PGA Tour Confidential: Stenson's Big Win, TV Viewer Violations and Our Player of the Year Picks
Every Sunday night, Golf.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. Henrik Stenson stormed through the FedEx Cup playoffs on his way to the $10 million first prize. Since finishing second at the British Open, Stenson finished second at Bridgestone, third at the PGA Championship, and won the Deutsche and Tour Championship. Where does Stenson now rank on your list of Best Player Never to Have Won a Major List, and where does he go from here?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I imagine he'll go to Switzerland or Monaco. He's making nice movement on the BPNTHWAM list-- but didn't he win at Sawgrass? In any event, he has a ways to go. You need some near-misses in the Big Four -- like Westwood and Sergio have -- to be really prominent on it. He's north of Chad Campbell but south of Steve Stricker.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I'm glad he won it, first of all. He's always been pleasant to deal with, and he's got some personality. Also, I get the sense he's not as loaded as a lot of these guys, or wasn't, after his association with Allen Stanford. Back to the question, Stenson is now easily the No. 1 best player never to win a major. And I don't think he'll have that honor for long. He's too good a closer.
Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Stenson's on one of the great hot streaks we've seen in long time -- sort of what Tiger's entire season used to look like every year. For me, he's still behind a host of others as Best Player Without a Major, starting with Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. He can't possibly keep it up, but it's great to have such a wild comeback story in the mix.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine: Still have to put him behind Westwood, who has played in more majors and has more near-misses. But I'd put him in a dead heat with Sergio, though his close calls have been less agonizing. Who knows what this fickle game has in store for him, but barring another total meltdown in his confidence and mechanics, I wager he wins either the British or the Masters in the next three years.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Using the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately formula, I'm moving Henrik right to the top. I see a major in his future. He seems to have a more level head on his shoulders than he did when he twice fell off the face of the earth after soaring up the World Ranking.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf.com (@michaelwalkerjr): If he stays in form, Stenson might be at the top of the list. Certainly easier to imagine Stenson winning a major before Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and other mainstays of this list. He has to be on the short list of contenders at all of next year’s majors. And while trashing your locker is more Johnny Depp than Johnny Miller, I like seeing that fire.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com (@Jeff_Ritter): He went from nowhere to somewhere in the top 3 on the Best Without a Major list. I'd put Westwood, Stricker and Stenson at the top in some order. Where does Stenson go from here? Get himself removed from that list.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): The Stense’s career has been so wildly unpredictable, who knows? Theoretically, he has the perfect game for Augusta -- long and straight off the tee, towering iron shots, soft hands on and around the greens. In fact, that works well anywhere. As for all the nearly men, Sergio and Westy are too broken to carry that title any longer and Luke is scuffling to find his game. I think Stenson is right at the top of the list alongside Kuchar and Sneds.
2. There was talk of players being flat for the Tour Championship, which didn't get all that lucky with the leader board. Does the $10 million FedEx Cup prize still get the public's attention or is it just too hard to get excited about multimillionaires adding to their portfolios?
BAMBERGER: The money is not what makes it exciting, not for us. What matters is how bad the players want it. This year, for whatever reason, it wasn't there. It has been in other years. The biggest problem is the small field. No critical mass with just 30 players, or less, anyway.
SHIPNUCK: I don’t think anyone has ever been that excited about the $10 million, except for the players themselves. If the Tour Championship works at all it’s because of the intimacy of the field and its finality on the schedule -- a chance not only to end talk of the Cup but also sort out Player of the Year and other awards.
MORFIT: The problem is we're not talking about $10 million going to someone for whom that's an insane sum of cash, like you or me. It's $10 million going to a guy whose portfolio is almost certainly already that and then some. It's a fantastic payday, no doubt, but yes, the $10 million doesn't cut through the sports programming clutter like it did.
WALKER: The $10 million has always struck an off-note. I can’t think of another sport hyping the amount of money the players involved can win. Even the World Series of Poker must find it gauche. The Tour Championship always comes off a little flat because of the tiny field and the inscrutable FedEx Cup points, but overall the playoffs were great this year.
PASSOV: It's a treat for fans to see the best tee it up against the best, but with these reduced fields and obscene amounts of cash on display, it still feels too much like of an exhibition. Love the pull and publicity during football season, but I keep thinking, so what -- these guys are all moving on to Asia and they'll grab the cash they need there, if they didn't get it in the playoffs.
RITTER: I'd say it's the Tour Championship's elite field and Prez (or Ryder) Cup buildup that has most fans jazzed about it. Now, if the Tour ever takes my suggestion and makes the Tour Championship match play, where the top 16 seeds choose their first-round opponents live in a dramatic Wednesday selection ceremony, that would create some new buzz.
