PGA Tour Confidential: Nick Watney boosts Ryder Cup chances, Ko's historic win

Tuesday August 28th, 2012
Nick Watney won the Barclays on Sunday and took the lead in the PGA Tour playoffs.
Carlos M Saavedra/SI

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.

LESSONS FROM THE BARCLAYS
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Hello, sports fans. Interesting week, including a new star for women's golf, 15-year-old amateur Lydia Ko. But let's start with Nick Watney outlasting Sergio Garcia at the Barclays. It seems as if Davis Love's four picks got a whole lot easier, with top finishes by Watney, Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson. What if anything did you learn from the first tournament of the FedEx Cup playoffs?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I would love to see D.J. playing well going into the Ryder Cup. He has the kind of big game that could lift the U.S. side.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Johnson also has a putting stroke that could lose a tight, meaningful singles match. I still don't have faith in him on the greens when things get tough. Bamberger: I learned, again, that Watney looks like an altar boy, until he gets in contention. Then he's all killer.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Easier?! Watney wasn't even being considered and Sneds was a long shot. Now they're strong candidates along with at least five other guys. Love is gonna have a hard time sleeping tonight.

Morfit: I know D.J. and Rickie Fowler and probably Jim Furyk were on the short list. Who else did Love have on that list going into Bethpage?

Shipnuck: Stricker is a lock. And Mahan remains a candidate but hurt himself with a missed cut.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Fred. He's off the list now.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Agree that Love's job just got a whole lot tougher. Watney had done next to nothing this year. (I know because he is on my fantasy team.) What about Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan? How do you leave those two off?

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Stricker's a lock. Can't leave the best putter off the team. Plus, who would Tiger partner with?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What I learned this week is that nothing is really settled. I don't think anyone locked up a Ryder Cup spot, although D.J. and Watney certainly put themselves in better position. I, too, believe Stricker is a certain pick, but the fact that Tiger apparently can't pair with anyone else (which I don't believe) is a red flag. Also, Mickelson has some serious issues going on with his game. That's a potential uh-oh.

Herre: Everyone assumes Stricker to be a pick, and he usually plays well this time of year, but he was so-so at the Barclays. His spot could come down to how well he plays this week.

Dusek: The emergence of Nick Watney as a hot player muddies an already deep field of potential captain's picks. I think Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan are locks, but Watney now joins Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker as players vying for the final two captain's picks. The next two weeks are going to be huge for those players.

Herre: I think Snedeker has a great shot. The guy can putt, and you can't have too many good putters in match play. Plus, I like his grit. Would seem to be a good partner.

Reiterman: I love his aggressive style, too. Sees the shot, hits it. Perfect for match play.

Van Sickle: You win the Ryder Cup with putting. Love should load up with the best putters he can find. That means Stricker and Snedeker for starters. Go from there.

Bamberger: The best way to improve your putting is by hitting it close to the hole. The best way to do that is with one of the shorter clubs. The shorter the better. The best way to approach with a short club is to drive it long. Dustin.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What did you take away from Nick Watney's win at the Barclays?

WATNEY AND THE U.S. SQUAD
Morfit: What do we think of Watney as a potential Ryder Cupper? Anyone who can win on a golf course that hard, in front of fans that rowdy, exactly one month before the matches...

Shipnuck: Next week is big for Watney. If he can come strong again and establish himself as the hottest player this minute, that will make it tough for Love not to take him. But if he blows up, then Bethpage looks more like a surprising week in what had been a down year.

Godich: As I said, Watney hadn't done much before this week, but I'd also be a tad concerned about the shaky putting in the middle of the round on Sunday. Those three three-putts have to be a concern.

Shipnuck: The greens were so funky this week that I don't think the three-putts are a big deal. On the contrary, Watney worked on his stroke this week with local legend Darrell Kestner and believes he's found some magic.

Dusek: This entire discussion is only happening because of the changes Paul Azinger implemented before Valhalla. Because he pushed back the date of the captain's picks, Love now has a better chance to see who the hottest players are immediately before the Ryder Cup. That's great, but it also opens up second guessing as guys we previously assumed would be on could be playing themselves off the team.

Herre: Azinger's changes to the selection process were game-changing. Getting four picks, and making them later, gives the U.S. more, better options.

Godich: Remember the days of getting only one wild-card pick if the PGA champion didn't qualify on points? Can you imagine? Funny that it took that long to make the change. Why have a team that was locked in six weeks before the event, especially in golf.

Van Sickle: Some PGA officials questioned Azinger's request to wait so long. They were concerned about getting the team picture poster printed in time. Seriously. Zinger's changes didn't all come easily, and their importance cannot be overstated.

Morfit: Do you think Olazabal would prefer four picks instead of two? One thing it does for sure is put more of the onus on the captain to make sound decisions.

