PGA Tour Confidential: A Tiger-Rory face-off at Bethpage, Sergio pushes for Ryder Cup
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.
TIGER VS. RORY AT BETHPAGE
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Like a lot of golf fans out there, I don't really care how the FedEx Cup Playoffs work, I just want to see some compelling golf late in the season. Well, we've got a blockbuster showdown this week. Tiger and Rory (No. 1 and 2 on the points list) will be playing together Thursday and Friday at the Barclays at Long Island's Bethpage Black, site of the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens. With those two superstars in the same group, on a big-time golf course, are you getting FedEx Cup fever?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: No. But I like watching good golf.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I'm not getting FedEx Cup fever, but I am very excited to see the tournament and watch how Bethpage tests the pros when it's not soaked.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: To be honest, I don't get even mildly feverish over first- and second-round pairings. But I love it when the stars collide on Sunday.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: The FedEx Cup really doesn't matter to me until the Tour Championship, but I'm looking forward to Tiger-Rory for two days. My hunch is Tiger beats McIlroy for those 36 holes because I think it will mean more to him.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: As Michael said, the first of four good tournaments. We'll see if there's any sizzle.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: That's gonna be a fascinating two days. I fully expect Tiger to drill the boy king, not that it'll matter to Rory -- he already has the trophy they both want.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I'm not sure. Tiger might press too hard even though he, of all people, should know that there are only four tournaments that matter.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Tiger will win the FedEx Cup because he is the least likely to be thrown by the enormity of it. I agree with Michael that he simply wants the majors too much.
Dusek: If that's the case, and Tiger Woods wins the overall FedEx Cup, he will nab another Player of the Year honor.
Wei: Which begs the question -- do you deserve to win POY without a major? Unless you have six regular season victories and no one else does anything spectacular, then I say no.
Dusek: As contrived as the FedEx Cup series may be, it has certainly provided us with some late-season story lines. It does a nice job of filling the time between the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.
Wei: I'll admit that I did get a little into the Cup last year once it started, especially for the "bubble boys." Ernie Els, who struggled last season, had to birdie the 72nd hole at the Deutsche Bank to move on to the BMW.
Morfit: Good point, Steph. We forget that Ernie started his run to his recent Open win with his FedEx performance last fall.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who will win the Tiger-Rory pairing at Bethpage?
MICKELSON RETURNS TO NY
Reiterman: It seems Phil Mickelson plays his best golf when there's a little something extra on the line -- final round at Augusta, a tee time with Tiger. Twice at Bethpage Black, Phil's whipped the Long Island crowd into a frenzy only to come up short. Not to mention the meltdown at Winged Foot and another near miss at Shinnecock. Despite how he's been playing lately, do you expect Phil to be in the hunt again this week?
Herre: No. There's something wrong with Phil.
Morfit: I disagree. I think he might rediscover some mojo with the NYC vibe.
Dusek: I wish I could say that I was expecting a big week from Phil at Bethpage, but there's nothing in his recent performances that leads me to think that. I do think that he will love playing in New York, as he always does, but it is so hard to flip a switch and go from playing mediocre golf to championship-winning golf. All the same, the crowds are going to be solidly behind him; maybe that's just the lift he needs.
Bamberger: I do expect to see him in the hunt. I sense a second wind. Making that Ryder Cup team on points meant more to him than I think than we could ever know.
Dusek: I'm not expecting big things from Phil at Bethpage, but I do think he is going to be a force in the Ryder Cup. I think he has taken on the elder statesman role on the team and enjoys the hell out of it.
Wei: The fans in New York LOVE Phil. I know fans love him everywhere, but it's hard to beat the devotion of New Yorkers, as we all know. I'd love to see him bounce back (especially for the sake of the Ryder Cup), but I feel like we'll see a decent first two rounds and then he'll fade. That's become a pattern.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What do you expect from Mickelson at Bethpage Black?
DUFNER SKIPS BARCLAYS
Reiterman: One prominent name that won't be at Bethpage is Jason Dufner, who's No. 3 in FedEx Cup points. Dufner said he needs some rest since he'd be playing eight out of nine weeks if he teed it up at Bethpage, with his ninth week being the Ryder Cup. Thanks to the funky points structure, we all know a player can skip a playoff event and still win the FedEx Cup (and the $10 million). Were you surprised by Dufner's WD, and do you think the Tour should make it mandatory for qualifiers to play in playoff events?
