Every week of the 2011 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.
BUBBA ON THE BAYOU
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Greetings Tour Confidentialists, and where y'at? (That's Bayou-speak for how are you?) I'm guessing Bubba Watson's playoff victory over Webb Simpson played pretty well down on the Bayou. What a run of golf for the best left-hander in the game and the best American in the world: Hartford, a great PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup, Torrey Pines and now New Orleans. When can I pencil in Bubba for a major? Any takers at Congressional? Does his game translate to our national championship?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don't see Bubba winning a U.S. Open, but I like the fact that he's capable of almost any surprise. Would love to see him do it.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Congressional, probably not, because Bubba's short game is still a little suspect. But depending on the weather, Royal St. George's isn't entirely out of the question. (Wouldn't it be awesome for a guy named Bubba to be named Champion Golfer!) I think Watson's best shot for a major this year will be at Atlanta Athletic Club in August.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He won't win a U.S. Open, but he's dangerous at the other majors. Atlanta in August with soft greens and one of the longest major championship setups ever could be highly favorable to Bubba.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Bubba is admittedly a head case, so who knows how he might react under that kind of pressure? Also, 20 other players have the same qualities that make him dangerous — long off the tee, good shotmaker, putter and scrambler. But he's definitely a real contender and a great personality for the tour.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Bubba may be the No. 1 American at this moment. Not sure how I feel about that. His game is so unorthodox; is it built for the long haul? He's definitely entertaining to watch.
Van Sickle: You can make fun of Bubba's swing if you want, but I think unique swings are an advantage. See Jim Furyk, Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer — the Hall of Fame is filled with unique swings. I wouldn't put any limits on Bubba. He seems jumpy, but the guy has guts, no doubt about it.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Bubba pulled off the insurance hat trick! Fun to watch, but I wouldn't bet on him for a U.S. Open. He's not going to have so much room to spray the ball off the tee like he often does, including today.
Evans: Bubba needs a lot of room to spray his tee shots, but I wouldn't bet against his wild style.
Hack: Remember how hyper Bubba used to be in contention? He's almost cool now. Not Sinatra cool, but getting there.
Van Sickle: Not even Nancy Sinatra cool.
Dusek: Don Rickles cool?
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: That's what getting a couple of wins under your belt will do for you.
TOUGH ROLL FOR SIMPSON
Hack: Webb Simpson isn't a fan of the ruling that cost him a shot and, likely, the title. On a one-foot par putt on No. 15, he grounded his club well behind the ball and it moved. Another bad rule of golf, or is this one worth keeping? I think it's a good rule.
Evans: Dem's da rules.
Van Sickle: Bad rule. No harm, no foul, and it's correctable. Just replace the ball. Unless the player caused the ball to move. Then it should be a penalty. Most times, though, the player doesn't cause the ball to move on a green, like when the wind blows it.
Godich: Perhaps it's the golf gods' payback for using the belly putter. He probably never has to ground the club if he's got a 35-inch putter.
Herre: Right. One downside to the long putter is that it's almost impossible NOT to ground it. Maybe this was some sort of golfy poetic justice.
Dusek: Why should a player feel compelled to alter his address, or stroke, because the ball might move on its own. If you make the ball move, foul on you, but I think the rule should be reconsidered.
Wei: Rules are rules, but I'm going to cop out and say I'm on the fence with this one. It sucks when he didn't cause it to move, and it's too bad it probably decided the tourney.
Godich: It's an especially bad rule when officials are so intent on baking out greens to the point that they're crispy.
Herre: Right, Mark. Those browns looked horrible. Hope they survive.
TIGER'S LEG, AND FUTURE
Hack:Tiger Woods is breaking down before our eyes. He withdrew from Quail Hollow, citing "minor" knee and Achilles injuries. (Sounds to me like being a little bit pregnant). Our esteemed colleague, Cameron Morfit, wrote this week that the old Tiger Woods — the "straw that stirs the drink" Tiger Woods — is finished. Who's ready to make that claim with Cam and why? And who says Tiger is setting us up for a great comeback?
Evans: Tiger will have to learn to play a different game. He's never going to be the power player that he was in his prime. But he can win majors again by just leaning on his past experiences.
