PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger's missed putt, Bubba's potential, Dyson's penalty and America's best golf city
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. Tiger Woods started the day at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge with a two-stroke lead, but he couldn't hold off Zach Johnson, who won in extra holes when Tiger missed a putt that couldn't have been much longer than 36 inches. What do you take away from that dramatic finish?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Tiger is very mortal with the putter. He'll still have days where he's unbelievable, but he's not going to putt tremendously every time out, like he did for about a decade.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): It's the latest evidence that Zach is one of the great competitors in sports, let alone golf. But the real takeaway is Tiger's putting letting him down again. He's been on a slippery slope ever since late 2009, when he couldn't answer Y.E. Yang and then blew a key putt on the 72nd hole to hand the Barclays to Heath Slocum. At the 2011 Masters, he missed a couple shorties on the back nine on Sunday, which were grim milestones in his decline as a pressure-proof putter. Now he's blown this one, at a tourney he cares deeply about. In this final act of his career, Tiger is going to go only as far as his putter takes him. This leaves a wound.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Who expected Tiger to miss that short putt in the playoff? Those used to be automatic. It's a sign of the times -- and not a good one for a guy looking to end that major drought.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: That Tiger's mortal. Makes him so much more interesting.
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): My Tiger outlook doesn't change at all: he's currently the best player in the world. But (and you knew there was going to be a “but”) the post injury/hydrant Tiger experiences occasional putting woes, especially on weekends at majors. He must somehow fix that if he's ever going to bag No. 15, let alone 18 or 19.
Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): A great performance from Tiger, when we hadn't seen much of him lately, marred by a bad finish. It isn't like he shot 77 and really gagged one. He just couldn't seal the deal. At the very least, he proved why he was No. 1 on Tour (and in some minds, overall) in 2013.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com (@eamonlynch): That Woods is far from being the player he once was. It wasn't just that he coughed up a three-shot lead to a journeyman -- and let’s be honest, as solid a competitor as he is, Johnson is a Tour journeyman -- but how he managed to lose. Two poor approach shots on the 18th hole (in regulation and the playoff), then missing that short putt. Three years ago Graeme McDowell beat Tiger in a playoff here, but he did so with quality play. Tiger threw this one away, and he knows it.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Same thing Harrison Ford's character learns at the end of Blade Runner: the robot is more human than we knew.
2. Zach Johnson forced the playoff by holing out with a wedge from the drop area on 18 (after hitting his approach into the water). Where does Johnson rank on a list of the best American players?
SHIPNUCK: I'd put him third right now, behind Tiger and Phil. But if I needed one guy to make a par to save my life -- on any hole on any course -- I might take Zach.
SENS: Well below the current giants (Woods and Mickelson), but in the mix with the next echelon (D. Johnson, Kuchar, Stricker, Snedeker). And I'd take him over any of them to win a crucial point in the Ryder Cup.
LYNCH: He's the Justin Leonard of his era: solid, unspectacular, grabbed his major early and good for a win a year, but shy of the elite level.
RITTER: I'd probably slot him in at No. 5, behind Tiger, Phil, Kuchar and Snedeker. And on Ryder Cup Sunday, Zach is No. 1.
PASSOV: This dude is way, way underrated. He's got big-time attitude, wins his share and contends often and has been a reliable performer for many years. If there's an asterisk, it's that he seems to play his best in second-tier events, like the Texas Open and the John Deere, and while he is a consistent top-tenner at majors and near-majors, he's seldom in that final group with a chance to win at the 72nd. Fix the latter, and win a WGC-type event, where the cameras are on and all the top players are there, and Zach will crack the elite list.
GODICH: Zach is solidly in the top 10. And with his wedge play and short game, he won't be leaving anytime soon.
VAN SICKLE: Zach remains one of the most underrated players in the game, probably because he's not a big hitter and not a tremendous interview. One thing that hasn't changed is that there's always room on the Tour for a player who's magical with the wedge and the putter, and Zach is. The guy has 10 official wins, including a Masters. That's pretty impressive. Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan will have to go on a hot streak to catch him in the wins department.
BAMBERGER: He's somewhere on the list, and he couldn't be nicer, but I can't see him right now, through the fog of his charisma.
3. Bubba Watson finished third at Sherwood Country Club this week. Watson hasn't won since his incredible 2012 Masters victory, and he's 26th in the Official World Golf Rankings. What happened to Bubba, and will he have a bounce-back year in 2014?
