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 our all-new live Readers' Confidential or in the comments section below.
A TIGER-RORY-PHIL LETDOWN?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: If the Tiger-Rory showdown doesn't materialize this week -- if neither of them contends -- will it be a letdown? Does the Masters need at least one of them to be in the hunt?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Sorry, it's not a Tiger-Rory world yet. It's still a Tiger-Phil world, or as Paul Azinger likes to say, the tour is a two-show pony. It would be disappointing if Tiger, Rory and Phil aren't in the mix at some point, but not that disappointing. It's the Masters. It'll have an exciting finish, and we'll crown an excited champion and take home another bit of lore, even if someone named Charl Schwartzel creates it.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I think the only way there'd be a letdown would be if Tiger, Rory and Phil all failed to contend, and that's not happening. No way.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Agree, Cam. At least one of them will contend, and all three will at least do something to grab our attention.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: For a decade we pined for Tiger-Phil showdowns, and it only happened a couple of times. Prepare for a letdown.
Godich: You want to create buzz, why not pair Tiger, Phil and Rory in the first two rounds?
Van Sickle: You'd have to ask the people who control golf -- CBS.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: The Masters doesn't need Woods vs. McIlroy -- we do. The media always pull for the best story.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: For the average fan, I think it will be a letdown if Woods and McIlroy and Mickelson completely fizzle. Of course it'll be fun to watch no matter what, but I think there are a lot of golf fans hoping to see those three battling with each other and anyone else who wants to join the fun on Sunday evening.
Van Sickle: Disagree, Charlie. For the average fan, it's a thrill to see the golf course get played well -- or badly -- by anyone. This is the one event the viewers tune in first to see the course, second to see who's winning.
Hanger: I think the course is a co-star, no doubt, but I think the first question out of most viewers' mouths on Sunday afternoon will be, "Where's Tiger? And Phil and Rory?"
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The greatness of the tournament is you can't guess how it will play out. It is true theater.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Those three names would bring in the casual golf fans, but the Masters doesn't need to do anything besides stage a tournament. It will be the most-watched golf broadcast of the year regardless of who's in contention on Sunday.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I'm worried there's so much hype about this being The Best Masters Ever that it's inevitable someone like Simon Dyson (no offense) is going to win.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Exactly. Asking for a showdown is preparing for a letdown. It's golf, not boxing.
Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Does the Masters need Rory, Tiger and Phil to contend to be compelling this year?
MAHAN GETS SECOND WIN OF 2012
Gorant: We media types are always predicting breakthrough victories for players (Sergio's Players, Scott's Players, etc.), and while those projections seem logical, they don't often pan out. Hunter Mahan looked to have a potential breakthrough at the Match Play. Does this week's win in Houston legitimize that belief?
Godich: I'd say yes, and I think you can boil it down to the way he played the last four holes today with a one-shot lead. And how about that flop shot at 17? Certainly not the same guy who flubbed the chip with the Ryder Cup on the line.
Van Sickle: I've said it a million times: winners always look invincible when they win because they played their best that week. Mahan at his best is formidable, as Johnny Miller pointed out several times. As far as majors go, though, I'll still list Hunter in the Talented With Potential category until he wins one. I like his chances better all the time. He's driving it like David Toms in his prime.
Morfit: I need to see more to be fully convinced, and I only say that because Hunter cruised along in top-25 mode for so long. He could convince me at a little toonamint down in 'Gusta this week.
Godich: Given the way he drives the ball, I like Hunter's chances better at a U.S. Open. He still has to show me more with the short game; that's why I'm not sold on his winning at Augusta.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Mahan is the real deal, though that doesn't mean winning every week, or close. Three of four wins in a year would be monumental, even for the best American (by ranking) on earth.
Hanger: I think he's a legit top-10 player and a threat to win a major this year. He's definitely joined the elite in my book.
Hack: Hunter is on the doorstep with Lee, Luke, Justin, Dustin, Bubba and Watney. One of them ought to break through soon, you'd think.
Herre: His short game will certainly be put to the test. If he contends at Augusta, you'd have to conclude he has arrived as an elite player.
Wei: Winning the Match Play was key for Hunter and definitely a breakthrough for him. After that win, his caddie John Wood said it was a "huge step forward" for Hunter's confidence. This week definitely adds to that. Now he just needs a major. He was going to be one of my picks for the Masters, but we all know how tough it is to win back-to-back weeks, especially at a major.
Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Are you ready to put Mahan in the class of golf's elite players?
PHIL ARRIVES IN TOP FORM
Gorant: Phil didn't get the win this week -- he burned a lot of edges out there -- but he looked good. Does his performance bode well for the Masters?
Herre: He seems to think it does.
Bamberger: Phil is right where he needs to be.
Godich: Haven't we learned by now that you can't read anything on Phil from week to week? Last year, he buried that field at Houston but couldn't carry that momentum into Augusta.
