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PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods wins Memorial Tournament with final-round rally

Photo: Fred Vuich / SI

Tiger Woods punctuated his dramatic chip-in on No. 16 with a classic fist-pump.

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 STORMS BACK TO WIN MEMORIAL
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome back to PGA Tour Confidential, or as I like to call it, Golf in the Summer of Love. Man, how good has this golf season been? I've got goose bumps on my goose bumps. Tiger Woods is golf's Frank Sinatra. He's older. He's taken his lumps. And still, nobody plays the big room like him. Three birdies in the final four holes, including a flop shot on the 16th that Jack Nicklaus called "the most unbelievable, gutsy shot I've ever seen." So tell me. Do you believe? Is Tiger Woods finally back?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don't even want to think about. I just want to savor the moment.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It was great. It was spectacular. It was exciting. But Tiger is not, quote, back. This is a new Tiger, a different chapter, a changed man even if he won't acknowledge it. We know better.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Today was nice, but majors are all that matter. Bust out at Olympic, or this season's still a bust for TW.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It's a nice step. Felt good today, but not sure I can trust it yet. Trending in the right direction though.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger is back in control of his ball. His shotmaking is back. That's a DefCon 1 statement there. He made the most of what he had at Bay Hill. At Memorial, with a few putts here and there, he would have won by half a dozen. This was dominant ballstriking. He missed only one shot (his second at 10) in the entire final round. Look out, everyone.

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail editor@golf.com or ask it on Facebook.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: I don't think we can debate whether he's "back" until he wins a major. Even then, to measure him against his past success won't be a fair fight. But right now he's still one of the game's best. This win impressed me more than Bay Hill, because Tiger was always more of a front-runner than a come-from-behind-artist. Woods may live for the majors, but this was still a huge moment for him.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I'm still processing what I had the privilege of witnessing in person. He had that "look." On 15 tee Tiger backed off because he heard a camera phone shutter, but he didn't really scowl or glare at the crowd. He just went through his routine again with confidence and bombed it. He had his old aura, which I hadn't seen since the back nine at Pebble Beach during the third round at the 2010 U.S. Open.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Yes, Tiger Woods is back, but that doesn't mean that I think he's going to break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major championships. He's back to being a player who can contend on any given week, probably win 3 to 5 tournaments a year if things go his way, and probably win a couple more majors.

Gorant: It seems crazy to say he's going to play well enough to win three to five times a year, but that comes with an arbitrary cap of two more majors. If he's good enough to win two more, he's good enough to win four.

Dusek: I hear you, but I'm waiting for the next injury to strike Tiger's knee or Achilles. I don't have a lot of faith in his health at this point. I'm also waiting for the next run of good golf from the younger players. We've all said Woods is an old 36, but I see him having five more really competitive years against the current field of players, who are still getting better -- Rory, Luke, and maybe a few others.

Gorant: Along those lines, I thought it was interesting that at the start of the round CBS was talking about the Rickie-Tiger pairing and a potential changing of the guard. Instead, Rickie had a front-row seat to the good old days. Wonder what the impact will be as he tells that story around the locker room over the next few weeks.

Shipnuck: I'm not sure majors are all that matter to Tiger anymore. In the old days, winning the Memorial was ho-hum, but this had to be deeply, deeply satisfying.

Wei: I agree, Alan. This felt different from Bay Hill. This felt like vintage Tiger '09.

Bamberger: He was far more dominating at Bay Hill.

Wei: Still, I was much more impressed with this victory, coming from two down with four to play, than Bay Hill. I haven't seen him look this confident in a long time, and he wasn't letting his misses bother him.

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: That final stretch was certainly some of the best I've seen out of Tiger since his woes began, but which Tiger is back exactly? Tiger 1.0, 2.0, 3, 4, 5? What number are we on now? Either way, this is the curse of being Tiger Woods. The previous three events weren't ideal, but look at his season: he has two wins, a runner-up, a T15 and a T17. For any other guy, that's phenomenal. It can't be said enough -- Tiger's held to a ridiculously high standard.

