PGA Tour Confidential: The Travelers Championship
Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
GRADING THE PGA SEASON
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Wow! Another fantastic PGA Tour finish. Meltdowns by Justin Rose and Ben Curtis. The Tour's longest and shortest hitters involved in a playoff. An almost-holed approach and a true-grit putt on the first playoff hole. Since we're at the halfway point of the season, what grade do you give it so far?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I'm going to say solid B. Lots of new faces, good finishes, Phil's Masters win, a great Open (on Saturday anyway) and the ongoing/continually developing Tiger story. As for the Travelers, here's a shout out to TPC River Highlands, one of the most fun courses on Tour. Where else can you get Corey Pavin and Bubba Watson in the same playoff?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: When I think back, what jumps out are the Garrigus meltdown, Phil at the Masters and some of the young guys winning, so maybe a B- or C+. Clark, Rose and Watson breakthroughs are nice, but it took me longer to remember them. Been a little light on buzz.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: This week's finish was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a Tour event can thrive without Woods and Mickelson on the premises. I give the season a B+.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Hartford has prided itself on bringing out spectators in droves to the TPC since way before Tiger and Phil hit the scene. The locals really love the event and have supported it through thick and thin. And to Jim's point, while the course doesn't get a lot of mentioning, clearly it provides a ton of excitement and allows a lot of different players a chance to compete and win. My in-laws, who are not golfers, live in Central Connecticut and speak with almost as much pride about the GHO (they still call it that) as they do the UCONN women's basketball team.
Herre: David's right. The Hartford stop is one of the best-supported events on the PGA Tour, not that that seems to matter these days. I'd say Hartford is the PGA Tour's version of the now defunct Corning Classic on the LPGA tour beloved by the area fans and many players, expendable to the powers that be.
Walker: I'm going to say A- for 2010 so far. Mickelson's Masters win was one for the ages, and the U.S. Open was fascinating. (While it's never good for a course to overshadow a tournament, at least the course was Pebble Beach.) Plus, week-in, week-out, the last hour on Sunday has often been pretty compelling stuff.
Dusek: I'll also go with B-. Phil's Masters was one I'll remember for a long time, but the U.S. Open will be remembered more for guys' losing than for McDowell's winning (which is a shame). The biggest storyline for me, though, is the emergence of all the young talent. The aforementioned Rose, Bubba Watson this week, along with Jason Day at Colonial and Rory McIlroy at Quail Hallow.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Phil's Masters win is about the only thing anyone will remember from the actual golf of 2010. So far, anyway. Maybe it will also be the year the young guys started to assert themselves, with McIlroy and Day and the rest of them.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: A for the season. So many young guys have stepped up, the Masters was epic, the Open memorable, and Tiger is the gift that keeps on giving.
WILL WATSON AND VERPLANK MAKE THE RYDER CUP CUT?
Walker: Both winner Bubba Watson and runner up Scott Verplank got a great audition with Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin today. Are they good candidates for this year's team?
Lipsey: Watson's putter is too shaky under fire, so one W doesn't earn my Ryder Cup vote. Verplank needs a good W.
Dusek: Agree about Bubba's inconsistency. To genuinely consider him for the Ryder Cup, he'd need to make this win the start of a hot streak. Maybe another win or a few Top 5s at least. Verplank's putter and experience could be useful, but again, I'd want to see the Hartford result as the beginning of a good summer run.
Shipnuck: Verplank was a warrior at the K Club. Bubba is too unpredictable, but he'd be a blast in fourballs.
Morfit: I agree that if Verplank is in the top 15 or so in points you've got to pick him. Guy's got a pretty good record as a battler.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Corey got a good look at Bubba this week. He could be a great weapon for the American team. He is comfortable in that Lee Trevino kind of way with almost anybody he would be teamed with. He gets nervous, which is a good thing, and he's emotional, which is always good at the Ryder Cup.
Gorant: Plus, he's good buddies with TW, assuming Pavin picks him.
