Tour Confidential: Is Adam Scott still the Augusta favorite?
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.
Mark Broadie, Columbia Business School professor and author of the new book “Every Shot Counts: Using the Revolutionary Strokes Gained Approach to Improve Your Golf Performance and Strategy” joins our roundtable this week.
1. Adam Scott looked like he was cruising to a win at Bay Hill this week until he stumbled in the final round and lost to Matt Every. How do you feel about Scott’s chances at the Masters after watching him this week?
Mark Broadie: I like his chances and don't put too much weight on one disappointing round. Scott won the Masters last year because of his ball striking. This year he's been putting better than last year, and in his first round at Bay Hill, his 5.1 strokes gained putting was in the top 99.8 percent of putting rounds on the PGA Tour. His good ball striking and improved putting bode well.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I talked to him in the locker room Sunday evening, and he had the perfect attitude -- pissed that he let one get away, glad to have tasted Sunday pressure again, excited about his overall play and determined to tighten up the short-game lapses the hurt him on the weekend. He'll be in the mix at Augusta.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think this hurts. He could have had a magic carpet ride to Augusta. Now he's coming in with self-doubt. If he's leading by a shot Sunday afternoon, what does he lean on? He turned it around amazingly after that 2012 British Open loss, but Sunday at Bay Hill makes his Augusta week harder.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com (@eamonlynch): He should still be the favorite on paper. Driving through the gates of Augusta National as defending champion will be a great elixir, and he'll draw more on his showing in the final round of last year's Masters than his sloppy final round at Bay Hill. Only three guys have ever repeated at the Masters, and Scott is playing well enough to make it four.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): It doesn't appear that Scotty is a wire-to-wire kind of guy. Every week is a new week, though, and a Masters win would erase a Bay Hill stumble in 1.2 seconds flat. That said, his long putter had issues under pressure on the weekend, and that's not a good sign for Augusta.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Everyone's entitled to a stumble now and then, so I wouldn't place too much emphasis on this week. More relevant is that Scott has not been entirely in form thus far this season. That slightly longer pattern is a better way of gauging his Master's chances than one tournament, and I didn't like Scott's odds prior to this week. Throw in the additional pressure of defending, and I'd say he won't even be the top Australian finisher.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Scott will be fine at Augusta. He has the monkey of never having won a major off his back, and he's returning to a venue where he's proven he can win. I wouldn't bet against him.
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Still like Scott's chances at Augusta. He hasn't played a ton of golf this year, and I think his huge Thurs-Fri lead at Bay Hill threw him off a bit. Protecting such a huge advantage requires a different state of mind, and he got caught letting off the gas. Next time I think Scott will handle it much better.
Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Hey, he's the defending Masters champion, he's notched some other nice wins since then, and he looked like a solid world No. 1 for three rounds. He went ugly early in Round 4, and the meltdown continued pretty much unabated, but it wasn't because of nerves. He just stunk up the joint, and it has happened to every great player, except to a healthy Tiger Woods in his prime. Scott is still the pick for Augusta. He's just the prohibitive favorite now, rather than an overwhelming one.
2. Tiger Woods was unable to play at Bay Hill due to back spasms and is unlikely to play again before the Masters. Will Woods’ lack of competitive rounds so far this year hurt him at the year's first major or does he have so much experience at Augusta National that it doesn’t matter?
BAMBERGER: If Woods is healthy at Augusta, nothing he's done so far this year will matter at all. If he's healthy, he'll very likely contend, just as he did when he came back from the hydrant affair.
SHIPNUCK: It matters -- it's not just the lack of tourney rounds but also the corresponding absence of practice time. Tiger was already struggling to find his game, and this doesn't help. But don't forget that in 2010 he came in to the Masters without having played *any* golf and his life was in tatters and he still had a chance to win, which might be the most under-appreciated performance of his career. You can never count him out on that course.
VAN SICKLE: I am not assuming that Tiger will definitely be able to play the Masters. We all hope so. What will hurt him is the endurance factor and whether his body and his back are up to walking and swinging through a spasm-less 72 holes.
PASSOV: That long layoff leading into the 2010 Masters didn't seem to faze him too much. This nagging back issue might be different, though. Two Saturdays in a row, Tiger owned the tournaments he was playing in, Honda and Doral, and then his back went whacko. It's difficult to think this won't affect him mentally if he's in the hunt on Saturday. How can he not dread Saturday night/Sunday morning, wondering if or when his back will give out?
GODICH: The difference between this year and others is that Tiger's not exactly on a roll heading into the Masters. Hard to believe that only a year ago he had already won three times and walked in as the prohibitive favorite.