Herre: I don't think Woods is through. He'll win again. But I don't think he breaks Nicklaus's record. I've said this before, Tiger has been center stage — super center stage — for almost 20 years. That has to take a toll mentally, which may have something to do with his putting problems. Also, four operations on the left knee would indicate that he'll never be the same physically.
Dusek: I'm still splitting the difference and saying that Tiger is going to win, but he's not going to win the way he used to, and he isn't going to dominate the sport. He showed some great stuff at Augusta, especially on Sunday if his knee was bugging him, but there are too many guys playing too well. He's lost his psychological edge over a bunch of guys.
Godich: He showed that great stuff when the pressure was off. But when he was in the hunt, he shot 74 on Saturday and had the back-nine Sunday meltdown.
Hack: I'm leaning Cam's way. Can a body take that kind of pounding year after year, week after week, not to mention all of the operations? Willie Mays and Joe Montana used to think they'd play forever, until they couldn't.
Wei: I agree with Cam. Tiger's body is clearly beat up. How much can that knee withstand? And that fear factor is definitely gone. When he was charging up the leaderboard on the front nine at Augusta, no one flinched. Tiger couldn't close the deal. He hasn't been able to put two good nines together under the gun in a long time. It's going to be tough to catch Jack now that Tiger's just average.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I stand by my earlier assessment, but I should have added that Tiger is more likeable now that the odds are so much against him. He's an underdog now. How weird is that?
Hack: The race to 19 majors is a lot more interesting than it ever would have been, pre-scandal.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I'm still all in on the comeback. He'll win this year and get back to a state where he wins three or four a year. He'll break Nelson's wins record and Jack's majors record.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: I used to be in Gorant's corner, but now you can put me down for two more majors for Woods for his career, which would leave him two short of Jack. Tiger knows he has to get one more major, minimum, to shift the storyline away from his affairs and subsequent free fall and into "comeback" mode. As long as he remains driven and willing to put in the work, I think he'll be able to do that. But five? Seems like a few too many.
Godich: Every opportunity missed only ratchets up the pressure. And the run at Augusta would qualify as an opportunity missed.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Woods does appear to have a pretty sanguine attitude about his struggles, which is appealing. But one year into the post-scandal comeback and almost three years since his last major win, my expectations for him are pretty modest. Win again? Sure. Another major? OK, maybe. Five more majors? Get real.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: He's already broken down. The big question is whether he'll defy the odds and get back. He might need a Tin Man miracle.
Shipnuck: Tiger is 35, but his body is at least 50 in golf years, given how he's been going since age 2. I fear he's going to keep breaking down.
DALY TALKS TIGER
Hack: Speaking of Tiger, John Daly went all Dear Abby this week, suggesting in a radio interview that Tiger should have addressed his scandal the day after the Escalade met the fire hydrant and speculating on where his marriage went wrong. Finish this sentence. John Daly ought to ... Dusek: ... take a good, long, honest look in the mirror.
Gorant: ... go into the crisis management business. Stay away from Tiger Woods.
Herre: ... shut up.
Hack: ... hang 'em up for good.
Evans: ... keep talking because it's the only attention he's going to get until he finds a golf game.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: ... expect the cold shoulder the next time he sees Tiger.
Van Sickle: ... quit taking up space on the PGA Tour.
Shipnuck: ... have his own show on satellite radio. Could be his real calling, because golf ain't it anymore.
Wei: ... keep talking, and stop hogging sponsors' exemptions.
DOES SMOLTZ HAVE THE STUFF FOR PRO GOLF?
Hack: One year after gridder Jerry Rice's ill-fated spin on the Nationwide Tour (83-76 in his first event, 92-DQ in his second), pitcher John Smoltz missed the cut at the Nationwide's South Georgia Classic by 27 shots this week after going 84-87 and finishing dead last. Should we embrace these hyper-competitive athletes for searching for a second act or curse them for taking spots from "real" golfers. Smoltz and Rice sure have high opinions of their golf games.
Van Sickle: I would've bet Smoltz would at least break 80. He can play, unlike Rice. However, Nationwide is a developmental tour and is the last place celebs should be crashing. At least at a PGA Tour event, those guys don't need the money. On the Nationwide, they're playing for only 20% what PGA Tour pros are playing for, and they need every $1500 check. Smoltz should've tried the Monday qualifier, done a celebrity shoot-out Tuesday and played in the pro-am Wednesday if he really wanted to help the event.
