Tour Confidential: Who is the most underrated player on the PGA Tour?
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss the most underrated players in golf, the ones most overdue for a win, Tiger Woods’ importance to a potential new golf league and more.
1. Webb Simpson birdied the final two holes of regulation and then birdied the first playoff hole to come from behind and beat Tony Finau at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Sunday. Simpson, 34, now has six PGA Tour wins (tying him with the likes of Padraig Harrington, Henrik Stenson and Stewart Cink), including a U.S. Open title, and also has made three Presidents Cup teams. Yet his game has never drawn much buzz. Is Simpson, ranked 7th in the world, the most underrated player on Tour? If not, who is?
Luke Kerr-Dineen, instruction editor (@LukeKerrDineen): Underrated? I’m not so sure. Under the radar? Definitely. It’s a subtle but important distinction. Webb Simpson has been hanging around for a while, and golf fans know he’s a solid player. Webb’s record — six wins, including one (and a half) majors and now in the top 10 in the world — does sneak up on you, but ultimately it’s a pretty fair reflection of his ability. Someone like Paul Casey comes to mind as someone who’s classically underrated. He’s had 31 top 25s in his last 45 PGA Tour starts, with two wins, two 2nds and finished 5th in the FedEx Cup last season! He probably deserves more attention.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): He used to be underrated but that became such a thing he might now be overrated! But it’s remarkable what a short-hitter like Webb has been able to do in this era of bomb/gouge. From 150 yards in he has to be the best player in golf.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I would say he is underrated in the sense that I have NEVER heard ANYBODY who has EVER brought up his name in a general golf conversation. Steve Jones, Scott Simpson and Michael Campbell are in the conversational mix far more than Webb Simpson.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): After much consideration, yes. You could go a step further and say he’s also the most underappreciated player on Tour. He’s not flashy and he’s not stirring the pot on Twitter and he’s not leading the Tour in driving distance (far from it) or even showing much emotion. But he gets the job done. He’s off to an outstanding start to the 2019-20 season, too. Could be a big year for him.
2. Finau has had a steady career, ascending to as high as 9th in the World Ranking, but despite several close calls — he has had 29 top 10s and six runner-up finishes since his first victory — he still is in search of career win No. 2. If it’s not Finau, which PGA Tour winner is most overdue for another victory?
Kerr-Dineen: It’s too easy — lazy, even — to do the whole Tony-Finau-doesn’t-win-because-he’s-too-nice thing. Finau is an incredible player who time after time puts himself in the conversation. He should’ve won on Sunday; he didn’t through no fault of his own. Sometimes, you’re just unlucky and get beat. He’s overdue for win No. 2, but I have no doubt it’ll come for Tony very soon — maybe even in the form of a green jacket.
Shipnuck: Adam Scott. (He did win in Australia in December but that ain’t the PGA Tour.)
Bamberger: King Louie. Who swings like he should win every third week.
Berhow: The obligatory Jordan Spieth answer fell right to me, hu? These are all good picks as well, but the fact that Spieth hasn’t won since July 2017 is still just astonishing. It continues to be one of the most compelling stories in the sport. I’m also waiting for Tommy Fleetwood to check off his first win on the PGA Tour. He’s 0 for 62 thus far but has four runner-up finishes.
3. As more details about the proposed Premier Golf League surfaced last week (including plans for a feeder tour, as reported by Geoff Shackelford), AP golf writer Doug Ferguson asserted that without Tiger Woods on board, the league “doesn’t stand a chance.” Agree?
Kerr-Dineen: Eh, I don’t think so. Tiger is obviously a huge shot of adrenaline, but are you telling me that if Rory, Brooks, DJ, Day, Hideki, Rahm, JT, Phil and Rose all signed up, the tour would be dead on arrival? Doubtful.
Shipnuck: Woods is 44 with a reconstituted spinal cord. The game has to start planning for life after Tiger. If every other top player signs up for the PGL it still has legs. But obviously it would add a ton of buzz and credibility to the launch to have Tiger on board.
