PGA Tour Confidential: Waste Management Phoenix Open
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.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome to Confidential, and a special welcome to Peter Kessler, who has almost surely spent more one-on-one time with Tiger Woods than any other interviewer, and whose knowledge of all things golf, from Gene Sarazen to Ai Miyazato, is awesome to behold.
It was a big Sunday for Hunter Mahan, but before we get to him, the road to Augusta starts in earnest this week as the Tour moves to Florida for the Honda Classic. As we say farewell to the West Coast swing, what strikes you all as the biggest development of the year? I'll offer this: Phil not contending. How about the rest of you?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I'm blown away by Rickie Fowler. So cool to have an American burst on the scene like this. I'll wager he plays his way into this year's Masters.
Peter Kessler: Rickie Fowler is making me forget that anything is amiss in our little world. He's fresh, exciting, and man does he pull that trigger fast. I think he wins a major before Sergio, and so does Rory. And Rickie makes the Ryder Cup team and beats Sergio in singles.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: With no repeat winners and a lot of guys racking up Top 10s, it's hard to call anything other than the Tiger Woods saga a big development. I think what we're seeing is a very deep and talented PGA Tour that will have, minus Mr. Woods, a different winner every week with no dominant stars, except for the occasional breakthrough player like Rickie Fowler promising new flair and excitement.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Two things strike me about the season so far. First is the number of great young players, from Rickie Fowler to Alex Prugh to Michael Sim. Second is the lack of boldness from Sim and Fowler when they had a chance to win, at the Farmers Insurance Open and the Waste Management, respectively.
Herre: Hard to defend Fowler's layup today at the 15th, but maybe he was more nervous than he looked. Couple of his tee shots down the stretch were certainly wide right.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don't remember Tiger or Phil laying up on Sunday when they were 21. Bubba, Sim, now Rickie. Doesn't anyone want to win?
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: All we hear is how fearless these young guys are. I don't want to hear about the money argument, either. If they are that fearless, the money won't be an issue especially this early in the season.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Only thing fearless from these youngsters are the outfits.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: These guys are damn good. Fowler's a stud. Give him a break. He laid up. Big deal.
Kessler: With 230 to go, laying up to your perfect distance doesn't make you a moron.
Shipnuck: We're not saying he's a moron. But you don't win Phoenix Opens playing defense. Plus, on a soft green it's easy to spin back a wedge, as he did.
Bamberger: At the Walker Cup at super hard Merion, with no money on the line, Fowler went for EVERYTHING.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I don't get the sense Fowler was counting greenbacks. I think he thought that shot gave him a realistic chance at birdie while avoiding potential disaster. He did arrive with the short-game-wiz tag.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Best club in Fowler's bag is the wedge. Second best is the putter. Third best is the driver. He counted on his wedge and didn't execute. Failed strategy isn't the same as flawed strategy.
Godich: All the more reason to go for it, Gary. He had just piped one right at the pin two holes earlier, on the previous par 5. I want putter in my hand, with a chance to make eagle. If his putter is that strong, anything around the green gives him an excellent shot at birdie. And judging from the shot he played from next to the 17th green, the nerves looked pretty good to me.
Lipsey: Would be interesting to chart par-5 performance for guys who go for the green in two vs. laying up. Who makes more birdies? The numbers would show the objective truth about what to do. Like when Belichick made the controversial decision last season for the Pats he relied on stats to make his choice, not guts. If the players knew the odds, they'd all play a lot better. I bet Tiger knows such things.
Morfit: This is sounding like golf Sabermetrics. Could be onto something.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Rickie Fowler ranks 74th in Going for the Green, having converted 18 birdies in 28 attempts. That means when he's gone for the green in two on par 5s, he's made birdie or better 64% of the time. At TPC Scottsdale, he went for the green in two on par 5s, or tried to drive a par 4, nine times, making it six times. He was seven under on those holes. Hunter Mahan went for the green 12 times, making it six, and he was eight under on those holes.
Lipsey: I bet he has no clue about his Going for the Green stat. And if he did know, would it have changed his decision? Maybe caddies will someday carry devices that give them stat access?
