PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods wins Players, Sergio implodes on 17th hole
Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. Tiger Woods finished off rival Sergio Garcia on Sunday for his 78th PGA Tour win and his fourth win this season. How does the way Tiger Woods is playing now compare to his other periods of dominance on Tour?
Paul Goydos, PGA Tour veteran and 2008 runner-up at Sawgrass: Until Tiger starts winning majors, it doesn't compare. That said, this is a very nice step in that direction. His first three wins this year were at very comfortable places for him to play, and winning at those courses is almost expected. His record at the Players is average (for him) at best, so winning here is very telling about where his game is.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I've said all along during this "comeback" period that Tiger would go as far as his putter would take him. His putter is back, all the way back, and Tiger is all the way back to being the best player in the game. He's probably not going to resemble the greatest player of all-time, as some considered him, and he's certainly not invincible. But he's good enough to win. Four times already before June. He is dominating now in the number of times he wins, not in how he wins them.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: When Tiger was in his prime around the turn of the century, and even before and after that, he won on courses that didn't necessarily fit his game or anyone else's game. He figured out how to get it done even when he didn't necessarily love the look of the course. This win demonstrates he's getting into that same type of groove. He's also putting like he used to. As Brandt Snedeker said, "It's the five-, six-, seven-footers he's been making all year."
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He is a lesser golfer. His is the best in the world. The guys chasing him have improved. Slightly.
Joe Passov, senior editor, travel, Golf Magazine: Not quite. He seems to be winning with similar frequency, but doesn't dominate like he used to. He used to win events by 5, 6 and 7 shots with regularity -- and he used to drive it a lot farther than his peers.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Four victories by the middle of May is impressive, but the Tiger Woods of old would have buried the field on the back nine on Sunday. That said, it's all about winning, and nobody's better at it -- or closing the deal.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: It's hard to ever remember him hitting as bad a shot while in the lead as he did on 14 today. And at Torrey, it was unusual for him to complain about slow play and say it was the reason he stumbled coming in. The old Tiger seemed to always take the lead and never look back.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: A quick glance at the stats reveals that Woods is leading the tour in putting this season, so, yep, that's vintage 2001. But today he's winning with his fourth swing, a knee that's been repaired several times and a personal life that's been blown apart and re-assembled. Take it all in account, and with one major win this summer you could make a case that this is Tiger's best year ever.
Stephanie Wei, WeiUnderPar.com: He's close, but he's not as dominant as he was in 2000. This year has been more about his fantastic putting than anything else -- which is something he struggled with in the previous few years of the post-scandal era. He barely hit driver this week, which is how he should always play. On Sunday, he hit some shots from some bad swing positions. That tee shot on 14 was a result of being stuck on 13, where he hit it long right, and then he overcorrected on 14.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com He doesn't win in the manner he used to -- either by the same margins or with the same imperious dominance -- but he doesn't have to. His game looks much more mortal than it did in his previous great stretches, but that is more than good enough. I suspect that the only comparison to past runs of form that matters to Woods is his performance in the majors, and in that respect he isn't the player he once was.
2. Sergio Garcia said he and Tiger Woods "don't enjoy each other's company" and Woods is "not a very nice guy," a tempest in a teapot at the Players that started when Garcia accused Woods of distracting him on a shot in the third round. Who was in the right and who was in the wrong in this little skirmish? And why?
Goydos: From what I could tell watching it on TV, Tiger pulled a club out as Sergio was hitting his second shot, which caused the crowd to react. Tiger didn't do it on purpose but he should have apologized when he found out what happened.
Van Sickle: Tiger and Sergio have a mutual dislike for each other. I agree with both of them. I believe they were both wrong at the time and, rather than show some minimum amount of manners afterward when a shallow apology might have gone a long way, they threw more petty logs on the fire. Maybe the microphones didn't pick up all the noise, but a tiny smattering of applause seemed barely audible on Golf Channel's outstanding split-screen replay of the incident.
Godich: I'm going to go with Sergio. Something tells me we haven't yet heard the end of this.