Bamberger: It points up that the whole playoff system is flawed.
Wei: Yes, this once again shows that the system is flawed. Exhibit A: Jim Furyk in 2010; Exhibit B: Tiger Woods in 2007. Can you win the NBA Finals if you miss the first round of the playoffs? As for Dufner, the stretch for top players from Akron (or even the Open Championship) to the Ryder Cup is a long one. I know it's golf, but travel and mental fatigue count for something.
Dusek: Participation in the FedEx Cup events should be optional, just like participation in all the other PGA Tour events is optional. Frankly, I was more surprised Dufner decided to play in Greensboro than I was he decided to skip Bethpage. After two early-season wins and a good performance at the U.S. Open, Jason had to know he was going to be on the Ryder Cup team.
Herre: The Duf has been grinding, and on or near the top of the leader board pretty much every week. I have no problem with him finally taking a week off. I see him having a big Ryder Cup. I know a certain winning U.S. Ryder Cup captain views him as a natural leader. The Duf reminds me of Ray Floyd -- late bloomer, tough.
Dusek: I can't think of a single player on the U.S. Ryder Cup team who wouldn't love to be paired with him, and none of the European players are going to enjoy facing him.
Shipnuck: Despite appearances, Dufner is a very calculating guy, which was the theme of my feature on him a few months ago. If this is what he thinks he needs to play his best, then I'm on board.
Morfit: I'm not sure a big, broad-shouldered Bethpage Black is made for Jason Dufner anyway.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What do you think of Dufner's decision to skip the playoff opener? Should the Tour make all playoff events mandatory for those who want to be eligible for the $10 million prize?
SERGIO MAKES PLAY FOR RYDER CUP
Reiterman: In the midst of a self-imposed hiatus two years ago, Sergio Garcia didn't make the European Ryder Cup team, but he was there as an assistant captain. After a strong showing at Greensboro, he will more than likely be back on the Euro squad. Your thoughts on Garcia's clutch play this week, and would you be excited to see him back at the Ryder Cup?
Herre: Hope he makes it. Sergio is a terrific R.C. player -- 14-6-4 record -- and does a superb job of getting under the Americans' skin. Missed him last time.
Bamberger: Sergio makes golf more interesting. Always.
Reiterman: It's so true. There are a lot of great characters out there right now, but there's only one Sergio. I can't wait to see him in the Ryder Cup again, and it would be great to see him win a major -- if he can ever believe in himself enough to do it.
Garrity: It's been a long time since Sergio's been a factor in stroke play, but he's got the kind of expansive personality that provides an edge in match play. The Euros will be happy to have him.
Ritter: Think we should wait until Monday's finish to declare Sergio "clutch" this week, but you're right -- he's on the team. In the past, he's transformed into the Terminator at the R.C. No matter which side you pull for, the competition will be more fun with Sergio involved.
Shipnuck: It's a great start, but too soon to pronounce him as clutch. I hope Sergio makes the team because he's great for the event: he fires up both teams.
Herre: Lots of Nearly Men on the Euro side -- Sergio, Westwood, Donald.
Dusek: It's certainly encouraging to see that he is still capable of playing well. I think the European team would be wise to have him on the Ryder Cup squad at Medinah. He's got a lot of passion for the competition, and it would make it that much more fun to see.
Wei: The Ryder Cup is way more fun with Sergio playing; his intensity and fire are unmatchable.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Should Sergio be added to the European Ryder Cup team?
FINAL EURO SPOTS
Reiterman: The other guy fighting for a spot on the Euro team is Nicolas Colsaerts, who is also in the hunt at Greensboro and made a run at the Open. Is there any doubt Olazabal won't pick Garcia, Poulter or Colsaerts? Or is there someone else on down the list who might get a pick depending on his play in the next few weeks -- like Harrington or Bjorn?
Herre: No way Bjorn is a pick. Don't know what to think about Paddy. Take his putting, for example. Sometimes he seems rock solid over the ball, then the next week he can't make a three-footer. The guy is all over the place.