Godich: It will be golf's answer to the two-point conversion chart in football.
Gorant: Did you see Rickie's explanation for laying up on Golf Channel? He said he didn't feel like he could win at 15, and he'd played 16 and 18 well all week. Thought the wedge gave him a great chance at 15, but he hit a poor shot. Kinda hard to argue with that.
Dusek: If Fowler lays up and makes birdie, as Zach Johnson did numerous times en route to winning the 2007 Masters, the strategy is smart. Maybe his wedge game is not as solid as he thinks it is. It's tough to say a tactic is smart or not based on the execution of one swing.
Shipnuck: It's always a bad play if you don't execute the ensuing wedge shot. Ask Chip Beck.
Kessler: Knocking it into the bunker from 230 and then missing the five footer for birdie would've been no good either.
Bamberger: No, greenside bunker is a great play from there. Long iron comes in hot, isn't likely to plug, beautiful desert sand. You get up and down 7 times in 10 and hole out one in 20. But the real point here is that he's a dynamic kid playing in something called the Waste Management Phoenix Open. No time to wedge it in there.
Herre: Peter, ouch! Brandel's our new columnist. Debuts this week.
Kessler: Brandel says things like "it's pure physics" and no one moves their arms away from their bodies and plays good golf. Yeah, what about Jack and Tiger and Lee?
Bamberger: And 49-year-old Mark Calc!
Morfit: Calc, who was playing with Fowler on Sunday, told me recently that in his prime, he was known as "Fearless Flier 2" a nickname Mike Hulbert gave him because there wasn't a pin Calc wouldn't go at in his prime. (Ken Green was "Fearless Flier 1.") I wonder what the PGA Tour's record holder for consecutive birdies thought of Fowler's call on 15.
Bamberger: The layups are weird, and I wonder about the role of the caddies in them. They say in Hollywood that nothing gets greenlighted because you get fired for saying yes, not for saying no. I wonder if that's happening here, caution takes over. Fowler would very likely have been in a playoff had he hit a cut 3-iron instead of laying up.
Van Sickle: How about Fowler's second shot at 17? That was semi-impossible, and he pulled it off as well as anyone could have to give himself a birdie look. That was truly impressive. He's already got his card now. His dad just told me a minute ago that Rickie's goal for this year is to make the Ryder Cup. Just like he made the Walker Cup team out of high school.
Morfit: Wow. That would be huge buzz for the game, which really needs it. I love that he's thinking that big.
Hack: I'll second Phil's lack of fire in 2010 being the biggest development of the year. He just can't get that putter going. Or maybe it's his motivation that's missing, with Tiger making speeches instead of golf swings.
Kessler: Only Tiger is consistent. Phil plays well only in small bursts.
Dusek: He'd never admit it, but I don't think Mickelson is thinking about anything other than Augusta National right now. Sure, a win on the West Coast Swing would have been nice, but we're six weeks away from the season's first major. He's already thinking about it.
Shipnuck: Phil is always streaky. If he wins the Masters, no one will care about this slow start.
Morfit: We have to write Phil off before he wins again. That's just the way his career has gone.
Van Sickle: Phil has made up for some stray shots with a great short game and some great putting. So far this year, the short game and the putting aren't so great, and neither are the shots. He's always been inconsistent, and he's never had a year where he took it deep and won five or six times, as Tiger has done repeatedly. Consistency just isn't in him.
Godich: That's because he is always tinkering, with the clubs in his bag, his putting stroke, you name it.
Bamberger: Phil needs to tinker, lest he grow bored. He can't win bored. He's a speed freak.
Hack: Phil needs to tinker, but for him to not even contend at Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, L.A. and Phoenix was a huge shock. I agree, all will be forgotten if he snags a third lime coat, but these were virtual home games for him and he was invisible.
Kessler: There are rumors Phil is already talking to other guys about his pitching and putting and thinking of leaving Dave Stockton!
Bamberger: Let's give the winner his due: much was said, rightly so, about the pure strokes Hunter Mahan made coming in. The whiffed chip shot he got away with. Do you see this guy going really big time, or is he just a nice Tour player?
