Confidential: Dustin Johnson Is a Lock for Player of the Year (Right?!)
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.
Dustin Johnson picked up his third win of the year at the BMW Championship on Sunday. (His other two titles: U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone). Is DJ a lock for player of the year or could the outcome of the Tour Championship in two weeks still influence the POY race?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): It’s over, DJ is officially The Man. Even if Day were to win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, Johnson’s season-long excellence, quality Tour wins and, most especially, the triumph at Oakmont gives him the nod.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Henrik Stenson has put together a pretty strong campaign, with a major, a T-7 in the PGA Championship, and a silver medal in Rio. But agreed: it’s DJ’s year. Call the engraver.
Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): I’m going with the law firm of Shipnuck and Sens on this one. Were Jason Day to win at East Lake, I could argue that he had the more consistent year, and is the best player, period--but DJ’s U.S. Open triumph, especially what he overcame to do it, puts him slightly ahead for POY.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@markgodich): Sorry, Joe. Nobody has been more consistent than DJ. This is a no-brainer.
Jeff Ritter, Digital Developement Editor, GOLF.com (@Jeff_Ritter): It’s all over except for the engraving. Actually, that may be finished now, too. It’s DJ’s year.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: And if you need anything more, he’ll likely kill it at the Ryder Cup. There’s not a close second.
An important Ryder Cup moment is finally upon us: U.S. captain Davis Love III will announce three of his four captain’s picks Monday at 11 a.m. ET. Who should he select? (Update: Here is who Love picked.)
Shipnuck: Na, Moore, Berger. When you’ve won only one Ryder Cup this century it’s time for some fresh blood.
Bamberger: Berger would be a fresh, brash and energetic addition, but Na and Moore would constitute fresh blood only in the technical sense. I think Kuchar, for sure, and, because weirdness is good in match-play golf, Bubba.
Sens: I like the fresh-blood theme, and those picks, but I’d swap out J.B. Holmes for Berger.
Godich: I’ll take Na and Holmes to get some fresh blood in there. Then give me Kuchar. He’s been solid all year, and the way he played to secure the bronze in Rio has to be worth something.
Ritter: I like the guys we’re mentioning, but give me the combo of Holmes, 'Kooch' and Berger. For the record, I think Love will pick Kuchar, Furyk and Fowler.
Passov: I don’t think all of the clever plotting and strategizing have made one bit of difference for the U.S. team in terms of captain’s picks in recent years. So much emphasis on chemistry, recent form, rah-rah patriotism, whatever. I’d pick the next three guys in line--and then the fourth. If that’s Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar, so be it. We have a points system in place, and these guys earned their spots. Pick 'em and let 'em play.
Sens: That’s a fair point, Joe. But I argue against the meritocracy of the point system in favor of a new cast of characters, if for no other reason than it would be refreshing to watch. Bread and circus, etc.
Passov: Josh, I’ll grant you that speculating and second-guessing makes it much more engaging for golf fans. For all of the fun factor that the wild-card pick process brings, however, it just seems to be irrelevant to the final outcome, though if you’d rather give Kevin Na or Ryan Moore a chance than say, stalwarts Bubba Watson or Jim Furyk, I have no objection. The compelling draw to this event is the flags and the match play choke factor, not so much the star players themselves.
On Sunday Phil Mickelson insinuated that Love has known for some time who he is going to pick. "We know who is going to be playing with who, when they’re going to be playing, what matches," Mickelson said. What gives? If that's the case, why the drawn-out selection process?
Shipnuck: Showbiz, baby! Gotta keep people talking, tweeting and pretending to care. But it is disappointing if the fix is in and all these young guys are playing their hearts out during the FedEx Cup for nothing.
Bamberger: Phil may think he knows, but I doubt he does. Davis is a tinkerer and a procrastinator. I think Davis has a hundred different lineups in his head.
Sens: Right. There is a corollary here to the coverage of presidential elections, where every move supposedly brings about significant changes in public opinion (or captain’s opinion). It makes good ink. But if Phil’s on point, then Love is more like a hardcore partisan supporter: he’s not going to be swayed, regardless of whether his candidate bombs. I don’t share Alan’s disappointment on the players’ behalf, though. They should be playing their hearts out either way. If the fix is in, it’s the rest of us who are really being played with no payback.
Passov: Part of what makes Lefty so much fun is that not only do we never know what Phil will do next, but we also never know what he’ll say next. Last week I questioned 'why the drawn-out selection process?' when the U.S. team should be better using that time to strategize about pairings and work on team bonding. Maybe that’s happening right under our noses. But the "rose ceremony" gives the PGA of America a rare, and well-deserved publicity hit, even if the whole premise is completely misguided.
Ritter: I think the U.S. may have realized the benefits Europe had in picking early -- specifically, the chance to form a team and get to work on strategizing. I'm not surprised Love has been working behind the scenes and has already made up his mind. The question is: did he settle on the right guys? Color me skeptical.
Godich: Sad if true. I suggest the PGA of America appoint a task force to investigate.