VAN SICKLE: What do you do after you win a title bigger than you could ever imagine? What happened to Bubba was a Masters win and the fame that goes with it. He's got a lot of talent. He has to with that unique swing of his, which I consider a big plus. Will Bubba ever truly be hungry again with a green jacket in his closet? He's one of a kind, so I wouldn't pretend to predict what he'll do next. Golf is way more fun with him in the picture, though, so I hope he has a big bounce-back in 2014. That'd be cool.
PASSOV: After his meltdown with his caddie at Hartford last summer, Bubba darn-near convinced me that he's equal part flake, equal part fluke. He's also got unfathomable talent. He's got all the money, fame and family life that he could have dreamed of. The question is, does he want reapply himself, refocus and harness all that talent -- and can he? With his length, ball-striking skills and creativity, he is absolutely a top-10 player, even with his streaky putting. And while he's not always my cup of tea, he's great for the game. I don't know that he'll bounce back in '14, but I'm rooting for it to happen.
RITTER: Bubba's swing, go-for-broke style and flaky demeanor don't add up to a consistent player. He'll never reach No. 1. But he'll be back, and I’ll look for him to win at least one more major before he's through.
SENS: What happened to Bubba was the Bubba-Craft and the General Lee and all the other symptoms of distraction and success that come after a big-time breakthrough. That said, I'm still surprised he won a major, and I don't expect he'll win another one.
SHIPNUCK: Bubba is Bubba -- his attention comes and goes like the wind. Adjusting to being the Masters champ isn't easy, especially when you throw in a newborn at the same time. He'll never be a weekly force, but there are still some big victories ahead for Bubba.
GODICH: What makes Bubba so entertaining is his unpredictability. He won't win a lot in '14, but he will win. And as was the case with his Masters victory, it will come when we least expect it.
BAMBERGER: Fatherhood. Car ownership. Watch ownership. Husbanding. Fatherhood.
LYNCH: Streaky, mercurial players defy casual predictions, none more so than Bubba.
4. England's Simon Dyson was handed a two-month suspension and fined $49,000 for using his ball to tamp down a spike mark that was in his line on a short par putt during October's BMW Masters in Shanghai on the European Tour. This violation just seems so egregious in the what-could-he-possibly-have-been-thinking department. Is the penalty too light, too stiff, or just about right?
BAMBERGER: I think the penalty is just about right. The real penalty is that his fellow players will never think of him the same way again, and he'll be watched with suspicion until the day he marks his final ball.
VAN SICKLE: There's a fine line between breaking the rules and cheating. In Dyson's case, I lean toward the latter judgment and, therefore, think his penalty was too light. Forget the fine, these guys have tons of money. A six-month suspension is the least he should've gotten.
SENS: We all have brain cramps. Seems pretty clear that Dyson had one at the BMW. Getting DQ'd strikes me as punishment enough, but given the scrutiny that rules enforcement has been under, I can understand the powers-that-be making a zero-tolerance statement. Leaves less room for gray-area controversies later on.
LYNCH: The European Tour disciplinary committee declared it a "momentary aberration on his part, not a premeditated act of cheating," but the severity of the punishment seems to think they regard it as more the latter than the former. It's hard to know if the punishment is fair when the process is so lacking in transparency. Were the same disciplinary standards applied to Dyson as were applied to Colin Montgomerie in the past? That's highly questionable. But this isn't just a European Tour problem, it's an issue across the game. Just ask Vijay Singh how it feels to be on the business end of a murky disciplinary process that doesn't seem to treat all alleged offenders equally.
GODICH: So Dyson's move was deliberate but "not a premeditated act of cheating"? What does that mean? The punishment doesn't fit the crime. Could you imagine one of the game's elite players being slapped with a penalty like that?
PASSOV: I wasn't at the hearing, but if they penalized him this much, it must have been a serious violation. Whether there was intent or it was just a momentary lapse is irrelevant. As rules violations go, this isn't like a bad drop. This is the equivalent of using your foot wedge to get a better lie in the rough. It's just such an in-your-face infraction. For that, I think the penalty should have been more severe. However, I also think this is a stupid rule. Why not be able to tamp down spike marks on the green? Your competitor just got a free run at a smooth putt --and just because some clod previously pulled up some turf tromping around the vicinity of the hole, you get penalized? Fair sentence, but I'd like to help with a class action appeal.