Kessler: I liked that Mahan said he played great and wants to be known as a great player, and that he played flawless tee-to-green all weekend. Journeymen don't usually say that.
Dusek: Hunter strikes me as a guy who has gained a lot of confidence from playing well in recent Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches. Unlike Sean O'Hair, who is talented but seems to lack swagger, Mahan is solid and knows it.
Morfit: He seems like too streaky a putter to go big-time, but that said I'd love for it to happen. There isn't a more stand-up guy on Tour.
Gorant: When one of these guys wins, the temptation is always to say, "Oh, now he's broken through, believes in himself. Now he's gonna start winning all the time." Maybe. But A plus B does not always equal C.
Herre: I see him as a nice Tour player. Hit almost every fairway today and putted brilliantly, but that pitch on 17 yuck! He needs some multiple-win years to go big time.
Van Sickle: The book on Mahan is that his chipping ranks among the bottom third on tour, and that tends to cost him shots. That pitch at 17, for instance, was a poor shot even for a decent amateur.
Evans: Hunter has one of the best swings on tour. He's probably good enough to win a PGA Championship.
Shipnuck: It's up to Hunter. He has all the tools to be great. But you can get rich and be on TV and date Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders just being pretty good. We'll see how badly he wants it.
Kessler: Jack would say Hunter is a nice player. He said Phil is a very nice player.
Bamberger: Let's weigh in on what lots of people are talking about, the get-ups these young guys are wearing. Fowler's big hat. Mahan's shades. Camilo as the man-from-Glad. I think it's great, even if I don't have a prayer of pulling it off. How do you all feel?
Herre: Beats the khakis but not as cool as cashmere.
Shipnuck: Love it. Fowler's orange pants were made for HD!
Gorant: It's all good. In 20 years, everyone will wonder what they were thinking, but that doesn't make it any less fun now.
Morfit: Showmanship in any form is probably a good idea.
Evans: It's nothing new. In the 70s, all the players wore the latest styles. What's different now are the bodies. This is the first generation of golfers to really work out. Also, the fabrics are so much better than they were even 10 years ago.
Kessler: I hate the shades, Hunter's included. It's like Jack Nicholson wearing sunglasses at a Lakers game. I love Fowler's look. Do they make his clothes in medium dumpy?
Bamberger: I think with the colors and the fits, the players are making a statement. We're athletes, not corporate clones, and we're entertainers, so you should look at us. I think it's pretty significant, really.
Evans: I don't think they are putting that much thought into it. They are marketing clothes with their bodies.
Herre: That's right, Farrell. They're models.
Kessler: Most of the best players, going back to Arnie, could be on the cover of GQ.
Gorant: I've gone to trade events with clothing companies in the past, and they've told me about how players have very particular requirements for what they wear, from color to fit. Even a guy like Chad Campbell, I was told, was specific to the point that he made his shirt company put extra-long sleeves on his shirts.
Van Sickle: Jesper Parnevik is always five years ahead of everybody else in golf fashion-wise. What's he wearing to be different these days? Gray, beige, brown, black and white. When orange and lime green shirts hit the sales rack at your country club, that's the official notice that a trend ended a year earlier.
Dusek: The clothes are fantastic. Some of the stuff is over the top, and companies can't be selling too many pairs of orange pants, skin-tight polos and studded belt buckles, but it's refreshing.
Hack: The golf ball doesn't care what shade of technicolor you wear. I like it.
Bamberger: But it does make your layup a little tougher when you're doing it in day-glo orange, with the caddie to match.
Shipnuck: Exactly! There should be a local rule that you can't lay up whilst wearing orange trousers.
Bamberger: We've now had about nine days to digest Tiger's speech/lecture. Let's focus on one sentence: Tiger said he has not done performance-enhancing drugs. This week federal prosecutors said they will go forward with their case against Dr. Anthony Galea, the Canadian doctor who uses HGH himself and on his non-athlete patients. He doesn't have a U.S. medical license, but he went to Orlando to give Woods treatments when Woods was recovering from his '08 knee surgery. Here's the question: How do you interpret Woods's comment that he has not used PEDs? Do you regard Woods as credible on this question? A thicket, I know, but a significant one. Or do you want to give the kid a break?