Evans: One more thing on Bubba. Seeing the emotion he showed after the win was one of the best moments of the season for me. He's a breath of fresh air on a tour where too many guys forget how fortunate they are to be playing golf for a living. His dad, who is battling cancer, is a blue collar man who gave his son every opportunity in tiny Bagdad (Fla.) to make it to the show.
A PLAYING CAPTAIN AT THE RYDER CUP?
Walker: With Pavin's excellent play and Colin Montgomerie's 62 in British Open qualifying, might we see a playing captain in Wales this October?
Lipsey: I think playing captains are a thing of the past. Too many logistics and too much pressure to handle before, during and after the event.
Dusek: Agree. There's so much background stuff that goes on. I think it would be almost impossible to be mentally ready to play AND handle all the off-the-course stuff that comes with the job.
Morfit: We won't see a playing captain until Phil Mickelson in 2016.
Herre: Interesting call, Cam. If Couples was this year's captain, I could see him playing.
Morfit: It takes someone with a healthy ego and a nutty sense of daring to be a playing captain.
Walker: I don't see any issues with a playing captain. With Monty's record in the Ryder Cup, if he's healthy and playing well, he might have to pull a Cheney with one of those captain's picks.
Lipsey: Monty is not playing well and hasn't played well for a LONG time. Pavin's had a couple of nice finishes on short courses, while the Ryder Cup venue will be a brute. Corey would likely admit he's not going to play.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: No chance for Corey to play. He's all hyper-businessy and wouldn't be able to let go of the reins. As for a Watson on the team, I think Tom has a better chance than Bub.
THE MONTY-FALDO FEUD
Walker: Speaking of Monty, he's now feuding with Nick Faldo, who says Monty has rebuffed his attempts to talk about the 2010 Ryder Cup team. What is it about the Ryder Cup captaincy that turns accomplished and wealthy middle-aged men into the cast of Mean Girls, and does this stuff have any effect on the players?
Dusek: Even if Monty doesn't want to hear what Faldo has to say, why not listen for 15 minutes? He could ignore his advice instead of causing a dust-up. The pressure on captains to win and lead a successful Ryder Cup campaign has seemed to build and build over the years. As the matches get testier and the line between sportsmanship and competitiveness blurs, I think the captains could easily get swept up in the heat of it before anyone else.
Bamberger: Well, in Monty's case, if he can't figure out a way to get along with a revered Hall of Famer from England, how's he going to get on the same page with his players? Monty's too prickly and too smart for his own good; he sees complications in everything. This is gonna be great.
Morfit: Monty would seem to have a lot going on in his personal life these days. I'd skip talking to Faldo. What's the point? Ask the players, or whichever '08 Ryder Cup vets make this year's team. Being captain just isn't that complicated unless you make it so. Just ask Freddy.
ROSE WILTS ON SUNDAY
Morfit: Very surprised that Rose did not get it done with a three-stroke lead. As encouraged as Corey must be, not a great day in Hartford for Monty and the lads. (The England-Germany World Cup result will leave a foul taste as well.)
Gorant: Yeah, he looked dominant going into it, especially coming off the win two weeks ago. Really started to think, "Hey, it's finally clicked for this guy, and he's going to grab it by the throat." Instead it grabbed him by the throat.
Herre: We had been hearing a lot about the vaunted Euros this week. Not today.
Dusek: Seriously, does this result nullify his breakthrough win at Memorial? He and Ben Curtis were almost unwatchable on the back nine.
Lipsey: I hope Rose doesn't fall back into mental collapse mode that kept him from the winner's circle for eons.
Evans: He stunk it up on Sunday with that 75. His ball striking was atrocious, and it didn't help that his playing partner, Ben Curtis, also played poorly.
KERR STEAMROLLS LPGA FIELD
Walker: We did see a historic, dominating win this weekend, reminiscent of Tiger's 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. It just happened to be Cristie Kerr taking the LPGA Championship by 12 strokes. She also replaces Ai Miyazato as the No. 1 player. The LPGA now has a relatively well known, popular American player as its No. 1. Does this mean we'll see higher ratings and more interest in the LPGA?