Tiger Woods
Carlos M. Saavedra/SI
Tiger Woods had a lackluster finish at the Barclays. Is he still the best American player?

Bamberger: The only thing he would like better than four is five or more.

Shipnuck: Yeah, I'm quite sure Ollie would love to have someone beside Kaymer on his team.

Godich: Maybe so, but Ollie can always say that he was hamstrung by having only two picks.

Reiterman: I wish the captains picked the entire team. To hell with the points. Would Love even pick Mickelson right now if he had 12 picks? Probably not.

Dusek: Love would pick Mickelson, but your idea is interesting. I have to believe that having more than two picks would be a good thing for Ollie because it would give him some wiggle room to bring in one unconventional pick. Love tweeted that until Fred Couples withdrew with a back injury this week, he'd been a candidate for a captain's pick. He may have been joking, but with four picks in his pocket, it's a luxury Love has that Olazabal doesn't.

Morfit: What I love about the idea of giving each captain 12 picks is the huge upsurge in back-room maneuvering, bruised feelings and warring factions. Of course it's never going to happen, but a guy can dream.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will Nick Watney get a captain's pick for the U.S. Ryder Cup team?

BEST AMERICANS RIGHT NOW
Morfit: On another Ryder-related note, Phil Mickelson, who had an outside chance at the Barclays, was trying a claw-like putting stroke, pushed everything left and shot 76. Tiger also had an outside chance and also shot 76. Who exactly are Team USA's best two Ryder Cup players at the moment?

Bamberger: Tiger and Watney.

Dusek: Mickelson also flip-flopped between putters, switching to his old blade at the start of the Barclays, then changing again to the putter he used at Kiawah.

Reiterman: Good grief, Phil! The claw?! I'd still say Tiger is the best player right now, but you could make an argument for Duf-nah.

Herre: Both Tiger and Phil are out of sorts. The claw thing was Phil being Phil. I'm sure Dave Stockton is mortified. Tiger is simply not playing well. Average driving and career-worst putting contributed to another lost weekend.

Shipnuck: Tiger and Phil are rarely studs at the Ryder Cup anyway. The U.S. has no best player, which makes it a dangerous team.

Godich: I also liked that Dufner chose to skip the Barclays. Bethpage probably wasn't his kind of course, and he'll be well-rested for the September stretch.

Morfit: I totally agree, Mark. I watched Furyk's grinding away to try and make the cut at the Black on Friday, and it was painful. He's not the type of bomber that course was made for, but he played admirably and simply couldn't buy a putt coming in. Obviously he's trying to impress Love, as are the other guys.

Dusek: Certainly Dufner's decision to skip the Barclays doesn't look bad now. Watney leads the FedEx Cup points race, but Rory and Tiger and Zach's performances won't push them much further ahead of Dufner.

Van Sickle: The key to success in pro golf is being ready to play, physically and mentally. Dufner and Garcia, who said he would skip the Deutsche Bank, made wise decisions to recharge before the Ryder Cup. They're not going to regret it, no matter where they finish in the FedEx Cash Grab.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who's the best American player right now?

EURO PICKS AND SELECTION PROCESS
Morfit: Let's talk about Europe's Ryder Cup team, which will be finalized early Monday morning. Padraig Harrington became a juicy first-day story at the Barclays after his opening-round 64 at Bethpage Black. That's because of his stormy history with Euro captain Jose Maria Olazabal, and a strange decision by the European tour to include its own Johnnie Walker in the points race while excluding the Barclays. Anyone else find this an odd decision?

Van Sickle: Harrington wasn't even going to get a look unless he won, and if he did, Ollie still would've passed him over. Everyone loves the guy, but his Ryder Cup record is abysmal. We'll miss his quotes, though.

Reiterman: It is an odd decision, but Harrington's sluggish finish made it easier on Jose. Poulter and Colsaerts are looking pretty good for picks.

Shipnuck: Typical Euro tour politics. The only reason was to try to induce guys to play at Gleneagles.

Dusek: Agreed. It's the European tour's way of saying that guys need to play European tour events instead of big-money PGA Tour events.

Bamberger: It's a flat-out dis of the U.S. tour.

Godich: They couldn't have been too pleased seeing so many of their big names at Bethpage.

Herre: Yes, the FedEx Cup playoffs are poison to the Euro tour.

Morfit: It's funny because on paper and in every other way the Barclays is a far superior tournament. That decision on the part of the Euro tour, and the lingering toxicity in the Harrington-Olazabal relationship, and Garcia obviously siding with Olazabal, showed a not altogether flattering side of the Ryder Cup. Of course, it's a lot of fun to write about.

