PGA Tour Confidential: Should Tiger Be Worried? Plus Kuchar, Matteo and Nicklaus
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.
1. Tiger Woods finished T65 at the Memorial after posting a 79 Saturday on a course where he's won five times. How does Tiger's performance at the Memorial change your expectations for him at the U.S. Open?
Steve Flesch, PGA Tour player: I happened to be doing on course TV for The Golf Channel covering Tiger's group when he shot that 44 on the back nine. I also saw Tiger play his final 16 holes in his Thursday round when he shot 71. His swing looked as good as ever, but Muirfield Village is so penalizing. There's such a fine line between birdie and bogey. What wasn't Tigeresque was his short game. He was handcuffed on the short-side a lot of times and wasn't able to negotiate the challenging bluegrass rough. However, his putter, which showed up at Doral for a few weeks, totally left him at the Memorial. He struggled mightily with speed.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Nothing changes for Tiger. A few errant shots in the wind on a tough course and you're racking up the dreaded Mega's. Think his putting performance, which was bad, got his attention, though.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It would be weird if he didn't contend at the U.S. Open. Winning is another matter.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com: What was unusual this week is that Woods played mediocre golf all four days, which almost never happens. It can't be easily dismissed as just one poor round, but it may suggest nothing more than an off week. He's won four times this season and is still the favorite at Merion.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Nothing really changes for me. Sure, it was a surprise, but it was one bad week. I can’t imagine, with a week until the U.S. Open, that he’ll continue to putt that bad. Wonder if he’ll give Steve Stricker a call for a tune-up before Merion?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I'm hesitant to put too much stock in this week's result, given that any week where Rory shoots 78 and Tiger shoots 79 seems like a fluke. The majors are about pressure and who can play in it and I still like Tiger's chances.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Considering how in 2012 he went into the Masters and the U.S. Open coming off victories and then didn't fire on the weekend at the two majors, maybe this is a good thing. I wouldn't read too much into this. And you have to like how he finished on Sunday, getting back to even par after being four over through five holes.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Not really. It's the Open -- he'll be ready to play. And he doesn't have to hit many drivers, which remains his weakest club.
2. Matt Kuchar looked impressive at the Memorial, cruising Sunday to a two-shot victory. He finished second last week at the Colonial and notched a top 10 at the Masters. Is Kuchar the most underrated player in golf?
Flesch: I don't think Kuchar is underrated, I think he is just very consistent. He's the Jim Furyk of 2010. He isn't flashy, isn't long off the tee, but keeps the ball in play and doesn't make big mistakes. He's boringly good.
Bamberger: No. The most underrated player in golf history is Billy Casper. The most underrated player today is Tiger Woods.
Shipnuck: He used to be, but now he's won too many big time events. Kuchar's game works on any course, and he has the temperament for the big stage. I'll be surprised if he doesn't snag a major soon.
Godich: Underrated would suggest that a guy who's turning 35 in a couple of weeks would've won more than six times. I love Matt's game and his attitude, but I wouldn't call him underrated.
Morfit: He was. Not anymore. He's going to get a ton of attention going into Merion.
Reiterman: I don’t think Kuchar is underrated. Underrated seems to me like someone who wins on a semi-regular basis, but never gets mentioned when we make picks for big events. I have to give the most underrated crown to K.J. Choi. He’s won big events, contended in several majors, yet hardly ever gets talked about. But would you really be that surprised if he won at Merion? A close runner-up for most underrated would be Angel Cabrera.
Lynch: No. The 'most underrated' labels belong to guys who don't get the accolades their record -- on Tour and in the majors -- warrants. Kuchar has only won 6 times on Tour in 13 years as a pro. Granted, the wins have mostly been against strong fields, but still, just 6 times. For perspective, that puts him on the PGA Tour career win list alongside names like Dan Sikes and Bo Wininger. Kuchar gets plenty of credit for his achievements.
Van Sickle: Kuchar has been underrated because he hasn't piled up a lot of wins. Well, they're starting to pile up all of a sudden. He's hard to quantify because the only stat category where he ranks high is scoring average. Which is also the only one that matters. He gets the ball in the hole. You can't underrate that.
