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Tour Confidential: What to Make of Phil Mickelson's Pebble Beach Loss

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Our panel discusses Natalie Gulbis' condemnation of slow play in professional golf, and how the Tour can fix it.

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. Phil Mickelson led by two entering the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am but missed out on a playoff when he lipped out a five-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole. Is this a sign he's back or that he's forgotten how to close?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): His short game is back. Phil barely hit half the greens in regulation on the weekend and coulda-shoulda-woulda won. That was impressive. His long game wasn't. He's still maddeningly Phil, which I think is good.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I disagree, sort of. He hit 10 of 14 fairways but only nine greens in regulation Sunday. Phil would normally be able to work around that, but he was a shadow of his usual self with the short game. It wasn't just the missed five-foot putt at 18. From above the third green I watched him hit an awful pitch from just 71 yards. He duffed it, hit it just 45 yards, and had to get up and down for par. He couldn't get up and down from the sand at the fourth hole, or the 14th, bogeying both. He three-putted from the fringe at the par-3 fifth, for another bogey. He threw away a lot of shots. 

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Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): He's definitely on the upswing. He was forced to scramble throughout the weekend but still had a chance. That missed 5-footer on 18 was a tough putt, and if anything should provide further motivation. If we were playing the Masters next week, Phil would be back on the short list. 

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): It has seemed pretty clear since he started making his full swing changes that he was energized by the switch. The revitalized short game looks like a consequence of that ... the renewed commitment and being excited about where he's headed spilling over into the short game as well.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I don't think he's forgotten how to close so much as he's out of practice. It's great to have Phil back in contention but next time he does indeed need to get it done or the self-doubt will become considerable.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): This is Phil being Phil: Chapter 22. That's why he is so fascinating. That said, at 45, those must-have five-footers aren't going to get any easier. I think he'll be kicking himself for letting this one get away. But I also believe he feels good about where his game is—and where it's headed.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Overall, a bit of both. Phil didn't have a lot of Hall-of-Famers chasing him, and he hit so many loose shots. Yet, there he was, needing a five-footer to make a playoff. Clearly, he's on a great run and hopefully, the more he contends, the fewer nerves he'll feel.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He looked really, really annoyed and dismayed when it was over. Which was great to see. In other words, he cares. It's not, as I have sometimes thought, just about them majors with him.

Van Sickle: And I'm sure Phil would say that he expected to get that last relatively easy chip closer than five feet.

Godich: That's what I was thinking. Expected a kick-in birdie there. I believe he builds on the putts he holed at 16 and 17. Both of those were considerably more difficult than the one he missed at the last.

Shipnuck: Um, when the tournament is hanging in the balance absolutely nothing is tougher than a putt on the 72nd hole. 

Morfit: I expected him to get that a little closer, too. I think the nerves kicked in a couples times for Phil today.

 

Photo:

Jack Nicklaus hopes to improve U.S. chances in the Ryder Cup with a dinner for the team.

2. Jack Nicklaus and his wife Barbara are planning a dinner/bonding session at their home for U.S. Ryder Cup hopefuls. Is this a good idea for the Americans or yet more overkill that's likely to make the Europeans roll their eyes?

Shipnuck: It's both. But the Jordan Spieths and Justin Thomases of the world haven't had a chance to spend too much time with Jack so any chance to pick the brain of the great man has to have some value.

Van Sickle: Nothing wrong with breaking bread with two of golf's classiest folks. Pass the butter, please, Jack.

Godich: Maybe so, Gary, but I'm guessing that there are even some U.S. players who are rolling their eyes at this. The formula's not that complicated: play better golf, hole more putts. As for the dinner conversation, I hope nobody asks Jack what his Ryder Cup record was.

Van Sickle: Good point. It's not going to help the U.S. team win a Ryder Cup. But dinner with a legend while he's still around? Priceless, as they say.

Bamberger: But don't ask Jack what his Ryder Cup record is ... Because he doesn't know. So maybe the best thing that can come out of this dinner is that Jack will tell the boys to just chill a little, try to enjoy the thing, and really, let go. It's just a team golf competition. And golf is an individual sport.

Ritter: The Euros have been rolling their eyes ever since the task force was created, but a little face time with Jack can't hurt. Mickelson's central criticism in 2014 was that the U.S. wasn't as sold out, or as bonded, as their opponents. If nothing else, a team meal with Jack should help the team get a little closer.

Sens: Hard to imagine that dinner with the Nicklauses will have any effect on the Ryder Cup results one way or the other, but it will no doubt be stitched into the narrative in retrospective if the Americans win. Meantime, Jack and Barbara have a new cookbook out, so maybe this is just an excuse to show off that lasagna-for-20 recipe I was reading about. 

Passov: Nice gesture by a living legend. If a tennis match breaks out on Jack's backyard grass court, my money's on Matt Kuchar.

Morfit: I think Jack has a little game, too, when it comes to tennis. 

Passov: And a lot of game when it comes to deep sea fishing.

3. Gary Player recently said that Jordan Spieth is the best putter ever. Is Player a prisoner of the moment, or has Spieth already accomplished enough to rank him among the all-time greatest putters?