Shipnuck: So that answers the question, What's wrong with American golf?
Evans: Earlier in the week in my Q&A with her, she thought the winning number might be in that 10- to 13-under range, but she obviously blew past that. Interestingly enough, she also told me she didn't want to talk about blowing big leads.
Lipsey: Higher ratings? I know I'm not supposed to ask questions, but anybody who watched the LPGA over the PGA Tour today, please raise your hand.
Herre: I did tune for a bit to get a look at the leader board and the course. The course looked juicy in the extreme lots of heat and T-storms hereabouts.
Walker: I watched some of Kerr's win as well. Something to add to the list of the LPGA's challenges is the Production Quality Gap. The LPGA broadcasts just can't compete with the camera work and picture quality of the PGA Tour's network broadcasts. It's like changing your TV channel to 1994.
Herre: That's a great point, Mike. The telecast does look second rate, from the booth to the production quality.
Evans: The tour thought it would have some growth by securing a home on the Golf Channel, but I have the sad feeling that no one is watching. At least when the event was on CBS, any person with a TV could get a glimpse of the women.
Morfit: Watching the LPGA is not at the top of my list of things to do, but it drops even further when the only reason to tune in is to see who finishes second.
Bamberger: Maybe Kerr can help draw a higher rating in the U.S., but the LPGA has to figure out a way to sell itself across the world. There's just not enough interest in it here to move the needle.
Evans: Let me say something else: Lift, clean and place in a major? If you want to be taken seriously, play golf, as Will Nichols of Augusta National said famously when asked about that option during one rainy Masters.
PREDICTIONS FOR TIGER AT AT&T
Walker: Tiger Woods will play his first post-U.S. Open tournament this week, the AT&T National at Aronimink Country Club in suburban Philadelphia. (Congressional is being re-fitted for next year's U.S. Open.) It's Woods's personal tournament. How will he play, and what area of his game needs the most improvement for him to build his confidence for the British Open in a couple weeks?
Lipsey: I think a resolution of his marital status will unlock Tiger, and that's what he needs most. When his mind is free, or relatively free, of the family issues now on his plate, he will be a new man on the course.
Morfit: The thing that used to be his strength is now Tiger's weakness: his mental game. The shots are in there. He proved that in round 3 at Pebble.
Dusek: If Tiger can start hitting driver confidently and effectively, so many other things will start to fall into place. His iron game was fine at Pebble, and you'd have to think that he'd get more birdie chances from the fairway.
Shipnuck: Based on the Masters and Open, expect him to finish fourth.
Bamberger: I think he's getting better all the time. Third.
Evans: Tiger will get his first win of the season and remind us that he's still the No. 1 player in the world.
Walker: Including the host Woods, only three of the Top 20 players in the world are competing at the AT&T National. (Jim Furyk and Robert Allenby are the other two.) Certainly this speaks to the success of European players and the inconvenient, pre-British Open date of Woods's event. But should we read any more into most of the world's top players including No. 2 Phil Mickelson not playing Woods's event?
Shipnuck: Nah, the field's always weak. Guys want to be home with their families for July 4th.
Gorant: I would think it's mostly the tough date. Fourth of July weekend, right before the Open.
Dusek: There's no reason for the Euros to play two weeks before St. Andrews. And since there are so many Euros in the top 20 these days, take away Mickelson and the field is bound to look weak.
Herre: Maybe the weak field will be a reality check for TW. Everyone else who hosts a tournament has to work hard recruiting players. Or, maybe because he was dropped by AT&T, yet the tournament continues to benefit the TW foundation, Woods will simply take the money and do nothing else.
Bamberger: You can call it a snub, but it's simply not a week when a lot of guys want to be playing a new course in a new town, even though it's a good course and a great town.
Morfit: It's only natural that Woods would lose some of his influence, but it also has to do with Anthony Kim being injured and other players wanting to slowly make their way across the pond.