Tiger Woods said he is planning to play three events before the end of the calendar year, beginning with the Safeway Open, in Napa, Calif., Oct. 13-16. What should we rightfully expect from Woods in what will be his first PGA Tour start since August 2015?
Shipnuck: "Planning" is a key word here; Tiger was careful to leave himself a little wiggle room, in case his body and/or nerves have second thoughts. I honestly have zero expectations for Tiger--it’s just gonna be fun to see him competing again. Success for him would be to make it through all three events with no physical setbacks. If he makes a cut or two, great.
Bamberger: If the time has come for Tiger that it is a success for him to play 72 holes in three straight events, it is time for him to quit. Given the relatively weak field and straight-forward course, if Tiger doesn’t contend in Napa, something is wrong, and he’ll know it.
Sens: Playing through the weekend without injury. That would be pretty darned good given what he’s been through, mentally and physically.
Passov: We should expect a more relaxed Tiger Woods than we’ve ever witnessed. There are few expectations--maybe on his part, but not on ours--and the publicity boost for a tournament that needs it will be fantastic. Johnny Miller’s Silverado North is the perfect layout to host Tiger’s return. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s also not a modern, tricked-up Tour layout with potential double-bogeys all over the place. It’s a "normal" old-fashioned, tree-lined track where Tiger can hit lots of 3-woods off the tees, and face traditional sorts of chipping and putting opportunities. It’s not too tough a walking course, either. Las Vegas has certainly set some high expectations with the early odds they’ve established for Tiger’s prospects--but, hey, why not?
Godich: I want to see Tiger make the cut in however many events he plays, and then I want to see him still healthy when he celebrates his 41st birthday in December.
Ritter: Making cuts would be a nice start, especially since these first few events will be an absolute circus. But once Woods displays a semblance of good form, expectations will quickly skyrocket to their usual levels.
Which part of Woods’s game will you be observing most closely?
Shipnuck: With the driver, is the swing longer and more fluid, and does he have any clubhead speed? With the wedges, is there any evidence of the yips? If not, is he playing high-percentage shots away from the flag expressly to reduce a recurrence of the yips, even though it makes saving par more difficult? And on the greens, is he putting like an old man or someone who has been rejuvenated?
Sens: In other words, everything. Last time we saw Tiger with any regularity, he was dealing with a full range of problems. Wild drives. Chip yips. Sub-par putting. So all of those aspects of his game will be worth watching closely, not to mention his facial expressions to see if and how much he’s wincing.
Passov: I’m with Josh on the facial expressions. I’m looking forward to seeing how Tiger copes with the things that go wrong, to seeing whether he’s fully mentally invested. His mechanics looked sound in late April, when he played several holes at the opening of his Bluejack National design near Houston, but even he admitted he had a ways to go. He’ll have had nearly six months to get there. My guess is that he’s ready.
Godich: I’d expect some rust with the short game, but it’s all about the driver.
Ritter: A rusty short game is one thing, but those chip yips would be a real red flag because they aren't tied to physical ailments.
Bamberger: Is he grinding or not? He greatness was rooted in his ability to grind.
Jason Day withdrew from the BMW Sunday citing a lower back injury. This is the latest in a long string of injuries and other setbacks for the No. 1 player in the world. Is Day's fragility likely to prevent him from having a sustained run at the top of the game?
Shipnuck: Well, the flip side is that he’s proven to be the toughest guy in the game, playing through vertigo and various other ailments. And, last I checked, he’s currently enjoying a sustained run at the top. It appears these dings and little setbacks are always going to be part of Day’s career, so I’ve stopped fretting about them and learned to appreciate the guy as-is.
Sens: Amen. Then again, there once was a guy so tough that he won the U.S. Open on a broken leg. Injuries eventually became too much for even him. Let’s hope that’s not what the future holds for Day.
Godich: Exactly, Josh. I wouldn’t be so concerned if it wasn’t his back. Here’s hoping he’s smart about this. There’s plenty of time to get things in order before Augusta.
Passov: Day’s fragility reminds me of the modern legends of tennis, a sport where the athleticism required for success is so much greater now than it was in the days of Rod Laver and Stan Smith and even Borg and McEnroe. All of today’s top tennis players endure nagging pain, mid-range pain and actual injuries. However, they make so much money, there’s no reason to pace themselves, so long as they can figure how to peak for the majors. Ben Hogan had to get hit by a bus to force him to miss a tournament. Toned, workout-influenced bodies seem to do nothing for today’s top golf pros in terms of warding off aches and pains. Instead, they’re designed to help them produce supremely powerful, athletic golf swings that will let them find glory on big occasions, and the heck with being healthy for 52 weeks.
Ritter: Interesting comparison, Joe. If you were to rank golfers by athleticism, Day would land in that top tier. But like all athletes, he must believe his workout regime will help him have a long career, not one that peaks a few times a year. Of course it may not work out that way--some guys just have a hard time staying healthy, and that's true in any sport. Hopefully Day is careful with this back injury. 10 million dollars might last a week, but a green jacket is forever.
Bamberger: Day looks like a college linebacker. Maybe he had some lower back pain. Maybe he also had a case of I’m-not-too-into-this-itis.