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Tiger Woods' Masters Prep and More in the Van Cynical Mailbag

Photo: Donald Miralle / Getty Images

Tiger Woods tees off on the 10th hole during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Let’s dive into the Van Cynical Mailbag and see if anyone sent checks or, more likely, unpaid invoices…

Custom Vans, Which odds are greater, Tiger Woods asking Butch Harmon for help or Tiger Woods not playing anywhere before the Masters? -- PhatmanGolf via Twitter

If Tiger doesn’t make an appearance at Bay Hill, you’ll know then that he’s got serious issues, either with his swing, his chipping or his back. If he can play at all, he’ll show up there because he can get around that track with his C game. The question is whether he still has a C game. I don’t see him calling Butch. Tiger wants his own full-time guy and Butch, while he said the other day that he’d help Tiger if asked, has too many other students to give Tiger his undivided attention. Tiger could skip Bay Hill and use the extra two weeks to work on his game. That wouldn’t be a complete stunner.

Van Cyclist, I’m getting excited to see Rory McIlroy back in action this week. Seems golf desperately needs him to make us forget Tiger/Phil. -- The Bogey Train via Twitter

I dunno, Thomas the Tank Engine, I pretty much forgot about Tiger and Phil watching Riviera kick butt and take names in the final round of the Northern Trust Open. That was great fun and good drama as Riviera pretty much mowed everyone down. I didn’t miss whathisname or whoozis at all. I suppose it might have had a little more kick for the public if a big name like Dustin Johnson or Jordan Spieth or Paul Casey had won instead of James Hahn, but come on, that was a doggone good finish. This, too, is true -- we can’t get enough Rory. Bring it on.

Commissar Van Cynical, Do you think the Honda Classic is actually a classic? -- Kurb21 via email

Of course it is. Don’t you remember the time Tim Herron won it? Then he bought donuts for everyone. No, wait -- that was me. Dibs on the one with sprinkles.

Van Sinister, Would you rather play PGA National and the Bear Trap holes or the new Trumped-up Doral Blue Monster? -- AllBall84 via email

I don’t know, Bally Cleaver, would you rather attend the opera with Joe Pesci or watch Charles Barkley pose for a swimsuit photo shoot?Same diff.

Van Cynical, Which is better, the California Swing or the Florida Swing on the PGA Tour? I prefer the California scenery. -- Mr. Fairway via Twitter

California wins the scenery battle hands down, Fairlawn, on the basis of Pebble Beach and Monterey Peninsula alone, although the Hawaii Doubleheader ranks a close second. Throw in the blimp shots at Torrey Pines and looking up the 18th at the Riviera clubhouse and, well, that’s the ballgame. As golf courses go, it’s a tougher call. There are no weak sisters in Florida, and while I’m no fan of PGA National, it’s one tough track. Factor in Bay Hill, Innisbrook, Doral and, if you include TPC Sawgrass in May, it’s a much tougher decision. Nah, all right, not that tough, I guess. You’ve got Riviera and Pebble. Florida can’t match that. California wins. In the race between California and Illinois to see which state goes bankrupt first, I’ll go with California, too.

Sickle cell, Going rug-shopping with the wife. She told me to bring something to measure with. What brand of stimpmeter do you recommend? -- CapBozo via Twitter

By rug-shopping, Bozo, you don’t mean for toupees, do you? If you’re talking carpeting, forget the stimpmeter. Take a putter and a couple of balls. If you’re looking at plush, thick rugs, use the distance balls. On the thinner, faster rug surfaces, use the softer-feel balls. The proper way to select a carpet, as all men know, is by how well you can putt on them. Color? Durability? Irrelevant. Shag? Stupidest idea ever. Unputtable. If only carpeting came with pre-cut cup holes…

Vans, Instead of stretching courses or tricking them up, why not have pros use a less-juiced-up ball? Or variations on multiple tees? -- Lionel Mandrake via Twitter

You just opened the can of worms, Manny. This is the debate that never ends and no one can win. Watching Rory McIlroy, at 5 feet 10, regularly drive it past 340 yards is a red flag that the modern ball goes too far, in my opinion, and length is taking skill out of the game. Since recreational golfers are dropping like flies, you can’t make the public play a ball that goes less far. This is where bifurcation is an obvious answer -- you can reign in the pros with a shorter ball just enough to bring more skill back into play while at the same time lifting restrictions on amateur equipment and letting the clubmakers start innovating again and helping the masses hit it longer and straighter. It’s a win-win but golf’s governing bodies don’t have the guts or the vision. But hey, they jumped right on that long putter thing 30 years after it came along. Nice job, bluecoats!

Van Cynical, Is there a better three-week stretch of courses than Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera? -- Tej Sahota via Twitter

If only Torrey Pines wasn’t the answer to the question, ‘Which one doesn’t belong and why?’ I’d like your statement better if you said a better two-week stretch of Pebble Beach, Monterey Peninsula, Spyglass Hill and Riviera. Torrey Pines looks great from the air and is a beautiful spot, but it’s not in the same class as the other two, not even close. Given a choice, I’d consider playing a round at the more scenic and more fun North Course than the South at Torrey. The only challenger I see on this year’s sked would be TPC Sawgrass, Quail Hollow and Colonial. I’ll give Riviera the nod in just about any category. It’s a golfing treasure.

Deep Sicks, I keep wondering when we’ll see pros carry more than one putter. Left or right break? Short or long putts? -- Lionel Mandrake via Twitter

Congrats on achieving a Mailbag doubleheader, Manny. A few players have done it. Once the pros wean themselves from the anchored clubs, who knows? Roger Maltbie and Notah Begay famously switch-putted, depending on the putt’s break. I could see a player carrying a short putter for stroking conventionally and a longish putter for use (perhaps sidesaddle) on putts inside six feet. I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all.

Vans, So are you a convert? -- Mike Purkey via Twitter

If you’re talking about sidesaddle (face-on) putting, Mr. Purkolator, color me intrigued. I think it makes a lot of sense, as I wrote in a recent piece for SI. Putting sidesaddle with your hand on top of the shaft so you’re pulling it, not pushing it, feels natural and makes sense. As soon as I find a suitable putter for said stroke, something with only the minimum required 10-degree shaft angle, I’m going to seriously experiment. With my putting. Not with, like, lab rats and stuff.

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