Wei: Sorry, I'm not a fan of the "Is Tiger back" debate. He'll never dominate like he did pre-scandal.

Van Sickle: You don't see Luke or Dufner or even Rory hit shots that precise all the way around 18 holes the way Tiger did Sunday. When he is in control of the ball, he's the Ben Hogan of his era. Granted, his wild driving of the past six years has made us forget that, but he's in a class by himself as a shotmaker. That ability, if he's on his game, makes him the man to beat in every major championship. Who knows how many more he'll win? But he's going to have more chances if he's playing like this.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Tiger Woods officially "back"?

73 WINS APIECE, SO WHO'S BETTER?
Hack: Tiger won his 73rd PGA Tour event at age 36, tying Jack Nicklaus. When you are hanging with your buddies at the 19th hole and the greatest-of-all-time conversation comes up, what do you say? Is it Jack because he holds more majors? Tiger because of the Slam, the missed cuts streak, the blowouts at Pebble and St. Andrews? Who is your greatest golfer?

Shipnuck: Nobody has ever played the game at the level Tiger did for 12 years, but Jack's still the greatest because of his longevity and the class he displayed, and continues to display. If Tiger gets to 18, we'll have to reassess.

Van Sickle: Alan is right. Jack is the greatest until somebody gets to 19 majors. But Tiger had/has a more rounded game. (Tiger and Jack with sand wedges in their hands is no contest.) It will always be hard to compare them because of the equipment, however. With persimmon, there was no margin for error. They're neck-and-neck.

Bamberger: Tiger might be the more skilled golfer, and he is the more dominant golfer, but I consider Nicklaus the greatest of all-time for many, many reasons, and here are a few: the 18 majors, the 19 seconds, the 25-year career, the dignity with which he carried himself. And don't forget the quality of the players and men he beat and lost to: Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Hubert Green, Hale Irwin, Dave Stockton, Lee Trevino ... I could go on and on.

Dusek: For me it's still Jack. Eighteen majors and all those runner-up performances. The Masters at age 46. He was crazy long before technology made everyone crazy long. He could putt, and he won on the biggest stages, and he defeated outstanding players like Watson, Trevino, Palmer, Player...

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Still Jack until Tiger gets to 19, which is a long, long way off, if it happens at all.

Lipsey: Jack. Tiger could win 20 more majors and 100 more regular Tour events, and it wouldn't matter. Jack is class, and that combined with his on-course record makes him No. 1. Period.

Wei: We won't truly know until Tiger's career is done, but right now, objectively, you have to say Jack because of the majors. But personally, I'll go with Tiger because I wasn't alive for Jack's golden years and grew up as a junior golfer watching Tiger kicking everyone's butt.

Rouse: I'm in the same boat as Steph. I wasn't even a thought yet when Jack was dominating, but I was an impressionable kid when Tiger was redefining the game.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: They're tied at 73 wins apiece. So who's the greatest ever: Tiger or Jack?

TIGER'S QUEST FOR 19
Hack: Might as well go there. Will Tiger pass Jack in major wins? The way Van Sickle is talking, I might go back to yes.

Gorant: I've been on yes all along.

Bamberger: He gets to 18.

Shipnuck: No. His body won't let him, but I can see him scaring it.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Yes. Tiger gets to 20.

Van Sickle: The jury is still out on Tiger's putting. I have to see more. But I'll put it this way: If he can win one more major, he can win five more (if he stays healthy). Tell me again who he's going to have to beat?

Lipsey: If he can get close, he'll one-leg it home.

Wei: I'm going to be contrarian and say no.

Dusek: Nope. I think the combination of injuries and up-and-comers will prevent Tiger from passing Jack.

Rouse: I think he'll fall tragically short and finish with 17.

Ritter: I'm sticking with two more majors for Tiger. Just can't see him staying healthy enough to be at his best for every major for the next 6-8 years, which is probably what it would take.

Morfit: I agree that Jack's 18 will hold up. Tiger is just too old a 36.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will Tiger break Jack Nicklaus's record?

