Tour Confidential: What's holding Sergio back? Plus, Ryder Cup picks and the greatest golf swing of all time
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. Sergio Garcia was two shots behind eventual BMW Championship winner Billy Horschel on the par-5 17th hole Sunday, when he laid up with his second shot, then hit a wedge over the green, chipped into the water and finished with a snowman 8. Garcia has been in the hunt many times this season. What’s holding him back on Sundays?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Obviously the dude has brain damage, golf-wise. It’s sad to see, because Sergio often plays beautifully Thursday-Saturday. Perhaps he can be cured by some deep work with a sports psychologist, but I fear this is a permanent condition.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Garcia said that's "what happens when you're not mentally sharp" and not "rested." Wait, didn't he take last week off? Maybe laying up on 17 wasn't mentally sharp. Maybe the only time Garcia is mentally sharp is at the Ryder Cup. Maybe, like Johnny Miller said, "He's missing something." Bob Rotella, please come to a white courtesy telephone and dial 8.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Did the same and worse at last year's Players. He's become such a likable player, I think. I root for him. But when you listen to what he says, he really does seem to be riddled with self-doubt, much like Ernie is. It makes you root for him more. What an iron player.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): What holds Sergio Garcia back on Sundays is that he's Sergio Garcia. His mental fortitude has never approached his formidable physical skills, and it doesn't appear that it ever will.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): This isn't just a recent pattern. It has been the story of Sergio's career. Let's not forget this was the guy who said a couple of years back that he just wasn't good enough to win a major. Makes you wonder what thoughts are racing through his head when he gets in the hunt.
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): He shot a 29 on the front nine on Sunday, so it's not like he isn't capable of making late charges. Sergio's biggest nemesis, as ever, is right between the ears.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): This week, Sergio had issues on some short putts on the weekend, and he may have an issue with his wedge. He makes just enough mistakes on Sunday to not win, and sometimes all it takes is one mistake.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Some tiny voice that only he can hear, whispering nasty, persuasive things into his ears.
2. Billy Horschel won the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills. Going into the Tour Championship, the top 5 -- who can win the FedEx Cup with a win in Atlanta -- are now 1. Chris Kirk, 2. Billy Horschel, 3. Bubba Watston, 4. Rory McIlroy, and 5. Hunter Mahan. Does it affect the credibility of the FedEx Cup that before the playoffs Kirk and Horschel each had only three Top 10s all season?
PASSOV: We've encountered this issue before. If you don’t subscribe to the idea that either Kirk or Horschel is deserving of $10 million and other year-end honors due to two great weeks in an otherwise forgettable season, then the FedEx Cup playoffs are a joke. If, however, you're in the camp that it gave the Tour stars much more to play for, and fans more to root for post-PGA, then it's done its job. I'm in Group A.
GODICH: Not at all. Points should be worth more come playoff time. These guys are playing their best golf in prime time. Horschel has a T2 and a win in his last two starts. And to say has Kirk had only three top 10s is misleading: Those three high finishes were a win, a second and a fourth.
VAN SICKLE: Seriously the FedEx Cup has no credibility and never has. One year, Vijay Singh clinched the title in the third event, but by the time anyone figured that out, thanks to the clever points system, he'd already left town. Other sports have wild-card teams that get hot. Now we've got Kirk and Horschel. Same diff.
SENS: No. Does it affect the credibility of the Super Bowl that the New York Giants won two Super Bowls after just better than middling regular seasons? That's how pretty much all our major sports work: grind your way into the playoffs, then hope to get hot at the right time.
SHIPNUCK: What credibility? It’s always been impossible to take the FedEx Cup seriously. But Rory and Bubba have been two of the three best players this year -- along with Kaymer -- and other dudes won the preceding playoff events so it makes a certain amount of sense.
MORFIT: Like the baseball, football, basketball, hockey and every other playoff I've ever heard of -- except the FedEx Cup that Vijay Singh clinched even before the Tour Championship -- the FEC rewards players who get hot late. That is exactly how it should be. Are there problems with it? Sure, but I'd say the Cinderella factor of a guy like Morgan Hoffmann (124th at the start to 21st today) is a positive.
RITTER: It's best to think of the FedEx as it's own, self-contained four-week tournament and not a true measure of the season's best player. It's like a less exciting version of NCAA March Madness, where the best team and top seeds from the regular season (Duke, McIlroy, etc) don't win if they aren't hot at the right time. The FedEx helps give pro golf a little juice from four nice events as football season begins. That's all the credibility it needs.
BAMBERGER: I do not consider the FedEx cup any sort of playoff. Just a series of four good events. It has no credibility as a playoff.