Herre: Since the 1980s the Euros have taken the Ryder Cup more seriously than the Americans, and their dark side often shows itself. We in the U.S. have a misperception about the Europeans. They can be almost clannish.

Morfit: Clannish is the operative word, if not clownish. Or maybe it's both.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who will Olazabal pick for the European Ryder Cup team?

Lydia Ko
Harry How/Getty Images
Lydia Ko, 15, won the Canadian Women's Open by three strokes.

CHILD'S PLAY
Morfit: Let's switch gears to the Canadian Women's Open and top-ranked amateur Lydia Ko (Related Photos: Teenage Tour Winners). At 15 years and three months, she became the youngest to win on the LPGA, and she was coming off a win at the U.S. Women's Amateur. She not only beat the pros in Canada, she throttled them, and looked pretty nonplussed doing it. Anybody else watch this? Amazing to think she wasn't even born yet when Tiger won the '97 Masters.

Shipnuck: It's a mind-boggling double-dip. What a talent! She's 15 going on 35. I can't wait to watch this kid keep going.

Reiterman: It was amazing. She made seven birdies on Sunday. Loved seeing her not only win, but kick ass doing it.

Herre: Yes, I watched. Ko played well and is clearly on a roll, but I came away wondering what a 15-year-old amateur's win against the LPGA's best says about the LPGA. Not an entirely positive development in my opinion.

Dusek: Thanks Jim, because I didn't want to be the first person to say that.

Morfit: That reminds me of the argument that a Tom Watson victory at Turnberry in the '09 Open would have been the worst thing for men's golf.

Godich: I'm amazed (and impressed), but I also wonder if it isn't an indictment of the LPGA Tour.

Van Sickle: I was thinking the same thing about Tiger Woods being able to win in Las Vegas in 1996. How'd that work out again?

Morfit: It would be odd to feel like you're at the top of your profession at 15, when you're not even making money at it yet. Forget about what it says about the LPGA; how does anyone survive precocity like that? History has not been kind.

Bamberger: Elizabeth Taylor semi pulled it off. And after that I don't know.

Herre: I agree, Cameron. I know Van Sickle doesn't want to hear it, but there's a reason you can't drive a car until you're 16.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What impressed you most about Lydia Ko's win?

SOLITARY SERGIO
Morfit: Speaking of flip-flopping, Garcia almost won for the second week in a row without the help of a Tour caddie. This time it was a CBS spotter on his bag. Are caddies overrated? And which is more important, a great caddie or a great Ryder Cup captain?

Bamberger: There really is no such thing as a great caddie. There are great player-caddie marriages. At the end of the day, Ryder Cup captains are as good as their lineups.

Van Sickle: Caddies are overrated if players don't listen to them, but plenty of caddies earn their keep. No way John Daly would've won the '91 PGA without Jeff (Squeaky) Medlen on the bag. I'll take a caddie over a Ryder Cup captain any day. The caddie can help on every shot. The captain makes out a lineup, then drives around in a cart and spectates.

Shipnuck: Caddies are very important to some players and close to meaningless for others. Change for the sake of change may be what a flighty character like Sergio needs. I'd say the Ryder Cup cart chauffeur is more important than either.

Godich: Garcia's play is not exactly a ringing endorsement for the caddie profession. As many players like to say, a guy would prefer to have just one thought in his head. That said, I'll take a great caddie over a great Ryder Cup captain any time. How many places can a Ryder Cup captain be at one time? A caddie is with you every step of the way.

Dusek: If a guy with Sergio's talent is hot, a caddie can only get in the way. Caddies really earn their keep when a player gets down on himself, second-guesses himself, or generally needs to be reminded that he's smart enough and good enough to hit the shots. I think Ryder Cup captains are more important because they can influence how the venue is set up, how the event is played, create pairings, and help to set the tone for the whole week.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What's more important: A great caddie or a great Ryder Cup captain?

TIGER'S ACHING BACK
Morfit: Let's talk about Tiger, specifically about his lower back. He was in a lot of pain as he played Friday, and even though he played well, it raised new questions about him going forward. Yes, he's won three times this year, but he didn't look so good on the weekend at the majors, or at Bethpage, and he looks physically fragile, to say the least. Given all that, are you more or less bullish on Tiger winning more majors than you were at the start of 2012?

Godich: I am less bullish. There are too many factors working against him, most notably that he is an old 36 and he doesn't intimidate the rest of the field like he used to.

Herre: Tiger remains a mystery. Everyone has a theory -- swing changes, the scandal, poor putting, wild driving, old 36 -- take your pick. I think the most startling thing we saw this week was the putting. Everyone struggled on the greens, but Tiger was particularly bad.

Morfit: Watching him play the back nine Friday was so strange. He was wincing with every drive, and a lot of us were wondering if one false move was going to leave him collapsed in a heap. I guess that's what watching a prize fight in person must feel like -- fascinating and sickening at the same time.