Lipsey: Almost every big-time athlete who's made a public denial has ended up guilty of using PEDs.
Herre: I think this issue is the one that worries Tiger and his handlers the most. Sounds as if he will be interviewed by the Feds and drawn into their case against Galea. I doubt this will come as a surprise to Woods, hence his inclusion of a PED denial in his statement, a denial that seemed to be a non sequitur.
Van Sickle: Tiger should never have even heard of this guy, much less been visited by him, much less been treated by him. It's a huge coincidence, as Special Agent Leroy Gibbs says on NCIS, and I don't believe in coincidence.
Bamberger: Excellent point. Why go to a doctor who is right on the edge when you're carrying your game on your back? More risky behavior, really.
Kessler: Tiger told me he hasn't taken them, and that's good enough for me.
Shipnuck: He also said "Family always comes first. " Just sayin'...
Kessler: I've had a lot of conversations with him in the last 15 years. He has never once ever come close to letting me down in that way.
Bamberger: I hope Tiger is telling the truth about PEDs. It would be a very bad thing for golf to have its best player looking like A-Rod or Bonds or Floyd Landis. Golf has enjoyed a special status forever. Right now it's in jeopardy. There's a lot riding on this. Too much.
Lipsey: Every other sport has been rocked by PEDs. It would be a shock, but not out of the ordinary in today's sporting world.
Bamberger: It would make golf look ordinary if it's true, but nobody should be shocked if PEDs turn out to be far more commonplace in golf than we thought.
Dusek: Anytime this much money is on the table, human nature kicks in and some people will look for an edge. To think golf is somehow above that is naive.
Hack: Right. The PGA Tour is a high-stakes, televised, big-money sport, and to think PEDs have not infiltrated it while they have swallowed other big-money sports whole is naive indeed.
Bamberger: I love the rhythm of the Tour year: the West Coast swing, the Florida swing leading to the Masters, the intensity of three majors in three months in summer. The Florida swing begins this week. What will you be looking for? Fowler to play his way into the Masters field? Phil to win? Tiger to make a next step back into public life? An Augusta ball mark for your thoughts.
Herre: We might have some guys playing their way into the Masters in Florida, which is always fun. And I'm eager to see this wonderful group of young players from the U.S., Japan, Europe compete together. I have a sense that we are at the dawn of a fresh new era.
Bamberger: Almost as if the Tiger Era is over and now a new one begins? Maybe. But I would never bet against Tiger.
Kessler: They'll widen the fairways, make the par 5s reachable, and Rickie and Rory will give us a glimpse of the future.
Lipsey: Will somebody surpass TW as No. 1 during the Florida swing? That's what I'm looking for.
Gorant: The answer is almost certainly no. Mickelson or Stricker would have to win three times between now and April to be No. 1 at the Masters.
Dusek: But that doesn't mean we won't see a new No.1 this season. I think we will.
Kessler: Tiger will be the news of the Florida swing as he gets out of rehab on March 31, takes a month to get his game together, plays the Players, Jack's deal, one other and then Pebble Beach is a madhouse for the U.S. Open.
Dusek: With eight of the top 15 players in the world being European, unless Mickelson turns things around as he gets ready for the Masters, I think we're going to see someone from across the pond win at Doral in two weeks. Aside from that, no one is dominating the game, and I don't expect anyone to separate himself from the pack.
Evans: Fowler at the Masters is a great golf story. But to get Tiger back for the Masters would be a great mulligan for this season. Phil will be Phil, inconsistent and great.
Bamberger: Given Tiger's physical appearance at his media op, I cannot see him playing in the Masters. He looks like his head is completely elsewhere. Photos of him running with a baseball cap are not convincing. They are the opposite.
Dusek: The images of him running and hitting balls were set up between Team Tiger and Getty to screw the paparazzi. Would anyone doubt those were the first swings he's made since this whole thing started?