Tour and News

PGA Tour Confidential: Honda Classic

Photo: David Walberg/SI

Camilo Villegas won his third career title on Sunday.

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.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Camilo Villegas won the Honda Classic, an event that proved golf can exist without Tiger if it has players like Vijay Singh, Paul Casey, J.B. Holmes, Anthony Kim and the rest. Johnny Miller and guest Jack Nicklaus did a good job of dissecting Villegas and his issues — overswinging on the back nine for a while. How good can Villegas get? And did this re-brand the Honda Classic as a must-play stop on the Florida swing?

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He looked like he's improved his ballstriking, which has always been pretty good, and he putted well. If the improved putting is for keeps and not simply a hot streak, he can contend a lot. The course was set up tough today, and he lit it up (mostly).

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Nice to see a strong field at the Honda, which has blossomed into a top-notch event in recent years. Villegas is fun to watch — all kinds of cool shots and this week he made his share of putts. I just wonder if someone who swings as hard as he does can be consistently good.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I think he can stick around a while at that level because of his work ethic and his attitude, and the fact that he has a cool sawed-off backswing, a bit like Stricker's but really all his own. Talent is cheap on Tour, but work ethic and attitude count for a lot. And his putting looked pretty good to me.

Van Sickle: Despite leaking some oil on the way in (he could afford it), Villegas was impressive this week. Any time you win by five on this tour, that's saying something. Maybe the rush to anoint Dustin Johnson as the next great 20-something was premature. Villegas has played well three straight weeks. Could be the start of his best year.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Honda is a great event, proven by an excellent field and a tough golf course that yielded a top-notch winner, who has the chance to be as good as he wants to be if he can concentrate on golf, instead of the allure of the bright lights and easy money in Europe and Asia.

Morfit: And speaking of attitude, I liked that Anthony Kim said he didn't beat himself up after his 73 on Saturday. He seemed to realize how counterproductive that would have been, and bounced back nicely. If golf can get more of this week's top two finishers battling it out in the coming months, perhaps with Phil Mickelson joining the battle, we're all going to forget about whatshisname.

Evans: No chance of forgetting about Tiger. What's more likely is that people who enjoy watching golf will appreciate the good quality that we've been seeing and hope that it will only get better once Tiger returns.

Van Sickle: If Villegas and Kim start dueling, I'm not sure we'll miss Phil if he doesn't get back in the mix. Those two guys, with not nearly as large a built-in following as Phil, are still dynamic and fun to watch.

We've been focused on Asia, especially China and Korea, as areas of growth for golf. Maybe a run by Villegas, plus the Olympics in 2016 and the Angel Cabrera era will light a fire under golf in South America. The Nationwide Tour is in Colombia this week. Could be growth for the game there.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Asia's where it's at. More than three billion people and two booming economies in the world's biggest countries (India, China) is a recipe for success.

Herre: I could see the PGA Tour someday playing a series of events in South America, much like the Euro tour playing in Asia, South Africa and the Mideast.

Gorant: If Villegas can win a few more, the next step is to start designing courses, and South America is a natural for him. Jack won't have so many nice things to say if Camilo starts eating into his course design empire.

Van Sickle: Am I reading this wrong, or are the rest of you Confidentialists not all that enthused by Camilo's win? If so, why?

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I would just say this: He wasn't that solid from tee to green. He won today with his putter, even with those short misses on the back nine. He made three huge par saves on the front, all from 10 feet or more. But he pulled off the shots when he needed them. Give him credit for that.

Evans: This is the year of a different winner every week. Camilo took his turn at the Honda. No big deal.

Godich: As John Wooden said after watching defending national champion (and supposedly unbeatable) UNLV get upset by Duke in the Final Four back in the early '90s: "A lot of guys have won one in a row."

Herre: No one put up much of a fight. Lots of train wrecks out there today. Poor Nathan Green. The second ball flying out of the hazard on 17 was right out of 'Caddyshack'.

Gorant: That should have counted as two shots, I think.