Shipnuck: Tiger's push to 19 is so fraught because he's always one swing away from breaking down. Again.

Bamberger: Less bullish. He looks vulnerable. Almost scared.

Van Sickle: I've said all along that Tiger's "comeback" would only go as far as his putting takes him, and it's clear the putting isn't going to be there day-in and day-out like it was. The first thing that aging players lose is the ability to stripe it and putt great for four straight days. If Tiger didn't encounter back problems some day, he'd be the first golfer in history who didn't. I'd be more worried about the putting on the weekend than his back.

Dusek: I remain only somewhat bullish on Tiger Woods winning more majors. I think he's going to win one, maybe even two, but I still don't think he's going to catch Jack Nicklaus's record of 18. Nothing I've seen over the last few months has swayed me from that view.

Reiterman: I still think Tiger has one more big major run in him, and this season reaffirmed that belief. At the very least, barring another major injury, he'll finish with 17. At least.

Godich: I don't know about that, Ryan. Every time he lets an opportunity slip away (and you can argue that he threw three of them away this year), the pressure only mounts. And I think Tiger knows that as well as anyone, and it might well explain his weekend play. Plus, there will be a week here and there where somebody runs away from the field.

Morfit: Right, Mark. In addition to Tiger's myriad problems, there's way too much young talent out there, and way too many players who have seen him play far too much ordinary golf. And, I think Tiger is back. This is it. He keeps talking about guys like Fred Funk, Kenny Perry and Vijay Singh winning deep into their 40s, but none of those guys had the physical problems Tiger has at 36. Three more majors at least? I'll say one more is probable, two more if things go his way.

Reiterman: Tiger's not like any other golfer we've ever seen, so comparing him to what other guys have done doesn't make sense. All we can do is sit back and wait to see what happens.

Morfit: Tiger's not like any other golfer we've seen, but he is human, something none of us can outrun.

Dusek: Lots of people have said it, but Tiger's inability to get off the schneid, coupled with the number of people who have won major championships over the last four years, really makes me appreciate just how profoundly great he was for almost a decade.

Morfit: I agree. Watching McIlroy has the same effect. Who puts the pedal down like McIlroy did at Kiawah and then keeps it there week after week after week? Woods was a master of the moment and a master of his craft for a longer period of time than anyone else in sports.

Godich: Tiger's best days are behind him. As Dave and Cameron said, we should appreciate the way he dominated for all those years.

Dusek: Here's another way to put it: Mickelson got inducted into the Hall of Fame with four career major championships. So Tiger would need to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career starting tomorrow in order to catch Nicklaus. With all the wear and tear on his body, I just think that's too much to ask.

Herre: Good exchange between Feherty and Faldo on Tiger. Feherty, always the sycophant, said Woods "at his low point is better than 95% of the other guys." Faldo shot back, "but Tiger never has been just another guy" and went on to explain how much Tiger's game has declined. This is a different Woods than the player we saw at his peak, which he is not likely to be again.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: How many more majors do you think Tiger will win?

PLAYOFF FEVER?
Morfit: Okay, final question. We had some big movers at Barclays, guys who played their way to Boston, including Jonas Blixt (101 to 97), Tommy Gainey (102 to 91), Bob Estes (103 to 62), Graham DeLaet (106 to 44), David Hearn (108 to 67) and Jason Day (113 to 88). Are you feelin' the FedEx Cup fever?

Bamberger: No. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never. But I like the four tournaments.

Dusek: I got inoculated this summer, but I'm enjoying the golf and the Ryder Cup drama it's helping to create.

Godich: Before this week, Watney had three top 10s in 21 starts with nothing better than an eighth-place finish. Now he is leading the FedEx Cup. So much for the importance of the regular season.

Morfit: Right. The FedEx Cup is like the NBA playoffs.

Herre: I will be pulling for Tommy Two Gloves every week, but I have to admit that I'm paying more attention to Ryder Cup machinations at the moment.

Van Sickle: FedEx Cup fever? Never heard of it.

Shipnuck: The best part of the FedEx Cup is the weekly fight for survival at the bottom of the points list. I love it, but you have to pay close attention.

Godich: It's hard to pay close attention when we're forced to watch Tiger's every move, even when he's on his way to shooting a final-nine 40. Take the case of Harris English. He was comfortably inside the top 100, but he was also moving nicely up the leader board (and the standings). He holed a shot for eagle at the 15th to get to four under and was projected to move into the top 40 or so. Then he made a triple at the last and dropped to 63rd in the standings. That triple might come back and bite him in a couple of weeks. CBS showed us none of it, even though English was playing with Bubba.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Do you have FedEx Cup fever?

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