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PGA Tour Confidential: Waste Management Phoenix Open

Rickie Fowler, Phoenix Open
Fred Vuich/SI
Rickie Fowler made a statement with his play and his brightly-colored wardrobe.

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.

Bamberger: If it were a 230-yard par 3 over water, would he ever lay up? Not unless his name was Lionel Hebert.

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, 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.

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