Tour and News

PGA Tour Confidential: Previewing Tiger's return and the Timberlake Open

Photo: Matt Sullivan/Reuters

Tiger Woods returns this week at the Frys.com Open.

Every week of the 2011 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.

ASSESSING TIGER'S LATEST COMEBACK Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Welcome back to another round of PGA Tour Confidential. We've got a lot to get through, so let's get started with the topic of the week: Tiger Woods. (Sorry, Briny Baird and Bryce Molder.) After pronouncing himself fit and healthy enough for sufficient practice time with swing coach Sean Foley, Tiger showed up at the Frys.com Open at CordeValle and finished T30, with rounds of 73-68-68-68. What did you think of Tiger's performance this week, and did he change your view of his long-term prospects?

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It was about what I expected: some spectacular shot-making, but the consistency still isn't there. He has to be concerned about the short game. The putter is not cooperating, and what is up with his bunker play? I'll say it again: the guy needs to play more.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger always talks about getting in his reps. He played four rounds with a cut in the first time in forever. He needs way more reps. There's no evidence that he's going to get them.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Tiger made some good swings, some bad swings, threw his driver, missed some putts, made some putts and continued to play inconsistent golf. It's what I expected to see.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: A mixed bag for Tiger. Some good signs, some causes for concern. As Mr. Bamberger said, he needs more reps, more tournaments.

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

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Tiger's performance was a Turn of the Screw type of thing: you can see whatever you want to see. If you think he's done, you'll focus on the missed putts and fairways and mediocre finish. If you believe he's going to win again, you'll see the holed putts, moments of crisp iron play and improvement from his last appearance. I think he looks like he's on the way, but this week won't change anyone's mind.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Tiger shot three straight rounds in the 60s for the first time this year, which shows progress. I can't believe we're applauding him for his "consistent" play and T30 finish at the Frys.com Open. How times have changed!

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I can't get jazzed about a T30 during football season. Three 68s are solid, but this is Tiger Woods we're talking about.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: Definitely inconsistent, but he's making enough birdies to win some matches at the Presidents Cup. Couples must be feeling pretty good about his pick. Not great, but pretty good. Imagine Freddy's mood if Tiger had blown up and missed the cut?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I actually thought he showed improvement. The scary thing is that Tiger plays well in stretches and then makes a truly awful swing. He's just as likely to miss left as right. That just destroys your confidence.

Van Sickle: Alan is right. He doesn't look like one of the 12 best players in America and certainly doesn't seem ready for a Presidents Cup. Of course, he's a captain's pick so it's not as if he's expected to play all five matches. If he were going to step aside and let Keegan Bradley take his place, he would've done so by now. Fred can fit Tiger in when and where he wants in Australia. But I don't think we'll see him five times.

Godich: Fred has to be wondering how wise it would be to send him out in alternate shot.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It would be very surprising if Tiger sits even one match.

Bamberger: I agree. Tiger's strength is his intimidation factor, not based on how he's playing but on his 14 majors.

Van Sickle: I disagree. If Tiger is playing like this, I'd be very surprised if he didn't sit for at least one match. Fred has to be more concerned about whether Steve Stricker is going to be healthy enough to play.

Tell us what you think: Did Tiger show that he is deserving of being a Presidents Cup captain's pick?

SHOULD TIGER PLAY ANOTHER FALL SERIES EVENT?
Walker: After his round, Tiger said he wouldn't be adding another Fall Series event prior to the Presidents Cup because he was "pretty busy." Bad idea, or will this tournament and some more practice with coach Sean Foley in Florida be enough to get ready for November?

Dusek: Busy with what? If Tiger's children are going to be staying with him, I give him a partial pass, but he's been "off" since the PGA Championship in early August. Tiger said he needs to play more, to compete more, but instead of adding another event he's going back into hibernation. Bad idea.

Shipnuck: All he needs is more reps. Which he'll get in, like, a month. His schedule is utterly baffling.

Wei: I get that he wants to be a good dad, but would it be impossible to switch weekends or something? The Disney is right up the road from him.

Godich: With all the good shots he hit this week, Tiger had something he could have really built on. I don't know what more reps with Foley will do. The only way Tiger is going to get his edge back is by teeing it up in competition.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group This tournament was all about keeping the critics off Fred Couples's back. Our Presidents Cup captain first said that TW didn't have to prove anything to be a captain's pick. Outrage ensued. Then Couples said TW had to play in a Fall Series event, and he did.

