Jason Dufner won the Byron Nelson with a birdie on the final hole.
Fred Vuich / SI
By SI Golf Group
Monday, May 21, 2012

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

IS DUFNER THE BEST YANK TODAY?
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Three weeks after his first career PGA Tour victory, Jason Dufner did it again at the Nelson with a dramatic 25-footer for birdie to win by one shot. Here's a question no one could have anticipated a month ago: Is Jason Dufner the best American player in the game right now?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: As of this moment, I have to say yes. He might not continue to be, but I put him on the top of my ballot in the SIGolf Ranking this week.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He's as good as anyone else out there. The best American player is a Jeopardy question: Potpourri for $200, Alex.

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

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Until a couple of days ago, I'd have said Kuchar.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I don't see why not. I'm trying to think who I'd put ahead of Dufner, but I'm drawing a blank.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: He's playing as well and seems as confident as anyone in the world right now, so I'd have to say yes. He's like Machine Gun Kelly on the tee and from the fairways. Barring something crazy happening between now and the end of September, he's on the Ryder Cup team for sure.

Godich: If Dufner falls out of the top eight between now and September, Davis Love III will have a heck of a lot of hot players to take to Medinah. And who wouldn't want to be Dufner's partner?

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: I can just hear Tiger now, "Well, when you have a partner like Duffy ..."

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It depends on how you define "best American player." He's the hottest American player, of course. Luke Donald of Chicago and Jupiter, Fla., (by way of England) is a better American player. If I had to pick one American to play for my house in match play, it would probably be Nick Watney or Keegan Bradley, with Phil and Tiger given very serious consideration.

Morfit: Dufner is my new No. 1, and next week's No. 1 could be Fowler or any number of players. It's parity time.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I guess the state of American golf is strong. In Duff we trust.

Van Sickle: Does that make Dicky Pride (one of golf's greatest names) No. 2?

Godich: I wouldn't knock Dicky. He already had a pair of top 10s before this week, including a T7 at the Honda. Who knew?

Van Sickle: I'm not knocking him. He's a good player whose career got sidetracked by injuries. We never saw him at his best. Maybe he can get back there now. Pretty impressive finish.

Morfit: Duf is the new Raymundo. Rickie is the new Lanny. Stadler is the new Stadler.

Van Sickle: Duf-Man is more like the new Gene Littler. I don't see him staring anybody down like Raymond Floyd did, but even putting him in the same sentence is a deserved compliment to Dufner.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Dufner the best American golfer in the game today?

MICKELSON'S U.S. OPEN HEX
Ritter: Phil Mickelson made a Sunday charge at the Nelson before an ugly three-putt at the 17th hole and a sloppy bogey on the 18th left him with a 66 and a T7 finish. Still, that's five top 10s in 12 events this year for Lefty. What are the chances that Phil ends his U.S. Open hex next month at Olympic?

Morfit: Phil put on a good show, but it was pretty obvious he wasn't going to win after starting that far back. That long bunker shot to save par on 15 was a beauty.

Van Sickle: The best thing about Phil is that he's totally unpredictable. I like his chances better when he's not one of the favorites. After all the to-do about Fowler and Kuchar and now Dufner, plus McIlroy and Donald, Phil will be one of the faces in the crowd, not The Favorite. He's got a chance; he's always a threat when his putter starts working.

Dusek: Exactly. If Phil lays an egg at Memorial, that will probably mean he'll shoot a 61 at Olympic after we write the "What's the matter with Phil?" articles. There's no way to tell when and where his next hot streak is going to come, but as long as he can make putts, he's capable of winning.

Herre: He is unpredictable, but I like the way he's playing right now. Obviously, he's trying to peak for the Open.

Godich: Based on how he has tried to peak for the Masters every year, we know that means absolutely nothing. That's what makes Phil so intriguing. You have to love his short game, though. He'll always be hanging around, especially at the Open.

Bamberger: He could, of course, but it wouldn't be the first place I'd pick for him. In the past Olympic has played very, very tight. Maybe this year they'll give the players a wider berth.

Morfit: Mickelson is a very good U.S. Open player, although it's often obscured by the fact that he hasn't won. Still, five second-place finishes? Come on. That's pretty darn good. I'd say his chances of winning at Olympic are as good as anyone not named Dufner.

Reiterman: Phil has yet another chance to win a U.S. Open in his home state. I'd be surprised if he's not in the last two or three groups on Sunday.

Morfit: Since Olympic is the "Graveyard of Champions," I see Duf or maybe Ben Curtis beating Phil with a 35-foot birdie putt on 18.

Hack: A top 3 for Phil at Olympic is all but guaranteed. In fact, make it a top 2.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Mickelson peaking in time for the U.S. Open?