3. Adam Scott, Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson hired a lawyer to look into the USGA/R&A ban on anchored putting. Do you think they will challenge the ban and, if so, will they be successful?
Flesch: They will challenge the ban, but I think it's a sketchy suit. All of them have used a non-anchored putter previously. I think they are hanging their hats on the hope that Finchem opposes the ban, but if I've learned anything as a former PAC [players advisory council] member, image is everything to the PGA Tour, and that would be an ugly mess for Tim.
Bamberger: They have no chance. The USGA can't make rules under which the game is played? I think I will sue the USGA because I don't like the OB rule.
Godich: It sure sounds like it. I expect their attorney's first question to be: Mr. Finchem, where exactly is the statistical evidence that shows anchoring provides an advantage?
Lynch: Much as I support the ban, I hope they do challenge it, if only for the entertainment value in the 1-800 legal ads that will flood golf broadcasts. “Have you been hurt by Mike Davis and Peter Dawson? You might be entitled to cash compensation!”
Morfit: Seems like that would be a hard case to win. If they can win that case, could an old baseball player who can hit but no longer field win a case against the National League for not having a DH?
Reiterman: Judging by John Garrity’s feature on Tim Clark, he has a very good reason to challenge it. But I just can’t see him winning that court battle.
Van Sickle: I'll be interested to see on what grounds anyone challenges the putting ban, assuming the PGA Tour decides to go along with it. Casey Martin had grounds in the Americans with Disabilities Act and, also, carts had long been used in the PGA Tour Q-school. There was a history of cart usage. Maybe the lawyers can pick that up and run with it, that the putters have been used for years. But still, that doesn't change the fact that organizations can make their own rules. I don't like their chances.
Shipnuck: I hope so! That'll be years of juicy fun for those of us who type for a living.
4. After a first-round 78 at the Memorial, Rory McIlroy said, “Obviously I haven't lived up to my own expectations this year.” Will 2013 be a lost year for McIlroy? Do you see any indication that he will turn things around this summer?
Flesch: Much has been said about all of Rory's equipment changes this year and his slow start. I believe he will be fine after a few months of playing the new stuff, but changing 14 clubs at once, including driver, putter, and maybe the biggest of all, the ball, is huge. Talk about turning your game inside out. There's a learning curve associated with this much change.
Shipnuck: At some point this year he'll win a tournament. If it's at Oak Hill, he's salvaged an otherwise lost year. If it's a B-list event in Asia in the fall than 2013 has been a huge step backward.
Van Sickle: Rory changed too much -- all his clubs, and too much in his life. It's starting to calm down a little, maybe. But all I'm really seeing is something I've said all along, that putting is the weakest part of his game and it still is. It's not a weakness but it's not necessarily a strength. The modern game is putting, putting, putting.
Lynch: A good week at Merion would make everyone forget this middling season, but his two most jarring stats make a breakthrough in the US Open seem unlikely: he ranks 106th in driving accuracy and 122nd in putting. Perhaps we should be careful not to judge him against Tiger's standard. Some players are just streaky and not the week-to-week force Woods has been for most of his career.
Reiterman: I said last week that we couldn’t toss his year away yet. Not with three majors and the playoffs still to come. But Merion is huge for Rory. He has to get something going at the U.S. Open – a top 20, a top 10 -- to get himself ready for the second half of the season.
Morfit: He actually played OK after the first round. As we've seen before Rory can catch fire any time. Too early to write this off as a lost year.
Godich: It's a lost year. I used to think he was coming around, but the way he keeps teasing us is getting old. The good news is that he's only 24.
Bamberger: Yes, I see every indication that he will turn things around. He did last year. I think it's his personality. Much more like Seve or Phil than Tiger or Jack.
5. Matteo Manassero won the European PGA Championship last week and tied for fourth in Sweden on Sunday. How seriously should we take the 20-year-old Italian at the Open?
Flesch: A confident player is a dangerous player and Merion doesn't require much length, which plays into Matteo's hands a bit. As long as Matteo keeps the ball out of Merion's snarly long rough, he will be a strong pick for the week.