Van Sickle: Once again, Tiger wins no charm points for his curt Golf Channel interview, in which he largely failed to answer the questions. He completely dodged the question about the state of his game now. Nothing has changed; it's still Tiger against the world (all of us). I'm sure he can't wait to reclaim his place at the top, but that day, if it ever happens, is a ways off. You'd think it wouldn't be too tough to play a tour event in Orlando. But that's his choice. It's too early to second guess it.

Bamberger: Just the suggestion of Tiger playing more fall golf must bruise his ego. He should play more, of course, but we see him only as a professional golfer, and he sees much more.

Hack: It would have been cool to see Tiger on a love-of-the-game barnstorming tour of the Fall Series. Not realistic, I know, but cool.

Van Sickle: Another reason for Tiger to play more, especially early next year, is the circus atmosphere at the Frys.com, caused by his rare appearance. Tiger playing is like spotting a rare endangered bird or Howard Hughes. That just adds to the pressure of the week for him. He needs to get out and play 20 or 22 times on Tour next year and get his career back to normal. At least, normal for him.

Bamberger: Tiger's never played a heavy schedule, and he certainly won't start now. The less he plays, the more demand there is for him.

Godich: He doesn't care about the demand. He just wants to win majors.

Tell us what you think: Should Tiger play another Fall Series event?

TIGER'S NEW DEAL
Walker: Tiger notched his first win of the week before he even teed off at the Fry's, announcing a new endorsement deal with Rolex. It was his first deal since his sex scandals, not counting that Japanese muscle ointment. If Tiger starts winning again, do the endorsement offers return, or is he always going to be damaged goods in the eyes of the corporate world?

Van Sickle: The world's attention span is next to nothing. See Kobe Bryant for details. We're a pair of 65s away from Tigermania returning in some form or other. A win starts clearing the slate. A major win starts the media breathlessly resuming the Countdown to Jack's 18. He can recover his image by winning enough. That's how Kobe did it.

Hack: What GVS said.

Hanger: If Rolex is willing to sign him up now, imagine what will happen if he starts winning again? He might even get some more deals now, when the price to buy in is surely at an all-time low.

Godich: Not sure he needs to start winning again to pad his account. In fact, I think the longer he goes without winning, the more the public will rally around him.

Dusek: The offers will come back if Tiger starts to win. He won't be able to command his pre-scandal price, but companies will want to associate with the comeback.

Herre: Tiger will never be the same in the eyes of some, especially women, but he's still the most decorated golfer going.

Shipnuck: Look at the record crowds at CordeValle and the wall-to-wall coverage on Golf Channel. People remain obsessed with Tiger. That has to interest a lot of companies.

Wei: Tiger Woods is still Tiger Woods. People want to follow his every move. I'm surprised Golf Channel didn't show him going into the port 'o potty!

Walker: Tiger's problem is that he was previously marketed as "the perfect person." That's over, and he can't perform the jaw-dropping athletic feats that someone like Kobe can. I don't see him recovering even a fraction of the endorsement dollars he had.

Gorant: Probably not the family/Americana sort of products he had in the past, but plenty of companies will want to be in business with him. Plenty of the Masters of the Universe types who play and follow golf are not offended by Tiger's past. Cialis, anyone?

Bamberger: I was surprised Rolex signed him. The Rolex golf tradition is so Arnold Palmer, and so not Tiger Woods. I certainly can't see women buying Rolex watches because Tiger Woods wears one. I think it also points out just how wildly insincere this endorsement business is: Tiger was selling us Tag Heuer watches for years, but now he's telling us Rolex is a better watch? I bought an excellent Timex at my local sporting goods store the other day for $20. Keeps perfect time and has a stop watch, too.

Tell us what you think: Will sponsors return to Tiger if he starts winning again?

FOWLER WINS IN KOREA
Walker: Moving halfway around the world, Rickie Fowler notched his first professional win at the Korean Open. The talented (and highly marketable) Fowler has not had a win on the PGA Tour and has not acquitted himself well when he's been in the mix on Sunday. Does this win help Fowler get closer to winning on the PGA Tour?

Godich: Rickie has to start somewhere. Winning is winning. That said, everyone expected his performance at the Ryder Cup last year to be a career-changer.