3. Paul Casey said this week that Rory McIlroy’s swing is “like a bullwhip” and “when he times it, it’s the best you’ll ever see”? Do you agree with Casey’s assessment of McIlroy’s swing? If not, what’s the best swing you’ve ever seen?
BAMBERGER: It is like a bullwhip, as is Sergio's. It has so much lag. You almost can't believe Steve Sticker is playing the same game, his swing is so different. But his success shows there is more than one way to play this mysterious game. Woods 2000 is more repeatable, I think. But McIlroy's swing is a joy to watch and has been from the day many of us first saw him as teenage amateur.
SHIPNUCK: Aesthetically, the prettiest swing I’ve ever seen was Steve Elkington’s. Rory’s is lovely, too, and appears to be more functional.
VAN SICKLE: Rory's swing is good, but when Tiger was at his best in the early 2000s, he didn't have to time it. It was just there and Tiger had every shot, every trajectory, every direction. I'm sure some really old-timers would mention Hogan and Snead. It's a different game with different equipment now.
SENS: Isn't one of the definitions of a great swing that it doesn't rely so heavily on timing? For consistency under pressure and over time, Nicklaus' was the best I've seen.
MORFIT: I'm a fan of Louis Oosthuizen's swing, since we're about the same size and build. The guy can move it, as evidenced by his recent W in the PGA Championship long-drive contest. When it's dialed in, like it was at St. Andrews, it's a thing of beauty.
PASSOV: When Rory first dominated in 2011-2012, Johnny Miller compared Rory's effortless power to Sam Snead's. When it's all going well, I'll take either one of those two.
GODICH: Keeping it current, I love King Louie Oosthuizen's move. But how can you not like Rory's? Plus, he hits it so damn far.
RITTER: Pound for pound, he's generating more power than anyone else on Tour. I think Adam Scott has a nicer swing to witness in person, but Rory's career record speaks for itself. His is the best swing in golf today.
4. Fatigue finally became a factor at the BMW Championship, the third-straight FedEx Cup event. Jason Day bowed out with a bad back. Phil Mickelson WD'd and said the Tour needs to build in an off-week somewhere within the four-week playoff stretch, and Martin Kaymer complained that he’s been living in hotels for the last five weeks. Rory McIlroy four-putted from four feet -- twice -- yet another sign of fatigue. Is the Tour asking for trouble by expecting too much from these guys at the end of a long season or do players just need to toughen up?
VAN SICKLE: The schedule is challenging -- effectively seven weeks out of 11, which includes a trans-Atlantic flight, and five in a row. This isn't the first time players have skipped a week. Tiger and Phil have done it before. Really, is the drama building all that much? Maybe three weeks of "playoffs" would be enough. The Triple Crown of Golf.
SHIPNUCK: I don’t know, don’t baseball players soldier through five or six games a week for six months straight? It’s a lot of golf, but any of these guys can elect to take a week off if they need it.
RITTER: The Tour could probably re-think the August-September schedule, but at the same time, no one is forcing the players to tee it up four events in a row. Garcia and Rose took last week off, and it's a little surprising more guys safely in the top 15 didn't follow suit.
SENS: Please. Are we really going to talk about the physical suffering of some of the world's most pampered athletes? Next you're going to ask if I'm worried about Phil Mickelson being able to afford his taxes.
MORFIT: The Tour should've had an off-week halfway through the playoffs, which would've allowed players to travel from Boston to Denver and learn a new course with plenty of time to spare. Instead it was a race across the country to try and figure out Cherry Hills and the altitude in basically 24 hours. Tom Watson wanted an off-week before the Ryder Cup and he got it, but at a cost. There were a lot of bleary-looking guys at the BMW, Morgan Hoffmann excepted.
BAMBERGER: I agree with the players who say four is one too many. Three would be fine, and turn it into a real knock-out event.
PASSOV: In this day and age, four in a row seems a lot to ask with this much on the line. Still, the old-timers used to do it all the time, especially when there used to be a legitimate offseason. Give these guys a real break (or a self-imposed break, like Adam Scott took earlier this year) and they would be fine.
GODICH: I don't have much sympathy for grown men who are playing a game for oodles of cash. But if the thought of playing four straight weeks is a problem, here's a suggestion: Skip an event. Dustin Johnson hasn't played since the end of July -- you know, the voluntary leave of absence and all -- but he still sits 30th in the FedEx Cup standings.
5. Tom Watson picked Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. What did you think of Watson’s picks and did you see anything at the BMW Championship that changed your feelings about American prospects in the Ryder Cup?
SHIPNUCK: They all make sense to me. I never got the late groundswell for Kirk -- his victory was the first time he’s even done anything on the big stage. Simpson is the most second-guessable, but he’s a U.S. Open champ who had a bunch of top-10s. I like this U.S. team more than most folks do. The rookies will bring a lot of energy, they have an unquestioned leader in Phil and a bunch of bombers who can overpower an American-style, risk-reward course. Don’t be surprised if the Yanks pull off the upset.
