Tour Confidential: What if Tiger and Phil can’t play the Masters?

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods at the 2009 Masters at Augusta National.
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Every Sunday night, 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. We’re less than two weeks away from the start of the Masters and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are both sidelined with injuries. If neither Tiger nor Mickelson answers the bell to play in the Masters, how much does that influence your interest in the event?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): A little bit — nobody plays Augusta National better, and the event means so much to them. But it's still the Masters. The show must go on.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): Golf fans won't care, because the event is bigger than its participants. Sports fans with a more casual, star-driven interest might wane. And the CBS guys will probably be wailing and rending garments on Washington Road.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): It's the Masters. Spring has sprung. It's tradition. I'm rapt no matter who's in the field or on the leaderboard. But yes, the aura needle moves further and further to the right when Tiger and Phil are entered and in the hunt, nowhere more so than at Augusta. Gotta admit, their absence will diminish the event ever so slightly.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Not at all. I would hope for them to both be there, and I expect them both to be there, but if they are not there, it has no influence at all on my interest in the event.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): It won't affect me much, but hardcore fans will tune in regardless. It's the more casual viewers who would turn their attention elsewhere. If Tiger and Phil miss the Masters, this could be the biggest season ever for "Dancing With The Stars." I will now smack myself in the head with a bunker rake.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): What? Tiger's injured? I hadn't heard. Yes. It puts a damper on my interest, but I'll still happily watch every minute. (What's more, I guarantee both Tiger and Phil will be there.)

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): It's the Masters. If you can't get interested in that no matter who's playing, go back to reading Bowling Digest.

2. The R&A Golf Club urged its members to accept women members this week following the controversy of holding the Open Championship at all-male Muirfield last summer. Do you have a problem with majors being held at clubs that don’t allow women?

SENS: Yes. For a game that loves to trumpet its grand traditions, golf has been on the wrong side of history far too often. That's bad PR when you're trying to grow participation. If clubs want to keep out women, that's their right. But there are lots of other nice spots to hold an Open.

VAN SICKLE: The UK is 20 years behind us in a few areas, and this is one of them. This is a chance to play catch-up. I think a more interesting question is, will the R&A members vote to accept women? Can you imagine if they vote ‘no’? It'll be a crapstorm.

SHIPNUCK: Definitely. The message it sends to fans and would-be golfers is so retrograde. There's an easy solution: if they wanna stay all-male, all they gotta do is give up the Open.

PASSOV: I'm a big Freedom of Association guy, so I'll defend those clubs all day long. However, in this day and age, I just don't understand why any club would hold onto those policies, even in the UK. Don't punish those clubs, but definitely point fingers into their chests.

LYNCH: This is about principal, not principle. The R&A is moving only at the point of HSBC's bayonet, the bank being a major sponsor of The Open Championship and a vocal critic of gender discrimination in golf. A club has the right to be single sex if it wishes, but the majors are run by organizations that occupy a leadership role (formal or otherwise) in the game. With that position comes an obligation to avoid staging golf's biggest events at exclusionary clubs.

BAMBERGER: Regardless of what I think, it's pretty obvious that the all-male club is likely to die pretty soon here, possibly in the next 100 years. Augusta National will likely have its first openly gay member before that.

RITTER: I understand that private clubs have the right to set their own rules, but if a course is hosting a major, it has a greater role within the game and its policies should reflect that. Majors belong at golf's best venues — those remaining men-only clubs now need to get with the times. It was always a comical disconnect when Augusta National would spout on about its commitment to growing the game while simultaneously cutting out half the population from its member roles. I'm glad the R&A is taking this vote, and its next step should be to pressure Muirfield and similar clubs to change their policies. Augusta admitted two women, survived the ensuing barrage of overwhelmingly positive publicity, and continued on just fine. The same thing would happen for these other clubs, and it's the right message to send to golfers around the world.

3. Slow play appears to be reaching a tipping point on the PGA Tour in 2014. Last week, Kevin Na was heckled at Bay Hill. This week, Johnny Miller said he’d quit announcing if everyone played like Andrew Loupe and the final group Sunday took three hours to play the front nine. Do you sense that the Tour might take some action to address slow play? Why or why not?

BAMBERGER: I don't know, but if the choice is watching Na or listening to John, I'm going with John every time.

LYNCH: The Tour can only take action if the Tour admits there is a problem, and that hasn't happened because Tim Finchem has his head buried in a pot bunker on this issue. Calls for action from players have been ignored but perhaps there's a lesson to be drawn from the R&A's about-face on membership policies: if sponsors complain, action may follow. As it is, current pace of play policies and enforcement are solely aimed at nudging tortoises gently toward the finish line. If the people call for me as commissioner, I promise that offenders will get one warning, then a stroke penalty, then a DQ. Repeat offenders get suspended. Plus, known slow players are last off the tee Thursday and Friday. Let them putt on chewed up greens! But I admit this last one is just Chris Christie-style spite.

VAN SICKLE: I don't see the Tour changing any rules in midseason. I think they think their rules work as well as anything is going to work. The best way to speed up the Tour's turtles is to lose the cloak of anonymity. The Tour should start the World Slowpoke Rankings and players would be ranked according to who's gotten put on the clock the most, the most bad timings and the most fines. Announce the fines, PGA Tour. Put a spotlight on the perpetrators instead of covering for them.

SENS: I'd like to give you an answer, but I need to consult my caddy first, then consider the question from six different angles, then toss some grass up to see which way the political winds are blowing before summoning an official for a ruling. Please cut to one of other panelists in the meantime.