Morfit: I actually like that Mickelson didn't win. Who needs everyone saying the Masters is yours to lose? That didn't work out so well for Phil last year.
Shipnuck: Phil has been my pick for a while, and his strong play this week only confirms it. Nobody plays Augusta National better, and a lot of folks seem to have already forgotten what happened on Sunday at Pebble -- that was merely the round of the year so far.
Van Sickle: Phil is mercurial. You just never know. His playing well this year bodes a lot better than past years, when he's been off the boil, as the Brits say. I always like Phil in the majors better when expectations for him are low. They're high now, but he certainly isn't in the spotlight alone, which is good for him.
Hanger: They set Houston up to be a lot like Augusta, and just the fact that Mickelson played while so many of the others sat out shows that he's serious about doing all he can to get ready. We know Phil played Augusta Monday and Tuesday, and as Cameron told us, one of his playing partners, Brendan Steele, was duly impressed with his game and his ability to get around the National.
Hack: Phil will have a chance on Sunday. Just sniffing the azaleas will have him in the mood.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: With three wins in the last eight Masters, Mickelson should be everybody's Masters favorite. His play so far this year -- and this week -- just reinforces that.
Wei: His form going into the Masters is irrelevant, but you know Phil will show up at Augusta and contend. Just look at his record since 2000. It speaks for itself. He's only been out of the top 10 twice in the last 12 Masters, and he's been in the top 5 eight times.
Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What do you expect from Phil this week?
ANOTHER SUNDAY, ANOTHER BLOWN LEAD
Gorant: Can we now agree that the worst thing on the PGA Tour is a lead after 54 holes? Louis Oosthuizen led Mahan by two heading into Sunday and shot three-over 75. What's with the collapses this year?
Van Sickle: A lot of guys are up there who aren't used to winning. It's tougher than it looks, if that's possible.
Godich: Well, Louis was only a couple of shots up, and it's not like he's been in the hunt a lot since winning the British a couple of years back.
Shipnuck: It's hard to protect a lead, which should give us more appreciation for what Tiger did 1997-2009.
Morfit: With Louis it seems like it's all mental. He seems to get down on himself and one bogey leads to two, and then worse. I saw him do the same thing at the Honda Classic, albeit not in contention.
Wei: It's always mental, isn't it?
Lipsey: This shows that even the world's best players suffer from the same mental meltdowns we do. No other way to explain how a guy like Oosthuizen could collapse today.
Hack: Mahan is one of the hottest players on Tour. I'm not surprised Hunter overtook him.
Morfit: Sean Foley's turning into the 2012 MVP(erson) of 2012. He's this year's Chubby!
Van Sickle: Great point, Cam. I guess Sean is officially the new instructor flavor of the month. It's been awhile since any teacher's students have gotten this hot. A new instruction video can't be far behind.
Hack: For Sean's sake, I hope he's not Chubby. If so, Hunter's about to bolt.
Van Sickle: It will be an interesting Ryder Cup for Mr. Foley, if he's got Tiger and Hunter on one team and Justin Rose on the other. Does he get clothes from both sides?
Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Why have there been so many final-round collapses this season?
WILL AUGUSTA FINALLY WELCOME A FEMALE MEMBER?
Gorant: A controversy arose this week for Augusta National. The last four CEOs for IBM, a major Masters sponsor, have been invited to join the club, but now the company's CEO is a woman -- Virginia Rometty. Should she get the tap on the shoulder?
Shipnuck: If not her, another woman should. A truly private all-male club like Burning Tree is fine, but Augusta National, Inc. (it's official name) is an important part of the golf firmament. Its chairman is like a third-party commissioner. The club helps set policy for the World Ranking and the First Tee, and the Masters is the sport's most important tournament. Given all this, the club can't claim to exist solely for the enjoyment of its members. It's time to open the doors.
Van Sickle: Actually, Alan, I think Burning Tree is a bad example. Its membership roster is loaded with elected public officials, who set a bad example by holding membership in an exclusionary club. Burning Tree is also a far worse offender in that women aren't welcome on the grounds at all. Female guests play golf at Augusta with members on a regular basis.
Shipnuck: Good point, Vans. Burning Tree is pretty retrograde. Any exclusionary club is, by definition.
Herre: There is going to be a tipping point in this controversy -- there always is. Will it be Rometty? Probably not because to most folks she is just a faceless corporate executive, and one who is probably horrified that this is even an issue. Some day, though, the exclusion of women is going to blow up on ANGC. Bet on it.
Morfit: Billy Payne is the most forward-thinking chairman they've had at the National since I've covered the Masters. If a woman is ever going to be invited to join the club, I'd guess it's going to happen under his watch.
Van Sickle: If she were a 4-handicapper and an avid player, it might have added a little pressure. But I think Jim is right, and I also think Billy Payne will resolve the issue before it gets anywhere near a boiling point. Condoleezza Rice is still out there somewhere, right?