Shipnuck: Like Sergio, Paddy's game is up-and-down. But he's a lot stronger mentally. I think Ollie will take his countryman, but as a captain I'd feel more secure with Harrington.
Dusek: Olazabal might consider Harrington, but I think Poulter is a lock right now. I would've been surprised if he were left off the team before the PGA Championship, but his performance on Sunday at Kiawah should have sealed the deal. If Garcia holds on in Greensboro, he'll make the team too.
Ritter: I could see Harrington snagging that last spot, but I agree with Herre -- he's not the most confidence-inspiring pick. I like Colsaerts a lot. Maybe another basher like Quiros could be an option?
Garrity: Quiros is a serious option, since captain Love will probably set up Medinah to play long for the bombers on his squad.
Herre: I like the idea of Quiros too. He also has a lot of personality and would add to the event. He would also give Ollie some extra options when it comes to pairings. Maybe Love should pick a resurgent John Daly to counter. [ Tell us who you think Love should pick.]
Dusek: Quiros has a happy-go-lucky kind of attitude that might be less affected by Ryder Cup pressure, but the more I think about it, the more I doubt anyone could be immune to Ryder Cup pressure. Giving a captain's pick to a guy who is known as an especially good putter is one thing. I'm not a fan of selecting players based on the venue or how you think the course might be set up.
Wei: Quiros is fun and hits it a mile, but when he misses, it's off the planet! Quiros is one of about a handful of players who has missed every cut at the majors this year. As much as I like him, no way he makes it.
Herre: Steph, no fair injecting facts into your argument.
Garrity: I concede that you can over-think selections based upon course setups, but it's pretty clear that Europe usually has the best putters. So how do you de-fang those putters? You do it by making them hit hybrids or long irons into the greens. Even the best putters don't make many 40-footers.
Dusek: I don't disagree, John, and if the setup were left up to me, I would completely remove the rough and play the matches exclusively from the back tees.
Wei: Tough choice for Olazabal. If Sergio makes the team on points, I'd take Poulter, who is incredible in match play and a clutch putter. He's also obnoxious, which could throw off the U.S. team, though he might be different on hostile soil. And then I'd take Colsaerts. The kid has impressed me the past few months. He hits it a mile and is an excellent iron player.
Bamberger: I think Olazabal is going to go with old horses and proven names.
Wei: Agreed, but I still like Colsaerts...c'mon Ollie, live a little!
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Which two players should captain Olazabal select to complete the European team?
RETURN OF PRIME-TIME GOLF?
Reiterman: In other Rory and Tiger news, it was announced this week that they'll play a one-day exhibition against each other on Oct. 29 in China. (I'd be excited if it was on TV.) It got me thinking, with all the big names these days -- Rory, Rickie, Keegan, Bubba, D.J., etc. -- is it time to bring back the prime-time exhibitions here in the U.S., like Tiger vs. Sergio in "The Battle at Bighorn" circa 2000? Don't tell me you wouldn't watch Tiger and Bubba vs. Phil and D.J. under the lights on Golf Channel. Or how about we hype the next Ryder Cup by setting up a little match with Rory and GMac against Bubba and Rickie? I'm loving the possibilities. Your thoughts?
Shipnuck: The last ones sounded good on paper, too. Golf is exciting when every shot means something. That's not the case in the giggle-golf exhibitions, and the players and TV viewers know it.
Bamberger: Those classless shows are demeaning to the greatness of the game. I love them. More please.
Garrity: I'm with you, Michael. Have you ever noticed that old episodes of All-Star Golf or Shell's Wonderful World of Golf are more fun to watch than the highlights of old major championships? Personally, I can't get enough of Sam Snead vs. Dean Martin.
Herre: The first Battle of Whatever was kinda cool, but the concept went downhill fast. That said, there has been a tradition (and market) for golf exhibitions that goes all the way back to Old Tom. An original idea with the right players would probably work today.
Dusek: I think exhibition matches like that would be fantastic and popular with the fans. With the Asian tour events taking on more prominence these days, logistics and scheduling would be a nightmare, but I'd love to see it happen.
