot of interest in the No. 1 ranking, but having a murderers' row of players in the mix at the majors? Priceless.
Evans: Remember the 1980s, when Larry Nelson won more majors than Greg Norman, Tom Kite won all the money and Curtis Strange won two Opens in a row but never won after that? Calvin Peete won 11 times, and lot of players we have all forgotten won majors. That was wide open, and golf was four hours of TV on the weekend, and the thought of Golf Channel would have been a punch line for Johnny Carson about how geezers spend their time after playing cards. Tiger made us pay attention to the game because he was great. We need somebody like him to emerge and rule the game. Parity is for the NFL.
SEASON'S GREETINGS FOR LPGA
Dusek: Maria Hjorth won the LPGA Tour Championship Sunday, while Yani Tseng walked away with the LPGA Tour's player of the year award. In the spirit of the season, if you had a holiday wish to give the LPGA, what would you give it?
Bamberger: The gift of charisma.
Gorant: Michelle Wie, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson.
Herre: More live network coverage, and two or three additional full-field events in the U.S.
Shipnuck: Wei, Lexi, Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis all win early and often.
Evans: That sponsors, media and fans would support the tour with the same vigor and tenacity as the men's tours.
THE YEAR'S MAIN MEMORY
Dusek: Seeing as this is the last PGA Tour Confidential of the year, and this seems to work well for the Today Show every year, fill in the blank of this sentence: Aside from Tiger's scandal, 10 years from now I'll remember the 2010 golf season as ________.
Lipsey: Really, I probably won't remember 2010 for anything else.
Walker: Not even Mickelson's 6-iron at the Masters?
Lipsey: Phil's nosedive the rest of the year makes that shot fade in memory.
Evans: I'll remember the 2010 season as the year Dustin Johnson lost the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.
Herre: The Year of the European.
Bamberger: The year Steve Williams went 0-for-the-season.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Graeme's marvelous, clutch, big-time play all over the world.
Gorant: Mickelson, Johnson, McDowell. Certainly not for POY Jim Furyk.
Lipsey: How odd that the Tour's player of the year doesn't win a major, and the rookie of the year doesn't even win a tournament. Parity, or maybe mediocrity.
Shipnuck: Tiger was the story, as always. But it was a different story.
Dusek: I'll remember 2010 as the year that the next generation finally arrived, with Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Anthony Kim and Rickie Fowler all convincing me they have what it takes to contend for majors.
END OF YEAR AWARDS
Dusek: If not Jim Furyk as player of the year and Rickie Fowler as rookie of the year, then who should have won? Do we agree with the awards?
Lipsey: How the heck does Fowler get the award with no wins? McIlroy should get it, if only because he won.
Bamberger: Furyk and Fowler are deserving winners in the tiny little division of the golfing universe called the PGA Tour.
Walker: We've been down this road with Furyk before. Since Phil disappeared after Augusta and no other PGA Tour member won a major, Furyk is as good a choice as any. I would have given it to Matt Kuchar or maybe even Dustin Johnson instead. Rory McIlroy said he didn't consider himself a true rookie and didn't want the award, but the players should have voted for him anyway.
Dusek: Remember when Chez Reavie was runner-up to Andres Romero for rookie of the year a few years ago? As I recall, Romero had been a European Tour member for a while. I think there should be a rule that makes members of the European Tour ineligible for rookie of the year if they start playing regularly on the PGA Tour. Likewise, PGA Tour members should never be eligible for the honor on the European Tour.