Van Sickle: I've only seen that two-ball shot a couple of times. It happened to me once in the rough on a damp course, I forget where. That was wild. Classic dilemma for Nathan Green on whether to take a drop or try to play it. His choice didn't work out. Plus he messed up his pants. Also noticed that Green was pretty careful on that water shot, given that Graeme McDowell had to take a two-shot penalty earlier in the tournament for brushing the surface of the water with his backswing. Those are two pretty weird incidents for contenders in one week.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Chatted up Green as he came off 18. Great Aussie bloke. Lives in the gym but says Villegas blows him away there.

Morfit: The only way 17 could have worse for Green: a long ruling after the second ball came squirting out. (Or an alligator attack.) He just wanted out of there.

Herre: How about Steve Flesch? This is courtesy of our friend Craig Dolch: Flesch was docked two strokes for missing his tee time on Thursday, then missed the cut by one. You know he was steaming.

Morfit: Ouch, that hurts. Not as bad as signing for an incorrect score and missing your Tour card by one, but still, not so good. Maybe Steve has March Madness on the brain. UK should be tough this year.

Van Sickle: It was obviously a mistake for Vijay to come back and play so soon last year after surgery, the classic athlete's mistake. He favored the knee and swung differently, then tweaked other body parts because of it. I thought maybe he'd finally hit the wall, but seeing him this year makes it clear that playing hurt last year cost him. If he can get some putts to go in (still a question) he can still win and be a top-10 player. Now I think he's never going away. Good for him.

Herre: Vijay's swing looked pure — matchless tempo — but again, no can putt.

Godich: Wonder how long it takes Vijay to make another putter change.

Gorant: He's trying out new ones on the artificial green in his living room as we speak.

Van Sickle: He's already tried cross-handed belly. Where do you go from there? Sam Snead sidesaddle? Mike Hulbert one-armed?

Gorant: Back to traditional, then repeat the pattern.

Godich: I went one-handed for a while last year. And it worked. Then it didn't. I would suggest he try the look-at-the-hole approach next.

Bamberger: There's no way Vijay has a chance at Augusta with that long wand. In the belly, sure, but not the two-handed broom handle.

Herre: Curiously, he's rolled it the best with a conventional putter.

Lipsey: Vijay has nowhere to go but the golf course. He's no stud anymore, but he'll never quit.

Morfit: Vijay's not all that keen to play the senior tour, either. I think he believes he can stay out there a long, long time.

Van Sickle: This is the year of the re-born tournament. Honda stepped up a notch, helped by having Jack and Barbara Nicklaus heavily involved. The LA Open (Ok, Northern Trust) got Jerry West to rebuild the tourney's buzz. Phoenix has a new sponsor spending a lot of money, and Pebble Beach may have gotten a bump from adding Monterey Peninsula to the rotation. Is the Honda actually more attractive now, or did it just get lucky with the leaderboard?

Bamberger: You can't overstate the Nicklaus influence on the Honda, Jack and Barbara and son Gary, too. They do things right or not at all. (See Muirfield Village.) Jack had a private lunch this week with Rory McIlroy. Think it'll be easy for Rory to ever pass on the Honda now? Not likely.

Herre: Used to be the first stop on the Florida swing came after the match play and always took a hit. Coming after Phoenix helps. Plus, PGA National is pretty stout. BTW, next week's venue, the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, is a good one, too.

Van Sickle: Maybe every course in Florida isn't going to try to outdo the U.S. Open when it comes to rough. Nobody likes to watch players hack out. No players like to hack out. The courses thus far have seemed a little more playable than last year, and Arnie has already indicated that he'll back off the deep rough at Bay Hill. Smart move. A tip of the cap all the way around.

Herre: Played the Copperhead a week or so ago. The rough was down, and the tournament folks said they intended to keep it that way.

Morfit: Seems like the Euros came in droves, perhaps using the Honda as a warmup for Doral. But the top Americans stayed away. The tournament will have to get Mickelson or at least Stricker next year.

Gorant: Seems to have built a good rep as a nice event on a solid course. Helps that it's the week before Doral, and a lot of top international players want to come in a week early and get a tuneup.