Godich: I have no problem with a player of Smoltz's caliber giving it a shot. But the next tournament had better think long and hard before extending his next invite. And Smoltz should think long and hard before accepting it.
Evans: Neither Smoltz nor Rice should have been in Nationwide Tour fields. Mickelson couldn't pitch in a Yankees game just because he thought it would be "cool" to see if he could compete. Let them try to Monday qualify next time.
Van Sickle: The real story is these guys are hooked on competition, but they can't cut it in their own sports anymore. Well, they can't even come close to cutting it on the Nationwide Tour. Fellas, the Hooters, Gateway and eGolf tours would welcome your entries; you pay your own way there. Give that a shot. They would love to have you, and we'd all love to see you give it a try.
Wei: At least Smoltz didn't get DQ'd for using a rangefinder! It was a nice little wake-up call for him. Competing on the pro circuit is entirely different from shooting par at your club championship or a celeb pro-am.
Lipsey: Fantastic PR moves by the Nationwide and the individual events.
Shipnuck: As a Tour caddie once eloquently put it, "Scratch ain't s---." An amateur who can shoot 70 in a casual round is light years from Tour caliber, as Smoltz helpfully illustrated.
Dusek: The Nationwide Tour is full of talented guys who play for little money in hopes of getting onto the PGA Tour. If a guy like Smoltz wants to satisfy his competitive Jones once or twice a year, and in so doing get a few people talking about an event, fine. After all, we wouldn't be talking about the South Georgia Classic if Smoltz hadn't played. I'm sure the tournament sponsors, who wrote the checks for the guys who DID play well, had no issue with him talking someone else's spot.
Herre: Playing in a high-level pro tournament is a reality check that guys like Rice and Smoltz certainly seem to need. Taking a spot from some marginal pro doesn't bother me. In the end, if you're a Nationwide event, having a Rice or a Smoltz in your field is a good thing, even if they shoot 100.
Van Sickle: Great, Jim. Let's make it a clown show and invite Willard Scott and Katie Couric and Glenn Beck into the field, too. Taking a spot from a "marginal pro" is a spot from a guy who can play, unlike Smoltz and Rice, as they proved. You think anybody extra really came out to Valdosta, Ga., to watch Smoltz? He could've done just as much by playing the pro-am.
Hack: Between Beck, Willard and Katie Couric, my dough's on Katie C.
Steve Beslow, associate editor, Golf Magazine: No argument that Smoltz has a high opinion of his game (the guy only took two strokes a side from Tiger in his prime...and always lost), but I think he deserves another shot. Rice is playing to help out his tournament, but Smoltz has serious designs on the Champions Tour, and I think it can only be good for the Nationwide to let him get his reps in there.
Van Sickle: How does a guy who shoots 84-87 deserve another shot? Do you know how hotly contested every spot on the Nationwide is, and how tough those Monday qualifiers are? You want to let a guy who shoots 171 try it again at their expense? That's absolutely ridiculous.
Herre: These guys from other sports who think they can play the Champions tour are delusional.
Lipsey: Maybe so, but their delusional dreams are what got them to the pinnacles of their games. And isn't every golfer at every level delusional? Everybody thinks he's at least several strokes better than he really is.
Van Sickle: Jim is right. Half the guys who played the PGA Tour don't cut it on the Champions tour, much less non-golfers. That, too, is a tough league.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: All true, but let's not forget John Brodie, a star quarterback who won on the Champions Tour.
Van Sickle: True. And don't forget Rick Rhoden, Jim Stefanich and Ralph Terry, who also played on the Champions Tour. And Walt Zembriski, a pro steelworker.
CRAIG T. NELSON AS PITCHMAN
Hack: Have you all seen the Craig T. Nelson commercials for the Players? I call them "Ads from an Empty Theater." We are less than two weeks away from the Players. It's a great tournament, but something always seems forced in the run-up. What advice do you have for Tim Finchem and company to make the Players super cool without trying so hard? Move it to March? Leave it alone? Give Craig T. an audience?
Morfit: It was better in March, because it benefitted from Masters pre-hoopla.