PLACE YOUR BETS
Hack: We'll save our predictions for next week, but please put on your Vegas oddsmaker's hat. Tiger just gave the golf world another one of his "moments." Should he be installed as the favorite for the U.S. Open at Olympic, or should someone else get the best odds? Give me a player and a reason.

Morfit: I agree that this victory feels very different from Bay Hill. I loved Tiger's succession of fairway-splitting 3- and 5-woods, so I'd install him as the favorite for Olympic.

Lipsey: I think we're back to the place where Tiger is always the favorite, and everybody else has a chance if Woods doesn't perform. At least, that will be the prevailing thought.

Dusek: Tiger will be the favorite (3/1 or 5/2), but Luke Donald and Jason Dufner should be the favorites at around 6/1.

Van Sickle: Tiger is the favorite. He's the best shotmaker in the modern era, and he's back in control of the flight of his ball. It's that simple.

Gorant: I could definitely see him 3-wooding Olympic to death. Still, I don't think he's the favorite.

Shipnuck: Not Tiger. The wrong guy always wins at Olympic. So, Rory -- as in Sabbatini.

Van Sickle: Some people might think Tiger is the wrong guy now, so maybe he wins at Olympic after all.

Bamberger: I think it's obvious. Olympic is where Fleck won, where Simpson won, where Janzen won. It's gotta be ... Jonathan Byrd. He fits the bill.

Wei: If Tiger hits it as well as he did this week, then he's the obvious favorite.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who's your favorite at the U.S. Open?

PHIL WITHDRAWS AFTER ONE ROUND
Hack: Phil Mickelson does so much right on and off the course, but his WD with mental fatigue after an opening round 79 didn't feel right to me. Not a month after going into the Hall of Fame. Not at Jack's place. I know he wants to rest for the Open, but I thought it was tone deaf. The casual sports fan must be thinking, Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant don't do mental fatigue. By the way, when Nick Faldo asked Jack about it on the air Saturday, Jack replied, "I think I'll stay out of it." What is your take on the actions of America's favorite lefty?

Shipnuck: A rare misstep. He obviously should not have shown up in the first place. Then again, what would sleep-walking through an 82 on Friday have accomplished for Phil or his fans? Phil's earned a pass based on all of his ambassadorship through the years, but the whole thing was pretty lame.

Bamberger: It's so out of character I'm guessing that there's more to it than we know. If it was really only exhaustion, play on, dude. You're a professional.

Morfit: It was a classic quote, though: "I feel like it's the responsibility of a player to see through your commitment and finish the tournament and so forth," Mickelson said. "And I'm kind of overruling that just a touch." Okay. I'm kind of not worrying about it.

Lipsey: A hugely un-classy thing to do from an apparently very classy guy. Shame on Phil. Let's face facts: soldiers and firemen battle fatigue on the job, not PGA Tour players.

Wei: Phil mailed it in the last five holes or so, and I've never seen him look so disinterested. I thought it was incredibly disrespectful to Jack and the tournament. I understand that Phil does so much for the game, and signs a ton of autographs, but in a way that makes it worse. If you're an ambassador of the game, you're held to higher standards. Mentally fatigued? Yeah, it's especially tiring when you're taking more shots than usual, and the Friday forecast just happened to call for thunderstorms.

Dusek: Because it's Phil there is a temptation to give him a pass on this one, but it would have been better to have not shown up at all. If he managed to shoot 71, I doubt he would have withdrawn. It just didn't look good.

Wei: He needed a vacation after returning from a vacation in Europe. He obviously didn't do a good job of vacationing.

Rouse: Phil's exit was just pathetic, really. I don't know if there is a better way to put it.

Van Sickle: Phil forgot he's not 29 anymore. He overscheduled, simply a mistake. But I hope he apologized profusely to Jack on his way out of town.

Reiterman: I hope there wasn't some emergency at home that Phil didn't want to tell us about. The dude who won the tournament had a fever of 102. Erik Compton is on his third heart. Phil's excuses definitely rang hollow.