PASSOV: Very tough conditions, on a tough course, balls diving into rocky rough and burying into bunkers and such, with two wildly inexperienced leaders in that final. That explains a little. With so much money at stake, and such tough greens on Tour, I'm not positive how you can crack the whip more often or more efficiently than what they do now. Make the courses easier and you'll speed up play.

RITTER: Oh, sure, the Tour might decide to act, but in a sad irony they have already …. taken …. way …. too …. long.

SHIPNUCK: Yawn. This debate is decades old. Wake me when there's a solution. (It's gonna be a long nap.)

4. The TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks course, the Greg Norman-designed venue for this week's Valero Texas Open, features a large bunker in the middle of the green at the par-3 16th. Is this the kind of fun design feature that lends spice and variety to PGA Tour setups, or is it a silly gimmick that should be shelved?

VAN SICKLE: It's a gimmick, and yet Riviera's sixth hole has a bunker in its green and that course is considered a "classic." PGA Tour players pick tournaments to play because of their dates and the courses. If you're wondering why so few top players teed it up at Valero, look no further than the course.

BAMBERGER: Not a gimmick. Fun, odd, interesting. I've never been to the course, but it looks very cool on TV.

SHIPNUCK: Both. It works at Riv. Here, less so. Three of 'em would definitely be too many.

SENS: I have played quite a few Greg Norman courses featuring 18 holes that should all be shelved. But a bunker in the middle of the green is not itself a White Shark gimmick. No less a course than Riviera's got one. It works as a refreshing rarity.

PASSOV: I like the doughnut green in that it spurs folks into discussing and debating design. Norman did one of these in his 2002 design of Doonbeg. One of those per design career should be the limit.

LYNCH: Singling out one hole for special criticism on a Greg Norman design is like picking out one pimple in a mass of acne as being particularly unappealing.

5. Graeme McDowell backtracked on some seemingly obvious remarks about how Tiger Woods’ aura has been diminished in recent years after McDowell was criticized on Twitter. Has social media made players more or less candid in sharing their opinions?

SHIPNUCK: It's made them more candid but also more sensitive to blowback. I guess finding the right balance is the key. I didn't think G-Mac had anything to apologize for, but from personal experience I can vouch that there are a lot of hardcore pro-Tiger trolls out there. Apparently they convinced McDowell otherwise.

BAMBERGER: The drunken tweets aside, it has made them less candid. From what I can tell, most of that tweeting activity is rooted in trying to sell something to somebody. I miss Roy Firestone, Peter Kessler and, while we're at it, Brian Lamb. Interviewers who let their subjects talk.

RITTER: Seems like pros go through a period of candidness before getting burned a few times and shutting it down. Stewart Cink, one of golf's Twitter pioneers, says he's dialed it way back because of all the negativity.

VAN SICKLE: Social media and all news sites that allow comments let yahoos with agendas shout down respectable voices. No matter what you tweet, some wiseass has a would-be clever comeback, put-down or hater remark. The short length of Tweets also allows them to be easily misinterpreted. So yes, players are more wary of telling it like it is online than they were a year ago. There's almost no upside in it.

LYNCH: McDowell is an honest guy and what he said is so demonstrably true that it hardly seems worth debating. But the faux protest machine on social media stands ever ready to pounce, and it doesn't distinguish between truthfulness (McDowell) and obnoxiousness (Elkington, for example). Small wonder that many golfers now just use social media to promote corporate partners, not to engage with genuine fans. Here's hoping McDowell doesn't withdraw into that mentality too.

PASSOV: It's a lousy Catch-22. Fans and media love the spontaneous, honest tweets from those we follow, yet we condemn the sender when the comments burn too hot. G-Mac just won the Golf Writers of America's award for media friendliness. Tweet away, G-Mac. We love what you do, even when we don't agree.

SENS: I was sorry to see McDowell backtrack because he had nothing to apologize for. But as to the question: more. For every McDowell cowed by blowback, there are dozens of Poulters and Elkingtons who dispatch their every thought into the ether, no matter how embarrassing. Mix in a little alcohol (as Lee Westwood did in his wounded post-PGA Twitter rant last year) and now we're really talkin'. Or at least they are.

6. Bill Murray wore PBR-print pants and a Dalai Lama T-shirt at a charity golf event earlier this week, so we know who the best-dressed amateur golfer is. Who’s the best-dressed player on the PGA Tour? What about all-time?

BAMBERGER: I think the Tour rules officials dress better than the players. Gray slacks and white shirts — what more does a man need? Seve, in his navy, Continental prime, was the best-dressed I saw. From the pictures, either Jones (not the PGA Tour, though), or Hogan.

SHIPNUCK: I'd say McDowell. All-time has to be Hogan — such a clean, classy, classic look.

RITTER: Couples always has a cool factor, and he more or less launched the spikeless shoe revolution at the '10 Masters. All time, I'll take everyone who played golf in the ’20s and ’30s.

VAN SICKLE: Today's players are dressed largely by the same half-dozen clothing-makers. How do you single anyone out? All-time, Gene Sarazen stood out for wearing knickers and ties back in the day when that was normal attire. I don't know what makes you best-dressed these days, but anyone who says ‘John Daly’ is banned from Tour Confidential forever.

PASSOV: I'm not exactly fashion-forward, but I'll chime in anyway. Adam Scott wins for everyday attire, though for special occasions, I'll go with Ian Poulter's outfits — IJP Design — and Ryan Moore with long-sleeved shirt and tie. Historical division, Ben Hogan for every day, Jimmy Demaret for special occasions. My favorite garment? Jack Nicklaus' blue-and-white argyle sweater in winning the 1978 Open Championship.

SENS: All-time I'll go with Doug "The Human Crayola Box" Sanders. In the modern era: John Daly, because I like using his pants as a Rorschach test.

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