GODICH: I think it still gets the public's attention, if for no other reason than everyone likes to see how the world's best players respond with so much on the line. And I'd say Stenson handled things quite nicely while playing with what had to be an uneasy lead on the weekend.
SENS: The FedEx Cup will never stir public interest like the events with real history and pedigree. But every day in this country there are multimillionaires adding to their portfolios while contributing virtually nothing. At least these overpaid golfers provide some entertainment value.
3. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said that the Tour is taking a look at how it handles TV viewers calling in rules violations. What -- if any -- changes should the Tour make to its viewer call-in policy?
SHIPNUCK: None whatsoever. It’s sui generis to the sport and one of the most morbidly fascinating facets of tournament golf. Let’s face it, a tourney is contested among 156 players across 200 acres -- some penalties are going to go undetected by the competitors themselves. If the goal is to truly protect the field, then armchair rules officials are indispensable.
PASSOV: Eliminate any prospect of TV viewers being able to phone in and change the outcome of a live sporting event, period. I'm tired of this "protecting the rest of the field" argument. This process is unfairly weighted against the stars who are on camera the most.
MORFIT: The problem is viewer call-ins affect Tiger, who is on TV all the time, way more than, say, Luke Donald. What if the Tour had its own pool of viewers, rules experts who could watch the telecast and call in stuff that looks iffy? That's essentially how the Masters situation came about with Tiger and former rules official David Eger, who called Augusta National after seeing Tiger’s drop on TV.
SENS: Get rid of it. In theory, it's not a problem, but in practice, it's an unfair mess because not all players get the same amount of TV coverage. What's more, this isn't American Idol. We shouldn't need to tap into a vast television audience to make decisions. Putting an attentive rules official (or two, or three) with every group should do the trick.
GODICH: The objective should be to get it right, so I'm all for allowing viewers to phone in alleged rules violations. Let's just put a deadline on it.
WALKER: Let viewers call in violations (it’s not like they’re deciding if the ground caused a fumble), but don’t disqualify guys for signing an incorrect scorecard if they didn’t know about the penalty when they signed their cards. That’s demented.
BAMBERGER: There could be situations where HD TV picks up on things that the naked eye does not, and the player should not be penalized for that. Graeme McDowell's situation may have been one of those. Tiger Woods's was not.
RITTER: I've never been in favor of fans phoning in to directly influence an event's outcome. That's Dancing With the Stars, not professional sports. Golfers have walking rules officials, their fellow playing partners, and their own conscience to police things. That's enough for me.
4. The AP reported that a few players privately mocked Tiger Woods' assertion last week that his ball didn't move but only oscillated when he was penalized at the BMW Championship. Has Woods lost the locker room over his rules mishaps this year?
BAMBERGER: Well, I don't know about the locker room. But he's lost me. He's put himself above the game, and he doesn't need to. He's already won.
GODICH: Tiger's actions reek of desperation. I wonder what Earl would say.
SHIPNUCK: If not yet, he’s certainly on the verge. Certainly what happened in Abu Dhabi and Augusta were honest mistakes. Woods deserves the benefit of the doubt per the drop at the Players. But his stubborn refusal to acknowledge the obvious at the BMW strains his credibility. If he’s so certain his ball merely oscillated -- which can happen on a smooth, slick green but is much more unlikely on an uneven lie among twigs -- he should have refused to accept the penalty. He would have been DQ’d but I would have respected him for taking a stand.
MORFIT: Tiger was never the warm and fuzzy type, plus he's had so much success, a little resentment was inevitable.
PASSOV: Woods' other mistakes were of the "it could happen to anybody" variety. His Masters snafu may have even earned some sympathy. Oscillate-gate, however, just doesn't seem defensible right now. He likely still has the locker room because of what he's achieved, but this one is an absolute head-scratcher.
RITTER: He probably lost a few guys, but overall there's enough elder statesman in the locker room to help with damage control. I think Tiger's rules controversies from this season will fade, as long as he doesn't continue to add to them. But stubbornly arguing that his ball at the BMW didn't move-- when video replay showed it clearly did -- was easily his low point of the season.
WALKER: Probably. Golf fans are looking more closely at Tiger after his rules misadventures this year, especially the Masters non-DQ and the generous drop at the Players, and his fellow players can’t be that much different. Stricker and Furyk defended Tiger after oscillate-gate but they didn’t sound especially impassioned about the issue.
SENS: Tiger lost parts of the locker room a long time ago, so this is nothing new: just more reason to grumble for those who already had a beef with him. But what's with the private mocking? Have the guts to say it publicly.