Bamberger: I can’t imagine Tiger signing on for this, because his highest life priority seems to be his two children, and this series of events, scattered all over the world, would make home time even more of a challenge. If Rory, Brooks, DJ, Day, Hideki, Rahm, JT, Phil and Rose all signed up you would not have a league. The unspoken appeal of any real tour event is having a HUNDRED or so players who could breakthrough in any given week. I do imagine the pay structure getting reworked as a result of this threat to the Tour, by which wins and top-five finishes start to get more of the purse than they do at present.
Berhow: Tiger is obviously a big get but for this league to be successful it has to be thinking 10, 20 and 30 years down the road, not just right now (and I’m sure it is). After Tiger, I think Rory McIlroy would be the guy they want to target. He’d be a draw no matter what country he’s playing in and when he speaks players (and media) listen. He’s also got a lot of game left.
4. Phil Mickelson shot a three-under 67 in his final round at the Saudi International to tie for third, his first top 10 in almost a year. “I missed a couple of cuts and this week I really started to put things together, and it’s a great week to build off,” Mickelson said. Next up for Phil is defending his title at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. What kind of 2020 do you predict for the famously unpredictable Mickelson?
Kerr-Dineen: I think Phil’s gone a little distance crazy. He’s become so obsessed with hitting it longer that it’s taken away his focus on putting it all together, and his game is all over the place as a result. Sure, he’ll pop up and around the leaderboard occasionally, like he did this weekend, but his game is so unsustainably wild right now, I don’t think he has staying power to continue it for a full season.
Shipnuck: I think he’s going to have a good year. There are two milestones ahead: turning 50 and returning to Winged Foot, site of his signature self-immolation. I think both things are motivating Phil right now.
Bamberger: Phil is in a period of reinvention. The coffee recipe. The shedding of pounds. The proposed move to Florida. The hosting of the old Hope event. Turning 50. Phireside chats. Tweeting. To make all this work, he has to double down on the thing that makes Phil Phil in the first place: contending now and again, winning some of those events. I would never underestimate a motivated Phil Mickelson. I could certainly see him winning on Tour again this year, and contending at Augusta.
Berhow: I think we’ll see what we have been. Last year he won at Pebble and then kind of disappeared. He’ll maybe win an event this year or contend in a few, but one week doesn’t tell me much. The driving accuracy is a concern. Winged Foot will be great, though. His slam chances are running out fast.
5. One of golf’s greatest public courses is going to cost you a few extra bucks. On April 1, Pebble Beach greens fees will increase $25 and now be $575 per round. The newest price increase stirred up some debate on social media regarding how much great golf is worth. What advice would you offer our readers about how best to decide whether it’s worth sinking a small fortune into a bucket-list tee time?
Kerr-Dineen: At a price point like that, it’s not intended to be an every-week thing, and that’s OK. Do it once with a bunch of your mates. You’ll have a round you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and you won’t regret it (even though it might be a little painful pulling out that credit card at the time).
Shipnuck: It’s worth it. The average dude can’t play Pine Valley, Cypress Point or all the other famous private courses. And Pebble has a grander history than just about any of them. If you’re a golfer you gotta do it once in your life. Period. I wish the price wasn’t so high — Pebble Beach Co. makes a huge profit each year and could easily slash the price instead of raise it. But it is what it is. It’s why the bucket list was invented.
Bamberger: How insulting to any ordinary golf fan, to raise a greens fee by $25 when it’s really about a $1,500 day, all in. If there’s ONE course to shell out that kind of money, it’s Pebble. Play from a set of tees where you can find your ball and make some pars.
Berhow: Do it once. Take some pictures, buy a hat, keep the ball marker and live the rest of your life telling everyone you played Pebble Beach. I’ve never played it but walked it plenty during last year’s U.S. Open and it’s not like the golf I grew up playing in the Midwest, that’s for sure. Here’s the other thing: No one just wakes up and says “I’m going to play Pebble today.” The majority of these trips are made well in advance, so plan accordingly and when it’s time to pay up you won’t be hurting as bad.
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