Herre: He played great on Sunday to beat Rory McIlroy. That has to be a big confidence boost.

Shipnuck: It helps. Every win helps. And when you dust your nemesis Rory McIlroy, it helps that much more.

Dusek: For Fowler, I think it's huge. Some people might think a win in Asia doesn't count as much as a PGA Tour win, and maybe it shouldn't, but Fowler has now tasted a win in an event that had some quality pros in it, including McIlroy. He'll gain confidence from it for sure, and that's what will help him the most.

Wei: I agree that just winning was important for Rickie. I don't care if he won on the Nationwide Tour or the Canadian Tour, he just needed to win something.

Bamberger: How can a win be anything other than helpful? And to win in a country that is so different from the United States? When your game travels, that's a strong sign. I'm guessing it will do a lot for his confidence.

Van Sickle: Winning can only help, but it's a myth that one win will open the floodgates. It happens for a few players, but they're the exceptions. Rickie's win also puts that much more pressure on Couples. Now he took Tiger instead of the PGA champ and Fowler, who's got a win in October.

Hack: Rickie received tons of congrats on Twitter, from former Buffalo Bills (and Oklahoma State) running back Thurman Thomas to LPGA'er Michelle McGann. Besting Rory by shots six means something to me. I'll go on record for multiple Rickie wins on the PGA Tour in 2012.

Van Sickle: Multiple wins for Rickie in 2012 would be a great thing for golf, the Tour, the media and the fans. He's already a star. Now he just needs the resume.

Gorant: Tell him to stay away from those Bills. Bad mojo when it comes to winning anything that counts.

Hack: This could be the year all that bad Bills mojo fades away. Wait, am I on the right message board?

Tell us what you think: How do you think Fowler will do in 2012?

TSENG CONTINUES TO DOMINATE
Walker: Yani Tseng won the LPGA Hana Bank Championship, also in Korea, on Sunday. It was Tseng's sixth win of the year, a haul that includes two of her five majors, and she's only 22 years old! For our readers who don't follow the LPGA closely, can you put Tseng's last couple of seasons (she's won four of the eight majors) in some historical context?

Shipnuck: Annika-esque.

Lipsey: As good as anything TW ever did. And please, don't give me that baloney about weak competition. She beat the fields, which is all you can ever do.

Van Sickle: Yani is the new sheriff of the LPGA, largely unchallenged at the moment and possibly in the near future. LPGA fans, your next Annika is here.

Godich: At this pace, Yani will be light years ahead of Annika.

Hack: I love that Yani shows no signs of boredom winning all of these tournaments. I would love to see her get SI Sportsman of the Year consideration. I can think of few athletes who deserve it more.

Wei: How many wins is it going to take for Yani to receive the attention and accolades she deserves? She's won six times this year! She's the most dominant player in golf by far. But it's going to take a lot for American fans to embrace her as the new Annika (even though she is) because of her looks. Alan, what was that line Nancy Lopez told you once? For success on the LPGA, you have to hit it like a man but look like a woman.

Van Sickle: I don't think it's her looks. It's more about the LPGA's inability to attract mainstream media attention in the U.S.

Bamberger: Tseng is like Webb and Annika (before she played at Colonial) and every other great woman golfer since the Nancy Lopez era. She's thoroughly dominating and could walk into your local pro shop tomorrow and nobody would notice. Sad. Not fair. But in the end a pro plays golf for himself or herself. She knows and her peers know, even if the public does not.

Tell us what you think: How would you compare Tseng's achievements to Annika Sorenstam's? Tiger's?

WHO SHOULD STAR AS SEVE?
Walker: According to The Independent, the producer of "The Madness of King George" is working on a movie about the Seve Ballesteros. Who should play Seve? You can pick an actor from any era.

Lipsey: Cary Grant.

Van Sickle: Antonio Banderas. Second choice, Will Farrell. A lot of good nominees — just not Keanu Reeves, please.

Hack: George Chakiris.

Shipnuck: Did Steve McQueen speak Spanish?

Walker: Imagine Al Pacino giving an Any Given Sunday/Scent of a Woman speech in the European Ryder Cup locker room. Chills.

Gorant: Winner.

Wei: Johnny Depp. Or Gael Garcia Bernal.

Bamberger: Houdini.

Tell us what you think: Who do you think should be cast as Seve?

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