Van Sickle: Too soon, Mr. Player, too soon, but yes if Heir Jordan continues to make 25-footers at a rate of 1 in 4 for the next 15 years, he is the best putter ever. Step 1: keep making them.

Ritter: Van Sickle is right, it's too soon. But from what we've seen so far, Spieth does possess the upside to be an all-time putter, which would validate Player's point. 

Morfit: Spieth is awesome on good greens. It remains to be seen whether he can figure out the bumpy, poa annua stuff that he saw at Pebble Beach this week. 

Shipnuck: Um, Cam, Chambers Bay had the worst greens in the recent history of major championship and Spieth did just fine there. That he's already in the conversation is remarkable but I think we can all agree Player is prone to hyperbole and this is another example.

Godich: Way too early. But the fact that he's even in the conversation speaks volumes.

Sens: Agreed. Premature. But let’s not forget that Gary Player is the positively absolutely undoubtedly 100% the greatest lover of superlatives of all time.

Passov: Let's wait until Spieth turns say, 25 years old until we start anointing him with any GOAT accolades.

Bamberger: That's crazy talk for Gary Player. Not that Jordan Spieth, a few years into it, is not a great putter. He is. But Tiger putted as good if not better for 15 years!

Photo:

Bill Murray has established himself as a mainstay at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

4. AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am mainstay Bill Murray threw some fans' cell phones off a rooftop bar after he was apparently annoyed with them trying to get photos of the "Caddyshack" star. This came a day after he flung a club off the 7th tee. Should Pebble put Murray in the penalty box, or are his edgy antics good for the event?

Van Sickle: To be clear, Murray was in a restaurant, not out on the course when he made "outgoing calls." Also, he agreed to pay for damages. Murray is one of the few celebs who actually entertains at the tournament. He is worth the price of admission. Wake me up the first time Ray Romano says something funny at the event.

Morfit: I don't know how Murray has the energy to go out and entertain for six hours at a time. So I give him credit for that. And he's done a terrific job with his career, picking movies that mean something to him and refusing to sell out. But I doubt the owners of those cell phones were laughing. He crossed a line there. 

Shipnuck: Anytime you're imitating Steve Williams's greatest hits you need to check yourself. I know someone who was at that bar and supposedly Murray said he wasn't in the mood for pictures. But if you're Bill Murray and you go out to a crowded gathering spot the week of the Clambake you gotta know what's coming. If you're feeling grouchy, stay home. 

PHOTOS: Celebs of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Godich: This has been going on for years. Why ban him now? There's a reason Murray keeps getting invited back. He's a crowd-pleaser, plain and simple. 

Ritter: His antics were disappointing, but he gets the free pass. He’s the crown prince of Pebble

Sens: Hard to get to indignant on behalf of the folks who had their cells snatched. But it was bad judgment by Murray. He should stick to flinging old ladies around in a bunker. Much more fun. 

Passov: Josh, the fact that he was asked/permitted back at the AT&T after going bunker bowling with middle-aged matrons says that he's got a lifetime pass to do whatever he wants when he's in that zip code at this time of year.

Bamberger:Murray is a genius and a misanthrope and, looking at the amateur players last week, the only vestige of the old Bing Crosby tournament left. Jim Nantz was expressing such enthusiasm for Gregg Ontiveros’s golf I guessed it was some young new singer about whom I knew nothing. He is in fact another businessman in a field that is overloaded with them.

5. Lydia Ko recently said that her wish list included playing a Women's Masters or equivalent at Augusta National. Do you like the notion of the ladies playing a major there?

Van Sickle: I like the notion of any second tournament being played at Augusta National, America's most pristine playground. Women, seniors, juniors, robots, cats … count me in.

Ritter: Now that it's welcomed women members, an LPGA major would be a bold next step. Maybe they could host it in May, before the course closes for the summer. 

Sens: I'm on the fence. On the one hand, the women deserve to be in the spotlight more than they are. On the other, part of the mystique of the Masters is that we so rarely get a glimpse of Augusta. There are tons of other great courses where the women can stage their majors. And I confess: part of me favors limiting our exposure to Amen Corner to that one week in April. 

Morfit: I agree with Josh on this one. One week of Augusta National is just the right amount.

Godich: Why not? When there was buzz about bringing golf back at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Augusta National was the proposed venue. And think about how far the club has come in the past 20 years.

Passov: I'd like to see the women establish their own Masters-like event, at a course and club worthy of the honor.

Shipnuck: I've been saying this forever: do it at Cypress Point. At 6,500 yards it's the perfect length for elite women's events. The smaller crowds would be able to navigate their way through the dunes and there's a nice legacy in that a woman, Marion Hollins, was the driving force in creating CPC. Play it in the fall when the weather is perfect here and it would instantly be one of the best tournaments in golf. 

Bamberger: Oh, that’s good, Alan. How great would it be if the LPGA Championship had a rotation that included Augusta, Cypress, Chicago G.C., National Golf Links and some other old-timey charmers? That would help elevate the women's game.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.

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