Evans: It was a good tournament last year when Y.E. Yang won. We just had a sexier winner this year.

Morfit: Although Yang became a lot more interesting after the fact, when he won the PGA.

Van Sickle: Let's go to the inevitable. Tiger Woods did not enter the WGC event at Doral. Not a surprise. It's a weekly exercise, but now what do you think about his return? He's reportedly been practicing like 'a man obsessed.' Seems to me like a TV-event like the Tavistock Cup or Bay Hill might be where he now decides to break in. Will he play the Masters or earlier?

Morfit: He may as well make the Masters his first tournament back. It's like a home game for him, just as much as Bay Hill would be, only with fewer yahoos. To get in game shape he can play money matches at Isleworth with some of the other Tour pros who belong there. It's not the same, but Tiger has played so much tournament golf in his life there's no way he'll forget what it's all about, even after a four-month layoff.

Evans: Tiger plays in the Masters because he's in good health in the prime of his career, and he understands that he can't save his marriage by not playing in a golf tournament. Note to Tiger: Put a mistletoe on your coattail and come back to the tour.

Gorant: Funny how this thing goes up and down. After the apology everyone was sure he wouldn't be back for the Masters. Now he's hitting balls, and everyone's convinced he'll play. Obviously, I have no idea, but it sure feels like he's pointing toward Augusta.

Van Sickle: Remember how Tiger was accused of being selfish for holding his press conference during the Match Play, and then Finchem's letter said it had to be that week because of a rehab break? But a week and a half later, he's apparently done with rehab, back home and hitting golf balls. Seems like now, more than ever, it was a slap to Accenture. Why not wait another 10 days and read the statement this week?

Gorant: Only thing I could possibly offer in his defense is that he might have been at the point in rehab where he has to apologize to those he's hurt. It's possible he couldn't move to the next step until he'd completed that one. Most of that comes from the extensive knowledge of 12-step programs that I've gained watching TV dramas over the years.

Morfit: Yeah, I'm still very unclear on what in the world is going on with Woods, why he still has the same "team" in place, why they have apparently learned nothing throughout this whole thing. They're smart people, or so I thought. It's very strange decision-making all the way around.

Evans: Why fire Tiger's team? No one can follow him around all the time. It seems like we reflexively call for changes without thinking about whether or not they make sense for a person's life.

Morfit: Tiger's alienated so many people, it's simply bull-headed not to change everything about his approach. There's a great saying in baseball: It's not what it is, it's what it looks like. Regardless of whether Tiger's agent and caddie enabled his behavior, they look complicit. Plus, everyone's tired of their power plays, as Ernie's quote vividly illustrated.

Herre: You can say that again, Cam. But I know Team Tiger won't change. They'll dig in even deeper.

Morfit: I wonder if he planned to stay such a short time in his second rehab stint, and I wonder if something happened that prompted him to bag the whole thing and get back to golf.

Evans: I think Tiger just decided he was tired of playing games with the media. And that a part of his healing is to play golf again, full-time.

Lipsey: No matter whether Tiger returns and wins another 14 majors, the first thing everybody will remember about him once he's gone from golf is what unfolded over the last few months.

Van Sickle: I disagree, Rick. Kobe Bryant was charged with a crime, unlike Tiger, and Kobe is back and bigger than ever. Of course, he had to win an NBA title to smooth it over. Tiger can presumably do the same, and I'd say a lot sooner. Win at Pebble or St. Andrews and he will regain a lot of luster. Whether the new Tiger, after he wins some more, will be as marketable to advertisers will be another story, but he can definitely play his way back in the eyes of the public.

Gorant: If his marriage survives, and he succeeds, the scandal becomes a footnote, just like it is for Kobe. It never goes away, but it isn't the first thing mentioned.

Morfit: I agree that certain fans only care about winning. Period. But Tiger's quite possibly lost everyone else for good. Not everyone has such a short-term memory.

Herre: Especially in golf.