Van Sickle: Matteo already has almost as many wins at 20 as Kuchar does at 40. OK, he's not really that old. Must be the beard, which he can't wait to shave off because it's itching. Ignore Matteo at your own risk. He seems headed for top 12 in the world sooner or later. Probably sooner.
Lynch: The kid has won four times on the European Tour so he's a credible lurker in the field. By the standards of his contemporaries he doesn't hit the ball out of his own shadow, but at Merion he doesn't need to. And confidence counts for a lot. Remember he's never missed a cut in the U.S. Open. Of course, he's never finished in the top 45 either.
Reiterman: I see Matteo becoming the next Luke Donald -- a really, really good player, who may pick off a major or two. Wouldn’t be surprised if he cracked the top 10 in a couple of years. It will be interesting to see if he becomes a PGA Tour member soon.
Bamberger: He is very good at golf. How seriously should we take him? He is an likable, polite young man who is very good at golf and who speaks English beautifully.
Shipnuck: Very. The kid has tons of game and zero fear. That's a strong combination.
Godich: I don't think Matteo is ready for the trouble that awaits on and around Merion's greens. That said, his emergence is great for the game. I hope he plays more in the States.
Morfit: Not very seriously. I haven't seen much of anything from him in the majors. To suddenly win the U.S. Open would be a shocker to say the least, no matter that he's playing well.
6. Earlier this week Jack Nicklaus suggested that instead of lengthening some holes, the USGA should "go play Merion as Merion is" for the U.S. Open and not worry about how low the scoring would be. Do you agree with Nicklaus or was the USGA correct to toughen up the course for today's long-hitting players and equipment?
Flesch: In my estimation, Merion would be totally defenseless with modern technology. The ball has made so many fantastic courses obsolete to the pros now because it flies too straight and too far. An already short Merion would be eaten up by the modern pro, so narrow fairways, heavy and long rough, and lightning-quick greens are the only defenses. I believe this will be the final major Merion will ever host.
Bamberger: Well, it's kind of funny, coming from Jack, because who has designed tougher courses than Big Jack his own self? And who played hard courses better? But I do think that Merion won't really be a golf course in the traditional sense. You've overly manipulated a piece of land and your forcing difficult conditions. It's a very tough balancing act and we won't know until we really see it but I'm worried that there's a lot of truth to what Nicklaus is saying. Merion should be Merion. That's the point in going to Merion.
Van Sickle: Nobody seems all that worried about scoring at Merion. If it happens, it happens. Of course, if Merion coughs up a 60, that will all change in a heartbeat. The USGA couldn't ignore 30 years of innovation in equipment since the last time the pros took on Merion. Some length was needed but hey, there's nowhere else to go. So live with it.
Reiterman: I love that Jack says that and then he talks about lengthening the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Go play Muirfield as Muirfield. But I’ve never been a fan of brutal U.S. Open setups every year. I’d like to a little more variation. Some years the setup is brutal (but fair), others it’s a birdie-fest. Have some fun with it.
Godich: I'm with Jack on this. USGA officials might have been pleasantly surprised by the scoring if they had left well enough alone.
Morfit: It's funny that Jack would say that. Is this the same Jack Nicklaus who put wide furrows in his bunkers at Muirfield Village, causing great gnashing of teeth among the world's best at the Memorial a few years ago? Mike Davis should do his U.S. Open thing, as usual.
Lynch: We don't see Jack letting the pros rip up Muirfield Village every year with no concern about the scoring. Remember a few years ago when he started using rutted rakes in the bunkers to make recoveries more difficult? Player protests made him change course on that. It is sad that a course like Merion has to be altered to accommodate today's game, but does anyone really want it reduced to a pitch and putt? This Open will prove one of two things: that classic old architecture can still hold its own, or that the game's governing bodies have allowed equipment advances to render our finest courses obsolete. I'm not betting on the former.
Shipnuck: To quote one of golf's deep thinkers, it is what it is. Even stretched out, Merion is going to be a referendum on the distance issue, highlighting the USGA's failure to govern.