Hack: And you know Tiger loved getting the W while he was ailing after Phil withdrew. Believe that.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What's your take on Phil's WD after the opening round?

CELL PHONES AND THE TOUR
Hack: It's been rumored that Phil was sending a message about the cell phones that were snapping during his round. Should the PGA Tour adopt Augusta National's policy of no cell phones, no exceptions?

Gorant: I don't think a ban is the way to go, but people need to have some self control.

Bamberger: This war is over. The cell phones won. You have to teach people how to use them. It works at the better movie theaters, anyhow.

Shipnuck: Trying to stop fans from carrying phones is like trying to legislate against yelling "You da man!" It's unpleasant but inescapable. Fans and tournament officials need to use common sense, and players need to be a little less persnickety.

Wei: Right, you can't take it back. It's 2012. It's cute to think fans will obey the rules and not take pictures, but the real problem is that people don't know how to put their phones on silent.

Lipsey: Phones are a part of life, like long putters. Too late now to revise history.

Morfit: The PGA Tour should disallow cell phones, period. Why allow them if you're just going to yell at people for using them? That they were ever permitted in the first place is a monumental misstep.

Dusek: PGA Tour events are entertainment, and while fans should learn not to take pictures when a guy is swinging and to keep their cell phones on vibrate, I think they should be free to bring them and use them properly. Banning them will make going to events a lot less appealing.

Morfit: The Tour needs to either ban them or just give up and let people use them wherever they like. I say ban them. If you can't be away from your phone for a couple of hours, don't go to the tournament. As it is now, people are pretty much relegated to either talking amid the porta-potties or getting in trouble with the phone police. And now the players are irritated. It's a totally bizarre, ridiculous situation.

Lipsey: Good luck telling 20,000-40,000 people to leave their phones home.

Rouse: This is a no-win situation. Ban the cell phones and you piss off the people paying to attend the tournament. Don't ban them and you piss off the players. The Tour either needs to figure out a compromise or decide what's more important. Also, how hard is it to put your phone on silent?

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Should the Tour prohibit fans from bring cell phones to events?

ANOTHER EARLY EXIT FOR MCILROY
Hack: Suddenly, our man Rors can't find the center of the clubface and, therefore, the weekend. Three straight missed cuts on three completely different tracks. McIlroy says he hasn't been practicing hard enough. Now he's off to Memphis. Can he fix his flaws in time for Olympic, or is this a lost summer for the boy wonder? What advice would you give the defending U.S. Open champ? I'm telling him, it's time to get serious.

Morfit: I think anyone who can shoot under par with a quad, as Rory did Thursday, still has plenty of firepower left. That said, it's worrisome. No one needs to be coming into a major this short on confidence.

Shipnuck: What's distressing is that it seems like he packs it in when he's struggling instead of fighting harder. He needs to buck up and turn those 75s into 70s.

Bamberger: My guess is that he's wound tight right now, trying to be perfect. I don't see it changing on a tight track like Olympic, although a member there tells me that it is ridiculously playable.

Gorant: I'll go with the euphemism: Rory's struggling to find a balance right now. He may not be in prime form for the Open, but I don't think the summer is lost. He can be sharp again by July if he snaps to it.

Lipsey: Make time for work and practice, then fill in the open slots with fun. It's easy to snap out of it quickly. Golf is like that.

Dusek: Even if Rory can't right the ship in time to contend at Olympic, winning at Royal Lytham and St. Annes or hoisting the Wanamaker on Kiawah Island would make for a great summer. I'm just as surprised as anyone else that he's missed three straight cuts, but he's got too much talent to worry too much about it.

Lipsey: Maybe it's contagious, the slumping thing. His lady friend, Wozniacki, got thumped in the third round at the French Open.

Wei: I think he went into crisis mode after missing the cut at Wentworth. It was a wake-up call. It's strange to hear him talk about swing thoughts and technical stuff during his competitive rounds, but he has no other choice. Still, I wouldn't count him out for the U.S. Open if he has a decent week at Memphis. I guess making the cut would be a good start.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What advice would you give McIlroy after his recent slump?

 

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