Reiterman: Replace Craig T. with someone with a slightly better Q rating.
Dusek: Drop the overly-dramatic TV ads, quit trying to pump up the drama of the event and simply let the golf course create the theater. TPC Sawgrass is such a unique, challenging course; when the PGA Tour hypes it and hypes it, it starts to feel contrived and artificial.
Godich: Exactly. This campaign hints of panic. Just go play.
Wei: Craig T. Nelson is relevant why? Seems like a waste of money (if they paid him), even though I am a fan of his new show, Parenthood.
Godich: If they wanted a coach, they should have recruited Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) of Friday Night Lights fame.
Gorant: It's like those terrible old Champions tour commercials with John McGinley. The copy is so overwrought that it makes the entire thing seem ridiculous. You can't take it seriously so you have to laugh. They need to go less high concept — a few shots of balls rolling off 17, a few shots of marquee players, the date and time.
Herre: I don't get the use of Nelson. Why not have some of the more personable Tour pros tell us what they think of the championship? Bet a guy like Paul Goydos could cut a heckuva commercial.
Van Sickle: It should be all Paul Goydos, all the time.
Reiterman: They should always have the players in the ads. It's their event. Get Bubba, Rickie, etc. to give it a little more color.
Shipnuck: Players would be much cooler without any hype. Unplug all the marketing machinery and let the tourney speak for itself.
Lipsey: You can't make a tournament great. It grows organically. The Players is a nice trophy to have, and it's great theater, but really not much more.
Evans: The Players was better leading up to the Masters. The weather wasn't great, but it gets lost in the middle of May.
Herre: I love the move to May — it's deadsville otherwise — and I think adding the Hall of Fame inductions will give the week a special feel. Give it a few years to catch on.
Hack: I think the Hall of Fame induction helps. It needs something — a Champions Dinner, Father's Day, something. It had Mother's Day for awhile, but not this year.
LEXI THOMPSON'S CLOSE CALL
Hack: OK, honest answers only. The LPGA had a giant story brewing in Mobile with 16-year-old Alexis Thompson vying for her first win. She might be carrying that tour one day. How much did you follow it? I'll go first. I watched 15 minutes today and her post-round interview with Jerry Foltz.
Dusek: About 20 minutes less than that.
Van Sickle: I saw 10 minutes less than Dusek.
Godich: I kept any eye on the scores.
Gorant: I followed the scores online.
Evans: Alexis Thompson shot a 78 today. She played like a teenager, but that's OK.
Walker: Followed the news over the weekend. I saw on Twitter that Lexi was fading, but I would have watched the final few holes if she was in the hunt.
Reiterman: Saw her fading early and then I went out and enjoyed the nice weather with the dog. Sorry, Mr. Whan.
Wei: I checked the scores online intermittently, but when it was clear she was out of it, I lost interest. Apparently on the hole where she hit it in the water, she said loudly "wrong club" while the ball was in the air, a pretty blatant call out of her dad, who was caddying for her. I don't think dads should caddie for their daughters. It's a recipe for disaster because it gets too emotional out there (at least in my experience).
WEBB OR WOODS?
Hack: I sure like how Webb Simpson handled himself today vs. Tampa. So, your kid's tuition is on the line. Who wins an event next, Webb Simpson or Tiger Woods?
Godich: I'll take Webb and Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey.
Van Sickle: Since Tiger is dinged and who knows when he plays next, I'll take Webb. Maybe next week in Charlotte. He would be a hugely popular Carolina winner.
Herre: Simpson is 25 and a 30-tournament guy. He's going to have twice as many chances, against weaker fields, than Tiger. Webb wins first.
Evans: Tiger Woods. Webb is as good as his caddie, Paul Tesori, who makes every player that he works with better.
Walker: With real money on the line, I am still taking Tiger every time until someone else steps up to take his spot.
Dusek: Webb because Tiger is hurt and seems to only play in the biggest events. Simpson will be playing everywhere he can.
Wei: Webb, because he's consistently put himself in contention. He caught a tough break today, but at least he gained some experience playing with the lead and in the final group. Plus, Tiger's hurt.
Shipnuck: Although diminished, Tiger is still Tiger and Webb is still Webb. I'll take Tiger.