5. With the PGA Tour season over, the leading Player of the Year candidates are Tiger Woods (five PGA Tour wins including Players Championship, no majors), Adam Scott (two PGA Tour wins, including the Masters) and Phil Mickelson (two PGA Tour wins including the British Open, and the Scottish Open). Who is your Player of the Year?
SHIPNUCK: Phil. Can anyone name a single defining moment from any of Tiger’s wins? Didn’t think so. His play at the majors was so inexplicably bad it costs him my vote. Scott has a strong case, but Phil’s rousing win at the Scottish Open is the tiebreaker. To me, this isn’t the PGA Tour player of the year, it's a meta-award for the whole shebang. Phil also created more indelible moments than anyone, including his horseshoed putt that cost him a 59 in Phoenix and the take-that-Tiger 63 in Boston.
RITTER: It's Tiger, and to be honest, I don't think it's all that close. How many five-win seasons have we seen in the last 20 years?
MORFIT: Phil. When you think about it, that Scottish Open win should put him ahead of Adam Scott, and two regular wins and a major just seems stronger than Tiger's five regular wins. Phil owned the game in July and that's a good month to own the game.
WALKER: The Tiger crowd has won me over. Scott and Phil Mickelson each needed one more win if they were going to take this award from Tiger. Five wins, first in scoring and first on the money list is the best we’ve seen this year.
GODICH: I'll take Phil for his Sunday 66 at Muirfield. Bonus points for the bounce-back after another crushing disappointment at the U.S. Open.
BAMBERGER: Tiger had the most dominant year. By far. He played the best golf. Phil is my player of the year. His story is the one you can tell off the top of your head, and enjoy doing it.
SENS: Inbee Park, but if I had to pick a guy, Tiger. Five wins by any other player and there would be no debate.
PASSOV: Scott and Mickelson kind of cancel each other out, and Stenson's run, while heroic, covered half the year. Tiger's my pick for POY.
6. The PGA of America announced that the 2019 PGA Championship and the 2024 Ryder Cup will be held at Bethpage Black on Long Island, the 2016 PGA Championship will be held at Baltusrol, the 2018 U.S. Open will be at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island and 2020 U.S. Open will be held at Winged Foot. The New York area also hosts the opening event in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Is the New York region getting too many big events? If so, where would you like to see these tournaments held?
PASSOV: I'm torn. We're talking three fabulous, historic courses in NY. I'm happy to welcome back majors at any of those. There's got to be a certain fatigue that sets in, however, with sponsors, corporate tents and such, and the opening of every telecast that hypes up the New York fan base, "People's Open," etc. I know that half the U.S. is off limits to the USGA and PGA, but there have to be some worthy venues away from the Met Area. Shoot, play a Ryder Cup in early October at the TPC Scottsdale. It would be nice to have 100,000 rowdy fans on hand, all of whom could actually see the action.
MORFIT: I'm happy for New York, and it only makes sense to go where the fans are. That said, I'd like to see some more big events in Northern California, which has proven a more than capable host with Pebble, Harding, Oly Club and others. Glad to see Silverado in Napa will be getting a Tour event again.
SENS: That's a lot of events, but the New York area has a huge population and probably the highest density of major championship worthy venues, so it doesn't really feel disproportionate. South Dakota getting two senators ... now THAT seems statistically out of whack.
WALKER: The biggest market is going to get the biggest events, but that’s too much New York. I’d like to see more West Coast events, and I hope this year’s U.S. Amateur at the Country Club in Brookline means we’ll see another Open there.
GODICH: I've got no problem with the Open going back to Shinnecock for the first time in 14 years, and best I can tell, Ridgewood in 1935 was the last course in the New York metro area to host a Ryder Cup. That said, do we really need to book so many majors at Bethpage?
RITTER: Love the Ryder Cup coming to NYC. PGA Championship is fine too, but I'd like to see that one continue moving around the country, especially to the West Coast. When you're in the Eastern Time Zone, watching major championship golf in prime time is a special treat. We can handle more of it.
BAMBERGER: Well, for U.S. Opens, as Gary noted some years ago, all you really need is Oakmont and Torrey Pines. But I'm partial to New York. In part because I'm a native. In part because greater NYC is the second-best golf town in the country, after Philadelphia. (Sorry, Myrtle Beach.)
SHIPNUCK: Obviously. And the easy answer is the West Coast, where we have better weather and can offer prime time TV for most of the country. Why the heck does the FedEx Cup never come west? Does Finchem run out of NetJet hours this time of year?