Bamberger: And they love her at Cypress Point and Shoal Creek.
Hack: Augusta National's membership policies -- past and present -- have always made me uncomfortable. I love covering the Masters. I love the course. But I never feel completely at ease there.
Herre: I hear that from a lot of people, Damon. I feel the same way.
Bamberger: That's the worst part of Hoootie's legacy. I thought the club was run by Southern gents until he opened his mouth about Martha Burk.
Lipsey: I totally agree. Vijay Singh, I think, feels the same way, which is why he basically cursed the club on his way to the parking lot hours after he won the Masters. I was walking a few feet behind Vijay as he left the clubhouse and walked to the lot while he vented mean words about the club. If a guy who just won the green jacket feels that way, you know he's not alone.
Herre: And for those who are wondering what he said, it was: "Kiss my a--, everybody!"
Bamberger: An even bigger problem is the Tour, which has standards and ignores them for the Masters on the basis of semantics.
Van Sickle: Exactly right, Michael. That's where Martha Burk should've attacked. The PGA Tour was the weakest link in the Masters membership dust-up.
Lipsey: Dead on. The Tour yanked regular events from exclusionary places, as did the USGA, but the Tour never has a problem with counting Augusta dollars on the Tour money list.
Godich: My understanding is that Rometty is not much of a golfer. Give that membership to somebody who will use it -- me!
Van Sickle: Wake up, Godich. The last thing they're looking for in a member is somebody who wants to come down to Augusta and play the course a lot. A non-golfing female member might be ideal. She'd break the barrier without wearing out the course with guest play. Perfect!
Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Should Augusta bring in IBM's new CEO as its first female member?
SOGGY DAYS AHEAD?
Gorant: The forecast in Augusta calls for temps between 70 and 80 with chances of thunderstorms Thursday and Friday. If the course is wet early, does that favor the long hitters or bring the short hitters into it by making the par 5s three-shotters?
Herre: Usually a wet course favors the big hitters.
Bamberger: A fast course brings in more players. Wet is great for Bubba and Rory and Keegan.
Godich: Wet course or not, the big hitters are going to get home. And soft conditions will help them keep it in play off the tee.
Van Sickle: The Masters has done a brilliant job of becoming the best all-around test in golf, with a nerve-bending emphasis on chipping and putting. Short hitters have done well in firm and wet conditions. I like their chances better in firm and fast weather, or when the course and the conditions are so difficult that nobody can make birdies, no matter how good or how long they are. For instance, the years Zach Johnson and Jose Maria Olazabal won.
Morfit: I'm told it poured here a couple days ago, and the sub-air machines were humming today. It was also around 85 degrees.
Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Who is best equipped to conquer a soggy Augusta National?
Gorant: Okay, enough dancing around the issue. Who are you picking, and who's your dark horse? (This is as of today; previous predictions are non-binding.)
Morfit: I'll go with Phil, and my dark-horse is Robert Garrigus. (Top that!)
Gorant: I said dark horse, not invisible horse.
Van Sickle: Tiger finished fourth the last two years with no swing. Now he's swinging the best he has in eight years. His Bay Hill rout was no accident. I'll take Tiger. Sleeper pick is my favorite late-night-range golfer, Kyle Stanley. He's long, he's a shotmaker and, with apologies to Vijay, he's the new hardest-working man in golf.
Godich: I'll take Tiger. He almost won with his C game each of the past two years. Now, after taking my suggestion that he needs to play more, he is peaking at just the right time. My darkhorse pick is Sergio Garcia. It's going to be Medinah 1999 all over again.
Lipsey: Justin Rose. The Sean Foley show goes on.
Bamberger: Phil to win. Darkhorse goes to Fred twenty years later.
Hack: This year, Charl takes a photo with Rory McIlroy wearing the green jacket. Dark horse is Mark "Boom Boom" Wilson.
Ritter: I'm still taking Rory to win. For a dark horse, sign me up for Snedeker.
Van Sickle: I'm sure that John Garrity, in absentia, takes Robert Karlsson.
Hanger: I think it's Tiger's time, but let's mix it up: Luke Donald finally gets a major.
Walker: Winner: Mickelson. Dark Horse: Brandt Snedeker.
Wei: Sean Foley is now the most dominant person in golf. He's the obvious favorite for the Masters. Rory's my other pick, and my dark horse is Brandt Snedeker or Sang-Moon Bae.
Shipnuck: Phil wins. My dark horse is a guy with only one Tour win in the last 3 years: Tiger Woods.
Godich: A friend posed an interesting question to me the other day: If you could have Tiger, Phil and Rory OR the field to win, who are you taking? I said the field, arguing that there are just too many good players out there, and no matter how well those three hit it, the guy whose putter is the hottest will be your winner.
Morfit: That's a tough call, but I'd lean toward Tiger/Rory/Phil. They've just shown too much mastery of the course to ignore.
Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Pick your winner and your dark horse.