Ritter: I don't know. Those made-for-TV events 10 years ago always sounded cool ... then the event started, and it was all so hokey and forced. I think today those contests would appeal more to non-golf fans/reality-television watchers than to folks who closely follow the sport.
Shipnuck: Yeah, there's tons of crossover between the audiences for golf and "The Bachelorette."
Herre: Alan, how about Mickelson vs. D.J. -- for their own money?
Wei: Doesn't that happen just about every Tuesday or Wednesday?
Shipnuck: Own money has always been the ticket. But are they really gonna pony up? Phil might...
Wei: I bet Dustin would, too.
Dusek: Mickelson vs. Johnson at Pebble Beach, 18 holes, no lights or gimmicks, and the loser cuts a check for $1 million to the winner's charity of choice.
Morfit: I think those made-for-TV events only work if you have two feet of snow out your front door and they're playing someplace unreasonably pretty, like Maui.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Would you like to see more prime-time golf match-play exhibitions?
SURPRISE FINISH AT U.S. AMATEUR
Reiterman: If you weren't watching the U.S. Amateur on Sunday, you missed one of the most insane endings I've ever seen. (Tiger's Ams not included.) On the 36th hole, Michael Weaver had about five feet for the win and the ball was heading straight into the hole before it hit a spike mark and did a complete 180 down and around the hole. He then lost on the first extra hole when Steve Fox, the 63rd seed, made a birdie. What will you remember, Fox winning, or that painful miss by Weaver?
Herre: Spike marks, argh! Aren't these ams wearing softspikes? On the other hand, rub of the green, and a memorable U.S. Am, which is good for the event.
Wei: Sucks there was a spike mark, especially considering how few players were on the course.
Bamberger: They both get into Augusta.
Wei: Don't forget Merion, too, Michael!
Reiterman: Great point. I think that's the biggest prize of all, no? To me, an invite to the Masters and the U.S. Open should only go to the winner. The loser should get nuttin'.
Dusek: I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I have trouble getting into the U.S. Amateur, so I think I'm more likely to remember the steak I was eating at the time.
Shipnuck: Rub of the green, baby. It's a sad tale, but also an eloquent example of golf's cruelty. I'd like to see the rule change so spike marks can be fixed, but that's a separate discussion...
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What will you most remember about the U.S. Amateur?
WOULD YOU RATHER ...
Reiterman: A lot of people, Jack Nicklaus among them, would say the Am is a major. Where do you rank it among the big titles in golf? And would you rather win a regular PGA Tour event or the Amateur?
Dusek: PGA Tour event.
Shipnuck: Eighty years ago, the U.S. Amateur might have been a major, but now it's just a glorified college tournament. Winning is still a nice accomplishment, but how many FedEx Cup points is it worth? I'd much rather nab a Tour event.
Reiterman: Outside of the Memorial, my hometown event, I'd take the Am. A lot of bad-ass names on that trophy. You're telling me some of you guys would rather look up at your trophy case and see a Frys.com Open trophy over the Amateur? Come on!
Wei: Exactly! Who remembers the winner of the Frys.Com Open last year? But many of us can name the U.S. Am champs dating back a decade at least.
Ritter: I can think of about 1.1 million reasons why it'd be cooler to win the Wyndham.
Wei: Win the U.S. Am, and you get in the Masters and the U.S. Open, along with sponsors' exemptions to Tour events.
Herre: The Am has and always will have major cache in one of our highest golfing circles, the USGA. That's the beauty of it. No one wins the Amateur without having led a golfing life. Some of the kids who win might not appreciate the honor immediately, but they understand in time. No matter the ups and downs of the U.S. golf industry, the Am will survive, and its winner will be celebrated.
Wei: Growing up as a junior golfer, it was always THE prize. I think most kids still get that. At least I hope so.
Bamberger: I'd rather win the Dick's Sporting Goods Open like Willie Wood did today.
Herre: Good for Willie Wood. Second chances -- that's the beauty of the senior tour, and no one is more deserving. Must confess, I'm a sucker for the seniors. Lives lived, successes and failures, still doing what they do best. Lots of great stories.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What would you rather win: A U.S. Am or a PGA Tour event?