Morfit: As with many sandbox disputes they both are. Sergio should have backed off that second shot on two; it looked like at least three seconds ticked off the clock between the time Tiger pulled out fairway wood and the time Sergio pulled the trigger on his shot into the trees. Tiger should have apologized instead of blaming the marshal. But I'm thankful they managed to turn such a small thing into such a huge tiff. Saved my Saturday story.
Ritter: Sergio probably could've backed off his shot while Woods was across the fairway, just to make sure Woods was settled over there, and Tiger could've offered a quick apology at some point during the round. But what fun would that have been?
Reiterman: I don't think Tiger did anything on purpose to distract Sergio, but he could have waited in the rough and watched Sergio's shot himself before going back to play his shot. But Sergio deserves the blame, he made a rather small incident into a huge ordeal. Shocking!
Bamberger: In matters of right and wrong in the area of human frailty, I defer to a higher authority. Both made it for great TV.
Wei: They were both right and both wrong. Sergio just can't help himself and he's too honest for his own good, but I can't fault the guy for saying how he feels and he sure provides entertainment.
Lynch: I'm all for more honesty from Tour players (and let's at least applaud Garcia for that), but this episode proved only one thing: Garcia's struggle to win big tournaments is less about his shaky putting than the ease with which he can be thrown off course in the heat of battle. Seve Ballesteros was prone to petulance and launching feuds mid-round, too. The difference is that Seve used these perceived injustices as fuel. Sergio seems to use them as excuses for underperforming.
3. Sergio Garcia looked ready to force a playoff with Tiger before he dunked two balls into the water on 17. How much scar tissue will Garcia carry from this loss?
Goydos: Some, but not a lot. Things don't always work out, and he understands that. He has also had success on 17, by the way.
Morfit: Sergio is mostly scar tissue, but the guy is just so damn good. I've been telling people all week that if Sergio ever grows up and/or starts doing some real work on himself -- the kind where you lie on a couch and tell some guy with a goatee all your nightmares about Tiger -- he will be an absolutely deadly competitor.
Van Sickle: Sergio has scar tissue on top of scar tissue. The Stadium Course is the kind of funky place where one poor swing is a wet triple bogey. I think he can get over this. But maybe not at this course.
Wei: He'll be just fine. He was trying to win the tournament on 17 and I can't blame him for being aggressive. After his first ball in the water, he needed a miracle to win, so pretty much everything that happened afterwards means nothing.
Lynch: None. Garcia has already convinced himself not just that there are golf gods, but that they're out to get him. He's been pedaling that pathology since losing the Open at Carnoustie in 2007. And once a professional athlete goes down that psychological cul-de-sac then bad breaks don't represent new scar tissue, rather just another confirmation of what he already holds to be inevitable.
Ritter: It could galvanize him the same way the '12 British Open strengthened Adam Scott, but I'm not sure Sergio is cut from the same cloth.
Bamberger: How does one measure scar tissue, in depth? If his scar tissue was three inches thick it is now seven but that's right after surgery. Time will heal, as it does.
Passov: I don't think this hurts him at all -- except in any tournament with Tiger in the field.
4. Now that Sergio has made it clear how he feels about Tiger (and vice versa), it's time for others to open up. Fill in the blank: I wish ______ would tell us how he feels about ______.
Godich: I wish Tiger would tell us how he really feels about Phil, Rory and Vijay. And vice versa.
Morfit: I wish Ian Poulter would tell us how he really feels about Tiger.
Van Sickle: I wish Old Tom Morris would tell us what he really thinks about Tiger Woods. And he'd better not say, "Go. Play."
Wei: Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy.
Bamberger: Fred and himself.
Goydos: I have enough trouble dealing with my game, or lack thereof, to worry about such silliness. I can watch soap operas on my week off.
5. Strictly from a design standpoint, does TPC Sawgrass boast the most intimidating finish on Tour? Is there any other event where the course design itself is such a huge part of the story?
Goydos: It is a great last three holes. On 16 you need to (for a right hander) hook it off the tee then cut your second shot. No. 17 tests your ability to control your distance under the utmost pressure, and No. 18 tests your ability to deal with what's in front of you. By the time you reach this tee, you pretty much know what you have to do. It's like looking in a mirror that reveals your true self -- can you handle it?
