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PGA Tour Confidential: Mickelson vs. Els, plus Tiger's elbow and Bubba's head

Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson
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Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Every Sunday night, has an email roundtable with our writers and editors. Check in every week to read their their unfiltered opinions and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Coming off a T4 at the U.S. Open, Ernie Els won the BMW Championship in Munich for his 28th European Tour win. Who is more likely to win a fifth major, Els or Phil Mickelson?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tough call, but I'd say Els ... at least until they take his belly putter away. Right now he just seems more comfortable in crunch time than Phil does. It took Mickelson a year to recover from kicking away the 2012 Masters with that right-handed blowup on the 4th hole. Who knows how long the post-Merion hangover will linger?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'd say Phil, because he'll have more chances, and he's more likely to sneak in a PGA win when nobody is expecting it.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'll go with Ernie. If Phil can't hit the 13th green at Merion from 110 yards to win the Open, he's got bad karma. Ernie's ballstriking and short game give him the edge. He can win the British, where Phil doesn't usually fare well in the wind.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I'll take Ernie, for two reasons. His health is better, and his game is versatile enough to win any of the four majors. Though Phil is no doubt inspired whenever he sets foot on Augusta National, he has pretty much a one-track mind these days: the U.S. Open.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I could have seen Ernie pulling a Darren Clarke, simply shutting it down after his Open win last year. I'll still pick Mickelson, but after suffering through Ernie's nightmare meltdowns 18 months ago, I'm really impressed with his rebound.

Stephanie Wei, Phil has made a career of coming in second. I'd take Ernie just because Muirfield is coming up next month … and he won the Open the last time it was held there.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Mickelson. He can still be overwhelming at times, where Ernie is more like very good, which is sometimes good enough. Plus the clock is ticking on Ernie's putter.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, I know I should say Mickelson, but we’re about to head to the major where the Big Easy is the defending champion, and he also won there in 2002. So I’ll go with Els.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Ernie has the edge in form and health, while Phil has always seemed more resilient to the substantial scar tissue both have accumulated in the Tiger era. I wouldn't bet the house on either of them winning another, but forced to choose it's Ernie, since his record in the Open Championship is such that he could contend there into his 50s.

2. Tiger Woods is skipping his own AT&T event in D.C. to rest/repair his elbow. Can we officially blame his injury as part of his problems at Merion? With Muirfield typically serving up serious rough, does this development remove him as the British Open favorite?

VAN SICKLE: Looks likely that Tiger played poorly at Memorial because of the elbow, and then at Merion. Just being a little off and having to putt from the wrong parts of the greens there due to errant play made his putting look bad. If Tiger's not the favorite, though, who is? He'll still be the favorite for bettors.

GODICH: I don't think so. That bad elbow didn't lead to all of those missed putts. Let's face it: Tiger is at long last proving he is mortal. He has come back to the pack a bit, and others have raised their games. He's still the best player in the world, but when he doesn't make putts, he's not unbeatable because he makes more mistakes than he ever has.

GORANT: Has to be part of the equation at Merion, but it doesn't change the fact that he was in position going into the weekend -- as he has been at several majors over the last two years -- and faltered. That's a bigger part of it. Don't think he can be the outright fave at Muirfield, although I hasten to add that I'm sticking with my prediction that he gets to 18 majors.

SHIPNUCK: Sure, it had to be a factor, and not just at the Open -- it helps explain his abysmal showing at Memorial in what was supposed to be his tune-up. Given how bad Tiger has been on the weekends at the majors in the post-hydrant era I don't think he can be considered the favorite at any of them going forward, healthy or not.

LYNCH: His major woes extend well beyond the elbow issue. At Merion it was more than the miserable putting Tiger often blames when things go wrong: his ballstriking was really substandard, too. His scoring average in his last 12 weekend rounds in majors is 72.75. For some reason he has lost the major mojo. Despite all that, of course he's the Open favorite. Until someone else steps up on a regular basis to earn the honor, who else would you pick?

BAMBERGER: Was the elbow PART of the problem at Merion? Yes, but the Tiger of yore rose above his problems. The business of a "favorite" going into a major is meaningless, unless you're a punter. I'd be more likely to say Muirfield's relatively slow, relatively flat greens will be more a problem for Woods.

WEI: He said it started bothering him at the Players. If so, it seems weird that we didn't see him in pain at the Memorial, though it explains why he played so badly. His crappy scrambling and putting should be to blame. And yes, he shouldn't be the British Open favorite anymore -- after all, he did have his worst score as a pro (81) there in 2002.

REITERMAN: As long as Tiger’s playing he’ll always be the favorite, but it obviously is another dent in the armor for Tiger. Just when we were starting to hand tournaments to him again (“There’s no WAY he loses the U.S. Open!”) he all of a sudden looks a lot more human.

PASSOV: I'm still not sure who else you would pick as a "favorite" -- Adam Scott, who's now "owed" an Open, and is now contending in every major? Justin Rose? Rory has said he's not wild about bad-weather links golf, and his game isn't showing he'd be around at the end anyway. At the least, Tiger has seemed to play it pretty smart with the last two minor injuries he's endured. He has rested, returned, and won quickly. Still, since neither Tiger nor his camp is going to reveal anything concerning the true extent of the problem, it's tough to say for sure how much of an issue this was at Merion, or will be at Muirfield.


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