RITTER: It's a stiff penalty, but the stain on his reputation hurts more than the cash or probation.
SHIPNUCK: It's about right given that Dyson has never had any previous issues like this, or so we're told. It was such an obvious violation, and there was no attempt to hide it, so it almost feels like he had some kind of brain-lock at that moment. Let's hope so.
5. Everybody's favorite, Miguel Angel Jimenez, captured the Hong Kong Open this week at age 49 for his 20th European Tour win. What's the most impressive feat by an elder statesman (let's say 45 years and up, with bonus points for anything achieved beyond 50) in professional golf history?
SENS: First of all, who said he's "everybody's favorite"? No self-respecting man should wear his hair in a ponytail. Terrible example for today's impressionable youth. As for other fogies, how about the ponytail-less Hale Irwin winning the '90 U.S. Open at age 45? Tom Watson, at 59, coming THIS close at the British was up there, too.
PASSOV: I love "the Mechanic," but I'll go with Tom Watson's whisker-margin miss of winning the 2009 Open at age 59 as the most impressive old-timer's feat, followed by Jack Nicklaus' 1986 Masters win at age 46. Sam Snead's beating his age at a PGA Tour event, shooting 66 at Quad Cities one year, at age 67 is pretty great, too.
VAN SICKLE: One of my nominees would be Nicklaus making a run at the '98 Masters at age 58 with a bad hip that had him limping around the course. He had a birdie putt Sunday at 16 to possibly get within one of the lead. He missed, tied for sixth, four behind Mark O'Meara. Another would be Sam Snead shooting his age, 67, in the second round of the '79 PGA Championship at Inverness. And Ben Hogan's bid at the 1960 U.S. Open that came up short.
RITTER: I think it's still Tom Watson at Turnberry in 2009. Sure, he came up one stroke short, but it stands as golf's ultimate senior moment.
LYNCH: It's hard to top Tom Watson being one putt away from winning the 2009 Open a few weeks before his 60th birthday.
BAMBERGER: Oh, no question: Watson at 59 at Turnberry. He won.
SHIPNUCK: Jack Nicklaus reaching the eighth tee only two shots off the lead during the final round of the 1998 Masters at age 58. That's the most electricity I've ever felt on a golf course, including Watson's run at the Open.
GODICH: I'll take Jack at the 1986 Masters.
6. What the best golf city in America? What about the rest of the world?
VAN SICKLE: The best golf city in America is the Chicago-land area. Tons of courses, dozens of tremendous private clubs. An old Western Open joke used to be that the entire PGA Tour schedule could be held in greater Chicago at a different course every week, because there are that many quality tracks. It's not much of a stretch.
BAMBERGER: I borrow here from Crenshaw, Trent Jones Sr. and Herb Wind: the three great American golf cities are New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. For depth, I think my town (Philadelphia) wins in a match of cards over New York, but I know less about Chicago. The greatest golf city in the world is St. Andrews. Put it on your bucket list. You won't come back the same and you might not come back at all.
RITTER: Is Pebble Beach a city? Almost positive it has it's own ZIP code. I tend to defer to Travelin’ Joe on questions like these, but the worldwide No. 1 has to be St. Andrews, right?
PASSOV: Phoenix/Scottsdale tops America for best golf city in America: 365 days of golf per year (admittedly, it's a little toasty from May through September), vibrant Tour player presence, loads of top instructors and by far the best-attended golf tournament in the world elevate the Valley of the Sun. The rest of the world? Has to be St. Andrews, Scotland, with Melbourne, Australia, a clear but distant second. No other burgh in the business eats, sleeps and breathes golf like St. Andrews.
SHIPNUCK: Pebble Beach, Calif., or Southampton, N.Y. Worldwide, it's gotta be Melbourne, Australia.
SENS: Domestically, it doesn't have the best courses. Far from it. But for the combination of accessibility and affordability (both of which the industry could use more of), with a smattering of pretty decent quality thrown in, how can you beat Myrtle Beach?
LYNCH: Bandon, Ore., gets my vote. Worldwide, it's a toss-up between Melbourne and St. Andrews.
GODICH: Whichever town I'm lucky enough to be teeing it up in, replied the editor as he watched the snow falling outside the family-room window.
The PGA Tour Confidential debate continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.