LYNCH: Craig Stadler has a lot of experience at Augusta National, too, but I don't see the Walrus being a factor this year. Four years ago, Woods returned from his self-imposed post-scandal sabbatical at the Masters and finished fourth, so he doesn't need a lot of competitive reps to finish well there. What he does need is a swing he can trust, and his results suggest he doesn't have that right now.
BROADIE: His back needs to heal far more than he needs competitive rounds. Whether it hurts or helps, I don't think he has a choice.
RITTER: He's parachuted into Augusta and played well before, his post-hydrant T4 offering the best example. But this year, he has an injury that's likely limiting his ability to practice. Hard to see him in a green jacket without putting in serious time on the range -- his game wasn't exactly clicking before the injury.
SENS: Tiger's problems run deeper than (to borrow one of his favorite phrases) "just needing more reps." He ain't hittin' em like he used to, and his head is not where it once was.
3. What did you think of Bubba Watson withdrawing because of allergies after shooting 83 at Bay Hill on Thursday? Is Watson's WD all that different from Rory McIlroy’s much-criticized withdrawal from the Honda Classic last year with a toothache?
SHIPNUCK: The W/D by itself is okay -- if you're drowning in mucus it's hard to play your best, though it's easy to imagine the relentlessly penal setup at Bay Hill was causing him more discomfort. What hurt Bubba was the video that got posted on the Internet of him goofing around that afternoon with Rickie Fowler. It made it impossible to have any sympathy for whatever maladies Bubba might've been suffering.
RITTER: I put Bubba's WD in the same class as Rory's: Bush League. McIlroy took a little more heat last year, largely because he was a former No. 1 in the midst of a tailspin, but Bubba's WD was equally lame. Arnie deserves better than that.
BAMBERGER: No, they're different. First off, I have no reason to doubt that he had severe allergies. Second, all WDs are not created equal. It's worse to walk off intra-round than between two rounds. During the round, you're really creating a distraction for your playing partners. If you're not there from the start, that's less of one.
VAN SICKLE: Bubba is allergic to scores in the 80s, and his doctor backed him up on it. No, it is no different from Rory, except that he did it after the round, out of TV range, and didn't have to take any questions.
LYNCH: The biggest surprise was that Bubba didn't blame the 83 on his caddie's allergies. Still, he signed his card, and plenty of greats (Rory, Tiger, etc.) can attest that's not always easy to do when enduring rough rounds. That counts for something.
PASSOV: Flaky Bubba Watson is the most sensitive, rabbit-eared star since Colin Montgomerie, who was constantly bothered and bewildered in his prime. 83 and allergies? It's just Bubba being Bubba -- even if that's not a fair assessment. Rory's was much more surprising because he seemed like such a solid, level-headed young man that the act appeared to be wildly out of character. I don't know for sure whether Bubba's WD is all that different. It's just less surprising.
GODICH: Just look at the score. That pretty much tells you all you need to know.
BROADIE: As a fan, I'd like to see players play, not give up.
SENS: It sure looked bad, didn't it? He should have just dropped by Walgreen's and picked up some 24-hour Benadryl ER (Embarrassment Relief).
4. Jack Fleck passed away on Friday. Is his victory over Ben Hogan at the 1955 U.S. Open still the greatest upset in golf history?
PASSOV: Yes. Fleck over Hogan remains the greatest upset in golf history. There are a lot of candidates, many in one-hole playoffs in lesser events (Mike Nicolette over Greg Norman in a 1980s Bay Hill playoff? Steve Reid over Gary Player in a 1960s Azalea Open playoff?) Friggin' Francis Ouimet over the Brits in the Battle of the (last) Century? Yet, given Fleck's meager status in the golf world, the fact that he had literally ordered some Ben Hogan clubs to play that spring, the fact that this was THE Ben Hogan, in an 18-hole playoff, one of the greatest, most intimidating champions the game had ever known...That tops the list for me.
VAN SICKLE: If you throw out Shaun Micheel over Chad Campbell at Oak Hill, yes, Fleck's win ranks with the greatest upsets, although Francis Ouimet taking down the great Brits Harry Vardon and Ted Ray would be right there, too. Rocco over Tiger in 2008 might've been in that category if it had happened.
BAMBERGER: It must be. When I met John Updike 40 years after the fact, he was still talking about it.
SENS: I think we still have to go back to Francis Ouimet at Brookline. Then again, if you'd asked me what Y.E. Yang's chances of winning the PGA Championship just prior to his Sunday with Tiger, I would have placed his odds of winning somewhere around Fleck's too.