PRESSEL CALLED FOR SLOW PLAY
Ritter: Slow play may be unchecked on the PGA Tour, but over on the LGPA, dawdling players are brought to justice. In Sunday's Sybase Match Play, Morgan Pressel won the 12th hole of her semifinal match against Azahara Munoz to go 3-up with six to play, but an official met the pair on the 13th tee and hit Pressel with a slow-play penalty, which resulted in an automatic loss of the hole. Suddenly just 1-up through 12, Pressel went on to lose the match. What's your take on this penalty? Should it be applied across all tours? What about the Ryder Cup?

Godich: Absolutely. A rule is a rule. I was surprised how matter-of-factly Pressel took the news. She had to be steaming.

Morfit: Oh, yeah. She's as fiery as they come on the LPGA.

Herre: Pace of play should be strictly enforced at all levels of competitive golf. It can be done. For years, the AJGA has employed a brilliant system that really works. Congratulations to the LPGA. Slow-play penalties should be part of the game. If a player knows that, he/she will make every effort to avoid them.

Van Sickle: If you bitched about slow play, you can't bitch about doling out penalties. All you can ask is that the rules are enforced evenly and fairly. I'm giving the LPGA kudos for finally doing something about it, especially when it was completely and shockingly ignored at Oakmont during the Women's Open.

Morfit: It's ironic that this happens with just four players on the course. How much is that really going to speed up play? Geoff Ogilvy was saying at the Players that he and some other non-slowpokes would voluntarily take a one-shot penalty just to scare the turtles.

Reiterman: Loved it. Someone enforced a rule! Genius! What made it even better was Pressel said after the match, "I didn't think that was actually going to happen."

Van Sickle: Slow play continues because there is no fear of repercussion. Even fines, when you're playing for a $1.2 million first prize, are inconsequential. Strokes are the only prescription for this fever.

Dusek: At some point, someone was going to get hit with the first penalty, and I'm sure we all assumed it would be a guy on the PGA Tour. So it's Morgan. Golf has a ton of rules that seem a little silly, but players have to abide by them all the same. If she broke the rule, enforce it and penalize her. Kudos for doing the right thing, and let's hope it's the start of a trend toward faster play.

Bamberger: Kooch had the right idea: a true shot clock, and your first bad time should cost you a shot. Slow play is lethal to the game, on every level. The problem is really not Kevin Na and how much time he spends over his shot. The problem is how much time players spend getting to their shots. You should always (within reason) be advancing to your ball.

Van Sickle: The Ryder Cup would be the best place to get serious about slow play. It seems as if slow-playing the Americans has long been a European tactic, although several Americans are also guilty of turtle-like paces.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Was it fair to penalize Pressel with a lost hole for her slow play?

CROSSOVER POTENTIAL
Ritter: Munoz went on to win the match play title for her first LPGA victory, while Pressel won her consolation match to take third. Do either Munoz or Pressel have the combination of game and marketability to join Wie, Creamer and a few others as one of the tour's crossover stars?

Van Sickle: Step one to being an LPGA crossover star is to win a lot, especially the majors. In fact, the LPGA's profile is so low that even winning majors doesn't make you a star. I don't see either of these players, talented as they are, being able to keep up with Yani Tseng in the near future.

Bamberger: It would really be an insult to Yani to speak of players not nearly her equal becoming crossover stars when she is not despite being ridiculously good.

Morfit: Pressel has loads of personality. The LPGA will be well served if she keeps playing well.

Godich: I see two players who will hit a ton of good shots but do nothing to make you say, "Wow!"

Herre: Pressel is a tremendous match player, but a short-knocker. If she was ever going to rise to the absolute top, it probably would have happened by now. Even though Morgan is young, she has been on tour for six years. Munoz was rookie of the year in 2010 and still has time to take it up a notch. I like her chances.

Dusek: Morgan could move the needle a little, but I don't think she will cross over. Yani Tseng is going to win too many events. She's firmly established herself as the best female golfer in the world, and she hasn't crossed over.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Could Pressel or Munoz become crossover stars on the LPGA tour?

LPGA MAKES PLAY FOR AMEN CORNER
Ritter: This week LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan said that he contacts Augusta National every year about hosting an LPGA tour event. Would 2013 be the right time for the green jackets to take the commish up on his offer?

Dusek: It would be fantastic to see an LPGA event held at Augusta National, for both the tour and the club. However, it wouldn't stop the drumbeat for Augusta National to admit a woman as a member. Nor should it.

Van Sickle: Only if they've already anointed a female member. Without one, a women's tournament there would simply be another shooting gallery for the media.

Herre: I can't imagine that ANGC would hold two major pro tournaments a year, and people forget that the club is closed for the entire summer, when the course "recovers" from the stress of the Masters.

Reiterman: It's great that the commish is trying, but each time Whan brings this up, I can just see Billy Payne laughing hysterically, wiping a tear from his eye and saying, "That's a good one, Mike, but seriously ..."

Van Sickle: I agree that it's not realistic to think the club would give up another week in its "short" season. Maybe the ladies should be invited for their own par-3 tourney on Tuesday afternoon?