Evans: That's the problem with golf: a sanctimonious attitude that isn't based in reality.

Godich: Tiger's problem is that the questions about his personal life and what happened that November night will keep coming until he answers them.

Van Sickle: Three wins or one major and Tiger is right back where he was in the hearts of 90% of the general public.

Herre: Vans, I think you're way high on that estimate. There is WAY more to be reported on Woods's fall, which is something that his handlers are not taking into account.

Godich: I think it depends on how long it takes him to get that next major. If it's a significant period of time, the talk will be about how he's not the player he once was, and the speculation will center on what the scandal did to his game.

Van Sickle: If Tiger wins a few majors and does challenge Jack's record, do you think the public is not going to watch because he got caught cheating on his wife? Not a chance. For the public, Tiger is the guy who makes golf cool and/or interesting. For the media, he's their meal ticket.

Morfit: I think that's all underestimating the HOW. If you win 20 majors and piss everyone off in the process, doesn't that matter? I think it does. So do Ernie Els, Dan Jenkins and a lot of other folks. Even Woods seems to realize he now must beat Jack's record and in the process completely improve his approach to the game.

Godich: I agree, Cam. He also has to figure out a way to deal with questions about the scandal, because until he does that remains the story.

Van Sickle: John Daly sues the Jacksonville newspaper and loses. By suing, he enabled the paper to gain access to his PGA Tour file, which the paper then wrote about. Then he published the writer's phone number on Twitter and told his acolytes to call and complain. It was classic Daly, blaming others for his problems. And now he's got a reality show. I tried watching 'Being John Daly' on Golf Channel and pretty much gagged when he was sitting around with his fan club and started singing. Hilariously, there's an authoritative voice-over narrator trying to give this thing the feel of significance. I thought it was laughably bad, staged and worst of all, uninteresting.

Gorant: Uninteresting is the biggest insult, and truest. Hopefully the ratings suck and that puts an end to the exploitation of J.D. And just to make sure we're accurate, Daly gave out Garry Smits's work cell phone number, not his personal one. You can read what Smits thinks about it in this week's Golf Plus. He wrote the My Shot.

Herre: Typical Daly, acting without thinking. Why in the world would you bring even more attention to your pathetic PGA Tour rap sheet?

Evans: One thing about Daly that you can't take away: The '91 PGA and the '95 British Open and the fact that he can play those two majors into his 60s. Like him or love him, his success has earned him the right to make us take notice of his failures. His debts, his buddies, his critics, the golf writers: to Big John they are all just a piece of the fun ride he's having.

Herre: Daly doesn't look like he's having too much fun to me. And those sycophants sitting around the campfire were kinda creepy.

Van Sickle: Creepy and a little sad.

Bamberger: I find nothing John Daly does or says interesting and urge my loved ones to waste no emotion on him as he will surely let them down.

Van Sickle: A story quietly brewing may be the rise of the Champions Tour. Fred Couples won the Toshiba over the weekend, and Tom Watson shot another low score, 62 in the final round. The Champions Tour hasn't been this cool since Lee Trevino was winning with regularity. Too bad Fred keeps saying he's playing a limited senior schedule. Maybe these fun wins will change his mind.

Morfit: Watson is one of the hottest players in golf. Quickly, let's all get to Turnberry. We're replaying the 2009 British Open.

Evans: The Seniors are great fun, and Couples is a great role model for the no-cut, no-pressure tour.

Bamberger: I can't get enough of the seniors. And don't forget about Bernhard, plus Tommy Armour, plus ancients like Hale Irwin still shooting good scores. It's fascinating.

Van Sickle: I'll predict right now that, thanks to Fred and Watson, this is going to be the most interesting season in a decade for the Champions Tour.

Herre: The seniors are off to a great start, but who's watching? On the weekends, why doesn't Golf Channel air the seniors against the big Tour? I'd probably go back and forth and watch some of both, probably more of whatever event was most compelling — like the one Couples or Watson is leading.

Van Sickle: Who's ever watching golf? It's never about ratings. But there is clearly an uptick in interest, albeit small.

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