BAMBERGER: Those names will strike no fear in anybody but none of the other options would, either. But they're skillful golfers who may or may not rise to the occasion. Watson could have put about 20 names in a hat, picked three and done as well.
SENS: I like the Bradley pick, understand the Mahan pick and worry a bit about Webb Simpson's steel in singles. As for this weekend, I don't think one event is enough of a predictor of performance for a unique cauldron like the Ryder Cup. A better indicator might be Patrick Reed's admission that he's got nothing left in the tank. Hate to sound too shrink-y, but that rings to me like a player excusing himself for a poor performance he's getting ready to put on.
VAN SICKLE: Watson picked Bradley to pair with Phil and Simpson to pair with Bubba because the latter duo won some laughers last time. He should've checked their singles records because Bradley, Simpson and Mahan have zero singles wins between them. That said, there were no other hot candidates besides Kirk. I would've taken him over Simpson, but Watson went with an Open champ with experience. I can't fault that.
PASSOV: Bradley was the no-brainer pick, Mahan the obvious choice based on recent form and past experience, and Simpson the head-scratcher, except for his ability to soothe the savage Bubba. Yet, there was no one else that stood out as a glaring omission. Chris Kirk? Even after his win at Boston, he was hardly lobbying for a place on the team. Would Billy Horschel be a better pick than Simpson, with a second and a first the past two weeks, plus serious killer instinct? Maybe.
MORFIT: I'd love to know if Billy Horschel would've won this thing had he been picked. I can only assume players don't love the spotlight that comes with a pick, given what a ho-hum week it was for Bradley (WD), Mahan (+7) and Simpson (+5). There seems to be a hangover effect, but they've got time to get it together. Would I pick Horschel knowing what I know now? Yes, but the cutoff for making the picks has to come sometime, and there's no guarantee that he'd be a world-beater in Scotland, even if he is feisty. This was his week. The guy led the field with 496 feet of putts made. Second place: Rory at 389.
RITTER: Watson's picks weren't surprising, although Simpson over Kirk was questionable if he was really trying to add guys who are currently peaking. Today I wonder if Watson might sub in Horschel for Simpson if the PGA gave him a mulligan. Horschel's fire would be great for Gleneagles.
GODICH: Hard to argue with the captain's picks. It's not like Watson had a lot of options. The only wild card was Chris Kirk. He might have been worth a flier, but I don't think Watson was crazy about taking another rookie overseas. Kirk also didn't do himself any favors when he said he didn't want to be a captain's pick, that he wanted to play his way onto the team. I would have expected him to be lobbying hard. Then again, maybe that Dawgs-Vols game is that important to him.
6. Keegan Bradley withdrew from the BMW Championship after taking a drop he wasn't sure was legal, potentially costing him the $10 million first prize for winning the FedEx Cup. This occurred despite a PGA Tour rules official absolving him of any wrongdoing. Right move for Bradley or wrong move?
BAMBERGER: He showed a deep understanding of the game. He did what Woods should have done at last year's Masters. Bradley put the game, and his fellow players, ahead of himself. That's what separates golf from every other major professional sport.
PASSOV: I've now said this 51 times: the rules are way too complicated. I'm not a big "protecting the field" guy. A PGA Tour rules official cleared you. End of story.
VAN SICKLE: Guys like Bradley and Cameron Tringale before him, who withdrew after the PGA Championship was already concluded due to a rules issue, may be feeling the fallout of Tiger at the Masters, when Tiger became the first player in the history of golf to NOT be disqualified for signing for a score lower than what he actually shot. Tiger soldiered on because Masters chairman Fred Ridley signed off on it even though it seemed to be a wrong decision. Maybe these guys don't want to incur the kind of flak that Tiger endured.
SHIPNUCK: It’s the right move. Rules officials make mistakes, too, and given the information Bradley got after-the-fact there was reasonable doubt as to the drop’s legitimacy.
GODICH: If Bradley was uncomfortable with taking the drop, he had no other choice. Good for him.
MORFIT: I guess it's the right move. This is one of those cases where, not being there to see what exactly he did, I have no real idea and can only guess. I spent some time with Keegan early in the week, and I can tell you he was pretty fired up to compete, so he certainly wasn't looking for the nearest unlit exit.
RITTER: Bradley wasn't sure, and that's all that matters. Falling on the sword was a classy move.
SENS: For this, I refer you, as we so often do on Tour Confidential, to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Or at least to the CliffsNotes. Outside absolution ain't the issue. Bradley made the smart move. A guy's gotta to be able to live with himself.
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.