Godich: If the folks at Augusta call (and they won't), Whan would make a stronger statement by saying his tour will be thrilled to play there -- as soon as the club admits a female member.

Bamberger: Better than an LPGA event would be a U.S. Women's Open. If it went well, and it would, they could do it once every five years. All ANGC has to do is say yes and get some female members.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Would Augusta make a good host of an LPGA event?

HOW FAR CAN COLSAERTS GO?
Ritter: Over in Spain, big-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts won the World Match Play, where he took down Graeme McDowell on the 18th hole in the final. That's seven top 10s in 11 events for the Belgian. Are you buying Colsaerts as a name to watch at the majors this summer?

Van Sickle: Nope. Hitting it long doesn't translate to success at Olympic Club, Lytham or the Ocean Course. Doesn't mean I don't want to see him bash away, however.

Dusek: There's a difference between winning in match play and winning a major stroke play event. American golf fans might take him lightly if he plays for Ollie at the European Ryder Cup team, but that would be a mistake.

Herre: The Match Play is a good win for him, but he hasn't done much against world-class fields. A lot of his success has come in the second-tier Euro tour competitions.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will Colsaerts be on your radar at the majors this summer?

MINI-TOUR PRO FIRES 55
Ritter: Nice story this week from Oklahoma, where a 26-year-old mini-tour player named Rhein Gibson fired a 55 that included 12 birdies and two eagles. I don't know what's more staggering, the number itself, or the fact that the golfer wasn't named Kim Jong Il. We've seen a few 59s on Tour in recent years, and golf equipment just keeps getting more user-friendly. Is shooting a good score today easier than it's ever been?

Dusek: For the pros, I'd say yes because the equipment is better and the quality of the greens is so high. But nationally the handicap average hasn't really moved. Golf is a really tough game, and most people don't have the time to practice, so shooting low scores is going to remain challenging.

Godich: Not for me. Most amazing is the way these guys make par or even birdie after they've hit it to a spot where you think they're going to make bogey or worse.

Van Sickle: The game has never been easier, but as David pointed out, that hasn't helped the masses all that much. If you don't believe the new equipment is easier to hit, try teeing it up with an old persimmon driver and a 1970s-era ball. You won't believe how short and crooked you hit it.

Bamberger: Absolutely. Not only the equipment, but the courses are absurdly short. What's 7,200 yards to a guy who can cover 560 yards with a driver and a hybrid?

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is golf easier than it's ever been?

TIGER STILL KING OF ENDORSEMENTS, FOR NOW
Ritter: Let's conclude with This Week in Tiger. Woods skipped the Nelson but committed to two events, the Greenbrier and the Memorial. He also landed at No. 12 on something called the Forbes Celebrity 100 List, where he was the highest-ranked athlete. His income dropped to an estimated $58 million, down from a peak of $115 million in 2008, when he was second on the list behind Oprah. Would a major or two restore Tiger's endorsements to pre-scandal levels? Which golfer do you think will be the first to overtake him on Forbes list?

Godich: These companies are walking a fine line with Tiger. He seems to be slowly winning back fans, but there will always be a good-sized faction that will never forgive him for his transgressions.

Reiterman: Tiger breaking Jack's record could be one of the biggest sports stories of our time. If he gets to 15 or 16 pretty soon, I bet he'd be back to pre-scandal.

Herre: A couple of big wins would certainly lift Tiger in golf circles, but commercially his best days are behind him. Many people, particularly women, can't get past his transgressions.

Van Sickle: The book didn't help his cause. He was exposed as an even bigger you-know-what than most people thought.

Bamberger: Two majors would restore 64 percent of Tiger's lost income because everyone loves a winner, right? The one golfer who can surpass him on the Forbes list is Phil because he'll likely make a killing in the food business in the next 20 years.

Morfit: I could see Fowler nearing TW's current off-course portfolio if he keeps winning. He signed a boatload of endorsement deals even before he won. He's got a lot of appeal and hits all four quadrants: young-old, men-women. The marketing money has to go somewhere.

Reiterman: Phil's at No. 48, so he's the only one who could even get close. I thought it was interesting that Mickelson, according to Forbes, made only $10 million less than Tiger last year.

Van Sickle: Winning a pair of majors will reignite Tiger-mania, but perhaps not his endorsement appeal. Tiger would have to win and put on a charm offensive in his dealings with the media, something he's never done and may not be capable of. But if he wins enough, he can outrun his past misdeeds, just like Kobe Bryant.

Dusek: To pick the player most likely to overtake Woods on the Forbes list, you need to figure out who is going to be the most marketable. It might continue to be Mickelson, but Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler will ink some deals too. That said, unless the global economy picks up, it's hard to imagine anyone snaring the kind of deals that Tiger used to sign with Fortune 500 companies.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Would a major or two restore Tiger's endorsement deals to pre-scandal levels? Who will be the first golfer to pass him on the Forbes list?

 

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