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PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Adam Scott for Player of Year?

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Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Adam Scott have made 2013 one of the most competitive Player of the Year races in recent memory.

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. All the main contenders for Player of the Year -- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott -- were in the mix at the Barclays. Who is your choice for Player of the Year right now? Do top 3s, top 5s and top 10s count in your POY vote or just Ws?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Sure, overall consistency and a number of high finishes are a factor, but wins are what really matter, and majors trump all. At this moment I give Phil the slightest edge over Tiger but the next three tournaments loom large. If Woods wins one or two and takes the FedEx Cup it’d be hard not to recognize his start-to-finish excellence. But for now Phil gets my vote for his epic victory at Muirfield, near-record win in Phoenix, strong performance at Castle Stuart and a bunch of other top finishes.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine: Tiger. If any other player had won five times, we wouldn't even be asking the question. Top tens? Congratulations. You are very wealthy. You also have done nothing to sway my vote.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I only count Ws and I think if I had to vote right this second I'd go with Tiger, who was back to his prolific winning in 2013. Could all change, though, if Adam or Phil pick up another win in the last three FEC playoff events.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine: It's still Tiger for me right now, though Mickelson and Scott are absolutely in the mix. As a tiebreaker, top 3s, 5s and 10s all count. I'd rather reward a guy who's in there every week, rather than someone who wins two events (even if one's a major) and has no other top 10s.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf.com: You can make strong case for all of them, but Barclays winner Adam Scot gets my vote. Masters champion. Top-5 finishes at British Open and PGA Championship. Of course getting close counts. If the majors are everything, then Scott’s performed the best at them and won the biggest one.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: I still take Tiger for POY today. The runner-ups and top 10s matter a little, but not much. If Scott or Mickelson win one more FedEx event and/or the $10 million bonus to go with their majors, that could swing things their way.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It's all about winning -- and it's all about winning majors. And for those reasons, I'm taking Phil. He delivered the most stirring final round in a major, and he did it on the most difficult test when others were struggling right and left.

2. Phil Mickelson electrified the galleries early Sunday when he shot 65 to get near the top of the leaderboard. Who is more popular with golf fans: Phil or Tiger?

GODICH: Phil just seems more likable and easier to root for. Every week is turning into a drama for Tiger.

MORFIT: That was the surprise of the week for me. This had all the earmarks of a year where Phil loses interest and sleepwalks in. Boy did he prove me wrong, just as he proved everyone wrong at the British. Phil is more exciting than Tiger in that way, because Phil's lows make his highs somehow more thrilling. And I think he's more beloved, which I don't think was the case a decade ago.

SENS: Mickelson is more popular with golf fans. Tiger is more popular with sports fans. Mickelson captivates the already-converted. Tiger holds the interest of a much wider audience of those who might not otherwise care.

RITTER: If you look at TV ratings, ticket sales (and yes, internet traffic) it’s still Tiger over Phil. But Phil has a unique and special bond with galleries. He’s the Arnold Palmer of this generation. On the ground at an event, it’s just about dead heat between Tiger fans and Phil fans.

PASSOV: Please define "popular." Phil elicits stronger reactions because he interacts with fans more than Tiger does, but no one is even close to Tiger at moving the needle. Ask any tournament director, and it's Tiger who can make or break their tournament in terms of buzz (Waste Management Phoenix Open excepted).

WALKER: Phil Mickelson’s popularity now approaches Tiger’s, but if Tiger and Phil are tied for the lead Sunday at Augusta, slightly more people are pulling for Tiger.

SHIPNUCK: Put it this way: Tiger is revered but Phil is beloved. They’ve always been somewhat polarizing, but I think over time Phil has won over more fans while Tiger has lost a bunch of them.

 

3. After all these years have you grown to appreciate the FedEx Cup?

SHIPNUCK: With a heavy heart I have to say yes. It gives us an extra month of great golf -- what’s not to love? I mean, except for the convoluted points system and endless promotion?

SENS: It beats the Tyco Golf Skills Challenge but you can't buy a rich legacy and the FedEx Cup remains a kind of just-add-water---or rather, just-add money---attempt at real sporting excitement. There's no green jacket, no iconic trophy. You need history and symbolism and a narrative with meaning for an event to feel like it really matters. The guys out there aren't thinking, "Boy, I really like to hoist that Cup!" They're thinking, "Boy, I'd like to further line my pockets." Hard to get too worked up over that.

GODICH: I'll admit that the FedEx Cup has grown on me. One of the appeals is the early round pairings, which, of course, are based on the standings. Who can't get excited about Tiger and Phil going head to head for 36 holes this week at the Deutsch Bank (with Adam Scott along for the ride)? Now, if the networks will just stop putting the projected standings on the screen in the middle of the second round.

RITTER: I like that we have big-time fields deep into August and September. And I think I just admitted that winning the $10 million might actually sway my POY pick. I’ll be damned. I guess it’s growing on me.

PASSOV: Not really. The competition is great and the venues mostly strong, but the tournaments themselves don't have a lot of individual identity, except maybe the Tour Championship/East Lake, and I neither understand, nor care about the points race.

WALKER: The $10 million prize strikes the wrong tone when a lot of people are struggling and the Tour Championship needs a bigger field, but I’m a FedEx Cup believer. Great fields make for meaningful golf in September.

MORFIT: I accept it for what it is and appreciate that it gets great fields and generates a modicum of late-season buzz.

4. Lydia Ko is at it again, winning the Canadian Open at age 16 for her second LPGA win. What's the greatest achievement by a teenager in golf history?

