PGA Tour Confidential: Sony Open

Charles Howell III, 2009 Sony Open, final round
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Charles Howell III didn't win on Sunday, but he generated the most conversation in this week's roundtable.

Every week of the 2009 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.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome to PGA Tour Confidential, Volume 2. Want proof of my dedication to the cause? I worked on this little e-mail exchange from the one living room in the Pittsburgh area that did not have the Steelers-Ravens game on. Let's start with two items on the Golf Channel. First, Kelly Tilghman and Nick Faldo seemed awfully disinterested for a final round on Sunday. On a replay of George McNeill holing a bunker shot, they barely said a word. A few moments later, Zach Johnson drained a 30-footer for birdie. Again, not much reaction. Hello, anybody home? Words I never thought I'd say: Mark Rolfing is the bright spot on this week's telecast.

Second, some of us roasted Rich Lerner last week when he failed to ask Adam Scott about the Kate Hudson rumors. But you have to give Lerner a big tip of the journalistic cap this week for asking Tadd Fujikawa's grandfather, during an interview, about Tadd's father and his drug-dealing arrest. Maybe Golf Channel isn't going to be all marshmallows and softballs this year after all.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Vans, to the point you make about Lerner showing some spine in his interview with Fujikawa's grandfather, it may be a product of the weekly critiques that Golf Channel's Tom Stathakes has pledged to hold with all staffers, as described by Jim Gorant in this week's Backspin. Stathakes: "We're going to work with the talent, sit down with them and say, What were you thinking here? ... They're not used to that here, but I think it's good. People like to get feedback."

James Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Had a beer with Stathakes not long ago, and I was impressed with his energy and professed journalistic aggressiveness. I think he'll press the Golf Channel talent to ask the tough question, which should be quite the balancing act considering that the network is in bed with the Tour. I bet Tom and Ty Votaw have some interesting conversations this year.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: In his Web column, Lerner said a member of the host club got in his grill about that interview. The GC needs more of that kind of reporting — the channel offers way more boosterism than actual journalism, and adding a harder edge can only help their talent establish a little more credibility.

Van Sickle: Speaking of credibility, a lot of players seemed to re-establish themselves at the Sony. It turned into a weekend of comeback specials, with strong showings by Zach Johnson, who was back on his game and won; David Toms (T2), who has fought back problems, a heart issue, the distractions of Hurricane Katrina, and who told the Golf Channel that he had lost interest in his golf game; and Adam Scott (T2), who so far hasn't won enough to satisfy all those demanding journalists. There was also Charles Howell III, who has switched to a new teacher, Todd Anderson, after years with David Leadbetter. Three of those four guys weren't in anybody's pre-season previews for '09. Guess we'll have to reconsider.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Yo, Gary, so we are not going to get a Pittsburgh-Philadelphia Super Bowl. On my side of the Keystone State, there will be mild depression over the Eagles' loss, but the good news is that pitchers and catchers report in a couple weeks, and in the meantime golf's one-week spring training was on the tube. The Sony Open — the Hawaiian Open for you old-schoolers — really is one of the best events on the PGA Tour schedule. It's the first full-field event of the year; guys shaking off the rust, trying new clubs and gizmos and caddies; hot drives sailing in the trade winds into groves of palm trees. We can turn up the electric heater, adjust the color and let the good vibes in. Charlie Howell was all beefed up, little Tadd Fujikawa came close to making a really big check and David Toms nearly won again. Don't forget Brad Faxon, who missed the cut and is trying to come back from surgery. Welcome to 2009.

Herre: Nice week for Howell, who is one of the good guys on Tour. But I cringe every time I see him hit a shot and then immediately start checking positions on his takeaway. Faldo, another player fixated on mechanics, had some interesting things to say about how a mechanical player like Howell can "learn" feel. Frankly, I don't believe it.

Van Sickle: Great point, Chief. I'm not sure Charlie Howell even believes in feel.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm with Jim on Howell. I followed him around at the Masters two years ago, and it was painful to watch him finish a round and then spend 45 minutes working on putting drills, smoke curling out of his ears. His work ethic is admirable, but he makes golf look like a penance.

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