LYNCH: It's third on my list, after Ouimet defeating Vardon and Ray, and Y.E. Yang beating Tiger.
BROADIE: I was too young for that one, and I prefer veteran comebacks to underdog upsets. Among the more recent in golf history, I'll take Jack Nicklaus's upset at the 1986 Masters.
GODICH: I'd say so, but Y.E. deserves an honorable mention for chasing down Tiger at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
SHIPNUCK: In a word, yes.
5. The World Golf Hall of Fame finally announced its new criteria for Hall of Fame admission, changing the categories and imposing a 15-wins or two-majors requirement, A 16-person panel will vote, comprised of mostly administrators, plus three golf writers, and some other folks, and 75 percent of the vote is required for admission. Is this an improvement, a step back, or a yawn?
LYNCH: I stopped paying attention to the Hall's criteria when someone said, “This Montgomerie chap seems worthy of induction."
VAN SICKLE: The Hall of Fame voting is a step back. This was Ponte Vedra taking back control of the Hall voting, which matters because they turned the ceremony into a TV show on Golf Channel. Media voters -- like myself -- have been eliminated and replaced with establishment voters who will do the Tour's bidding. I like that they're going to be voting only every other year -- gee, how many times have I written that? The average fan doesn't care who votes. I'm fine with these moves because now I’m free to stop caring or writing about the Hall in the future.
BAMBERGER: A huge improvement, as long as the panel is not corrupt, and the panelists they've talked about are all first-rate. I thought it all made sense, especially the every-other-year part. There are not that many true golf greats to go around.
SENS: An improvement. Glad to see them raise the bar. Used to be almost anyone with a pulse and a private jet could get in. But please don't wake me for any additional Hall questions.
BROADIE: The 75 percent rule and induction every other year will help. I don't think the panel change will make much difference.
SHIPNUCK: Definitely an improvement, as the smaller number of voters comes with more accountability. The every-other-year format also helps, so there's not the pressure to vote in marginal candidates just so the show can go on. All of this should help the credibility of the Hall...if the voters don't muck it up.
RITTER: It's a small improvement. Like the requirements on majors and/or titles, but why is the minimum age still 40? Fifty makes more sense.
PASSOV: I've got to confess, I never really knew how the old voting process worked, though clearly, it was flawed. My earliest reaction is a yawn, but wow, the three selected golf writers going to enjoy a power trip.
GODICH: Fine by me. Now, let's get Eddie Lowery in there.
6. Of all the stats compiled for PGA Tour players, what's the one that best corresponds to year-end success?
BROADIE: Perhaps this question was a softball for me? It's clearly strokes gained in the approach shots which best explains year-end success. This season after Bay Hill, Matt Every is ranked 8th on the PGA Tour with his approach shots.
Here's the Bay Hill strokes gained box score using the PGA Tour’s ShotLink Data:
Legend: Drive (Tee shots on par-4 and par-5 holes); Appr (Shots starting outside 100 yards from the hole [excluding "drive"]); Short (Shots starting inside 100 yards from the hole [excluding putts])
Putting contributed 43 percent to Matt Every's victory. A strong approach game sets him up for long-term success. When he also putts lights out, as he did this week, he'll be a contender.
PASSOV: Perhaps a question best answered by our guest contributor -- but to put myself in the game, I cheated a little, checking out the final 2013 stats. One that caught my eye was average distance from the hole from approaches of 150-175 yards, where Tiger Woods led the way. He won five times, and was POY, so that stat had to be a critical reason why. Phil Mickelson also had a monster year, and he led in Putting Average and in Birdie Conversion. Overall, however, I'll go with the always-exciting strokes gained putting category. Strictly guesswork, but that stat just feels right.
VAN SICKLE: Great stats question. Proximity to the hole would be a good category to lead in. It wouldn't hurt to be No. 1 in any of the scrambling stats, either, or greens hit in regulation. I think I'd personally go with most sponsor endorsement money, though.
LYNCH: My best guess: strokes gained putting. All of these guys can hit it great, but champions are minted on the greens.
BAMBERGER: Depends who you are and what you want to do. Wins for some, money for others. Of course, generally speaking, wins and money are about the same. So wins. Isn't that why we play and watch sports in the first place, to see who wins and who does not?
RITTER: Prize money is No. 1, sand-save percentage ranks somewhere in the middle, and frequent flyer miles earned is dead last.
GODICH: Wins -- period.
SENS: I'll leave the objective answer to our esteemed friend from Columbia, but I always like to look at a player's C.U.P. -- "cajones under pressure."
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.