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Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods' Slow Start and Bubba Watson's Late Collapse

Tiger Woods
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For the first time in his career, Tiger Woods failed to finish in the Top 20 in either of his first two starts of a season.

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. Last week at Torrey, many golf observers said Tiger Woods was rusty and one week means nothing. Do two lousy performances in a row mean anything?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don't know if it’s the two weeks in a row or body language or what, but his week-in, week-out intensity is not even close to what it used to be. He's changed. He's a way different man today than he was before winning the Torrey Pines U.S. Open and running over that hydrant.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com (@eamonlynch): After the final round, Tiger announced that he "piped" the driver all day but had seven lip-outs. Yup, that's why he finished T41. He spent more time in the desert than Lawrence of Arabia, so much so that even Kelly Tilghman didn't seem able to muster a defense of his poor play on Golf Channel. He can quickly wipe these two performances from memory by winning, but the reality is the best player in the world doesn't trust his driver on Thursday morning, let alone Sunday afternoon. It's very hard to win majors from that starting point.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): The new Tiger can succumb to slumps. We've learned that much. He hasn't looked any too sharp so far. I'd be interested to know what he and Sean Foley are working on, if anything specific, and how much they're working together.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): I hope not. Nothing would be make the Tour more interesting than to have Tiger return to dominance. But it sure doesn't look good, and unless he changes something (swing coach, gym sessions) I think he will continue to not live up to our unrealistic expectations for him this year.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Not really. It's pretty clear that Tiger is slowly easing his way into the year after a mellow off-season. His old maxim about only showing up at a tournament unless he's ready to win is obviously no longer true. This was a business trip, and a pretty good one -- including the exhibition in India, he's gonna clear around $5 million for a week's work. Tiger's whole season is April to August so if he's decided he needs to conserve mental energy in January and February, I say good for him. But it does make the Florida swing quite important for him.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): You can't just brush this start aside. It's shocking that Tiger would enter the year so rusty when this season's majors set up so well for him. There's still plenty of time to get ready for Augusta...but the clock is ticking.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Not a big deal at this point. Wait until midway through the Florida swing to hit the panic button. Most of 2013's stellar performers, from Scott to Mickelson to Stenson haven't done squat this year.

2. We saw a wild finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with Kevin Stadler taking the title after Bubba Watson missed a five-foot putt to tie. Bubba held the lead all day until he made bogey on 16 and 18. What went wrong for Bubba down the stretch?

VAN SICKLE: Bubba looks as jittery as a long-tailed cat in a room full of dogs with machetes. He drove it poorly and wasted some shots around the greens. He didn't birdie either par 5 on the back nine, another gaffe. You don't win in Phoenix by shooting 1 over par in the final round. I'm not surprised he hasn't won since the Masters. I was one of those who raised the possibility then that he may never win again, it was such a life-changing deal for him. I hope he does, because he's a character and people are drawn to him, but a several parts of his game seem pretty loose.

BAMBERGER: I have no sense of Bubba. I hear him in his press conferences and I watch him play and I just have no real sense of him, how much it matters to him. Maybe everything looks kind of dull after winning that Masters. I don't know.

PASSOV: He's so twitchy, it's tough sometimes to tell when he's messed up and when's he's pured it. Basically, he missed shots of every kind -- drives into the desert, flared 6-iron, short-siding himself at 13, poor wedge at 17, missed putt, blame the caddie at 18 -- just painful to watch, after three days of fun in the sun.

RITTER: Bubba's big backswing is fun to watch, but it isn't exactly a recipe for consistency. He blew a couple iron shots down the stretch that really hurt. You could sort of see a letdown coming after his Masters win -- but he's coming out of that now. He'll have his hits and misses, but I expect him to win again soon.

SENS: Bubba has never struck me as a great closer. Even at the Masters, before he hit a shot that was not as challenging as it was made out to be, he missed a fairway as wide as Georgia. We've seen similar patterns from him at the Ryder cup. Good in team competition, but when left under the spotlight on his own, not so much.

SHIPNUCK: Bubba has always had a lot of demons. You know he's desperate to finally get his first win since the Masters and he was simply overwhelmed by the moment. (That can happen with 100,000 drunks shouting at you.) Post-Augusta, he had to adjust to being a superstar and a new dad, and it was understandably bumpy. Now he's pressing hard to get off the schneid. He'll win again, but this doesn't make it any easier going forward.

LYNCH: The last four holes at TPC Scottsdale demand clear thinking and crafty course management, neither of which appear to be among Bubba's strengths. He's an erratic, unpredictable player with a shaky putter on Sunday. It wouldn't have been a surprise had he won by 8, and it's not a surprise that he fumbled it away. One note: we heard a lot this weekend from TV announcers about how this was an ideal venue for Bubba, the everyman among his voluble fans. I suspect the opposite is true. He has the attention span of a goldfish, and no event has more distractions than Phoenix.

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