Godich: Absolutely. I don't think even Pete Dye could have imagined what great theater the closing holes have produced. It is risk-reward at its finest.
Morfit: Yes and no--although I suppose course design will be a pretty big part of the story at the next Open at St. Andrews. And it's always a big part of the story any time they make changes to Augusta National.
Passov: Phoenix may have the noise and Pebble the scenery, but no other course can touch Sawgrass for drama. It's hard enough closing on Tour, but when the shot demands are so exacting and the visuals so intimidating -- straight edges on water hazards exude all-or-nothing harshness -- to finish at Sawgrass means you've accomplished something. Bay Hill is the only other track I can think of where the course design plays such a huge role at the end, but it's not quite Sawgrass.
Van Sickle: Sawgrass has the most intimidating finish when it's windy. It wasn't all that intimidating this week without much wind. Everyone was gunning at the 16th in two, the 17th was a pitching wedge and not that tough -- uh, sorry Sergio -- and the 18th even yielded a 2. The Honda Classic has had some demanding finishing stretches at several venues over the years. But no other course has packaged its last three holes so perfectly for drama and TV as Sawgrass. Maybe if Pebble Beach had a better 16th hole, but to answer the question, Sawgrass stands out.
Ritter: Course-design as a central storyline? It happened at Augusta when the tees were pushed back, but when a guy hits into Rae's Creek, you don't hear Jim Nantz exclaim, "That's Alister MacKenzie for you right there," the way the booth boys constantly mention Pete Dye when a player finds trouble at Sawgrass.
Wei: After that dramatic finish today, it's hard to judge this somewhat subjectively. I'd say the Bear Trap at PGA National comes close. Those par-3s -- 15 and 17 -- over water are extremely intimidating, especially 17, which requires a long iron.
Lynch: It's terrific theater and it's fun to watch pros sweat over a wedge shot, but for my money PGA National boasts the Tour's toughest closing stretch. The Stadium Course is a better layout by far, but both are prime examples of plane-crash golf. I'd rather enjoy car-crash golf, designs that at least offer a possibility of survival after an errant shot.
Bamberger: It's a great carnival finish, and I do love it. But Riviera is the real deal.
6. Playing in memory of his best friend, who died in a car crash Thursday night, Ryan Palmer made an emotional run at the Players trophy while wearing his friend's initials on his cap. Crenshaw won the Masters right after the death of his mentor, Harvey Penick; Tiger won the British Open at Hoylake soon after the passing of his father, Earl. In both cases they broke down in tears. What is it about playing for something more than themselves that fuels such performances?
Goydos: The first tournament I played after Wendy died I got myself into contention on Saturday before fading a little on Sunday. I can't speak for anyone else, but sometimes I forget in the grand scheme of things how well I play golf on a given day, week, or year isn't that important. Perspective is an easy thing to lose playing golf for a living!
Wei: I remember last year Eric Meierdierks got through all three stages of Q-school after his father passed away. His good friend and caddie Bill Bohr told me he got a text from Eric who said his dad just died and that "we're playing for him now." The emotions that come along with loss and love are so strong and can distract players in a good way.
Morfit: It seems to put the game of golf and the drama of Tour life into perspective pretty quickly. When you've seen real life and death up close, it's pretty much impossible to treat every golf shot as life and death. That obviously frees guys up to just play and let it happen.
Lynch: For every Crenshaw at Augusta or Tiger at Hoylake there have been thousands of golfers who played under the weight of personal tragedy or loss without success. Some may be able to use life's losses as fuel for sporting goals, but surely not many. Golf is trivial. Life isn't. We shouldn't reflexively link the two as part of some misty narrative. Leave that to Rich Lerner.
Van Sickle: You put aside the real world to play golf, maybe in an emotion-less Hogan-like trance. When it's over, the real world intrudes again. You're a real human being again. Life's a bitch and then you die, as the song goes. It's all about the passion and the love along the way.
Bamberger: Golf is the greatest of games, but also the most selfish. Playing for others enriches everything about it. Hence the samples cited here, and the Ryder Cup.