SHIPNUCK: We might be watching it with Ko -- she looks like she can win multiple majors as a teen. Jordan Speith going from no status to the Tour Championship is pretty amazing, too, and he did all the heavy lifting as a teen. But I’ll take Tiger Woods winning five-straight national championships, capped off with a final U.S. Amateur when he was 20. Mind-boggling.

PASSOV: I'd put Lydia Ko in the top 5. Nowadays though, just being a teenager isn't enough. You've got to a young teenager to truly impress. I still place Michelle Wie's near-missed cuts at two men's PGA Tour events, one when she was 14, the other at 15 at the top, followed closely by Tianlang Guan making the cut at this year's Masters, even after getting slapped with a slow-play penalty. Matteo Manassero's three wins as a teenager on the European PGA Tour (twice as a 17-year-old) is third, followed by Ko. I'll toss Ryo Ishikawa's 2007 win on the Japanese Tour at age 15 at No. 5, but, gosh, I'd like to find room for Rory's 61 at Royal Portrush at age 16.

GODICH: I'm going with Tiger's string of USGA Junior Am and U.S. Amateur championships. Think how many matches he had to win to keep the streak alive.

WALKER: Michelle Wie shooting 68 at the 2004 Sony Open at age 14. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that happened.

MORFIT: Tiger winning three straight U.S. Junior Amateurs followed by three straight U.S. Ams was pretty good, although he was 20 by the time he won his last U.S. Amateur.

RITTER: Toss-up between Tiger winning three straight U.S. Ams and Ty Tryon inexplicably appearing as a character in Tiger’s EA sports video game.

SENS: I know Ouimet was 20 when he won the 1913 Open. But just barely. He celebrated his birthday in May and won the Open in September. Given the event, and who he beat, I'm willing to grant him the three-month grace period and consider him a teen.

 

5. Taking with CBS This Morning's Charlie Rose this week, Greg Norman said he didn't win more majors because he was too stubborn, and if he had it to do over, he would hire a sports psychiatrist. Do you agree with Norman's assessment of his career?

SENS: He was being half honest. He probably could have used a shrink, but not exactly for the reasons he cites. The way he sees it, he was too stubborn and aggressive. The way a lot of others see it, he caved fairly frequently under pressure. In retrospect, I'm sure it's easier for him to think of his failings as a result of "stubbornness" and "aggression" Those are macho "shortcomings," so acceptable in the sports world that they almost pass as positives. I wager they're easier to live with than "Dang it, I shot 78 at Augusta in '96 and lost a six shot lead on Sunday" or "All I needed was a par from the middle of the fairway at 18 in '86 and to get myself into a playoff with Nicklaus." That would be more honest. Then again, we're all entitled to our little self-delusions, so long as they're harmless, which Norman's seem to be.

MORFIT: Yes. That's mighty candid of him. He was not so great at taking his foot off the gas. Sometimes, as Scott showed at Barclays, it's enough just to minimize mistakes and watch everyone else stumble down the stretch.

GODICH: I don't know how much a psychiatrist would have helped the Shark with his brain-locks. In the end, it still comes down to hitting the shots and holing the putts.

WALKER: Norman’s stubbornness (aka confidence) was probably the source of his greatness even as it prevented him winning more. Maybe a sports psychiatrist would have helped, but how do you advise someone who already knows everything?

SHIPNUCK: Well, stubborn is one word for it. Reckless works better. As does NBC: never be closin’.

PASSOV: I wasn't close enough to him to confirm that judgment. However, to be one of the greatest drivers of all time and to have seemingly limitless talent throughout the bag, it's inconceivable he didn't win many more majors. If the Shark is finally acknowledging that his main problem was between the ears, I'm buying.

RITTER: Does this mean he didn’t hire a shrink after the ’96 Masters?

6. CBS can't be everywhere on the golf course and needs to show Tiger's every move to keep the TV audience happy, but does the network owe it to us to note when it is showing a shot on tape? Two cases in point: The Graham DeLeat birdie putt at 15 and the Camilo Villegas missed par putt at 18 were both shown as if they were live. Yet if you were following the scoring on PGATour.com, you already knew the outcome of both putts.

SHIPNUCK: This is the golf-nerdiest question in the history of Tour Confidential. I think we should save our righteous anger for more important things, like banning the color orange.

GODICH: CBS in particular seems to get too caught up in Tiger and Phil. There was plenty of good golf being played on a crowded leaderboard, yet most of the attention was focused on those two and the final groups. I don't think it's asking too much to inform the viewers that a shot isn't being shown live.

RITTER: Nah. Golf broadcasts are informative, but first and foremost they’re entertainment. Just wait until FOX joins the party.

PASSOV: All the networks do this. I enjoy "predicting" when they're giving us a taped shot, as when they focus on some journeyman or unknown rookie for no apparent reason, without telling you it's taped. You just know that something great or something horrific has just happened to this player.

MORFIT: If you're living and dying with every shot then yes, you want to know if something is recorded. On the other hand, the way a golf telecast works, that would clutter up the screen with a whole lot of graphics. These guys don't always pull the trigger at the most opportune time to make a seamless TV show. The slight delay is a necessary evil.

WALKER: With so much golf to follow -- and so much attention on Tiger and Phil -- it’s understandable that CBS uses tape delay and if it’s within a minute or so, I don’t think they need to mention it. I’m more concerned with this Time Warner Cable-CBS blackout. Get it together, guys. The Masters is only 227 days away.

SENS: Yeah. They owe it to viewers to be honest. But imagine if they said, "And now, on tape delay, Camillo Villegas. . . ." The collective force of so many viewers simultaneously turning off their TVs would risk creating an earth-swallowing cosmic vortex. So, when you get right down to it, CBS was probably doing us a favor.

 

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