Every week of the 2009 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Greetings fellow golfheads, and welcome to another edition of PGA Tour Confidential. What a week it was. Tiger stealing the show, again, in Arnold’s house. Tiger’s buddy and neighbor Mark “Marko” O’Meara trying to win on the Champions Tour in luscious Cap Cana — and coming up short again. Karrie Webb, who still owns one of the most beautiful swings in all of golf, going low in Phoenix as the LPGA — you remember the LPGA — returns to the continental United States. As the kids say, it’s all good.
This week, a special guest: my friend Mike Donald, who won on the PGA Tour as a caddie (at age 15) and as a player, who played with Arnold Palmer in a Silly Season event, and who played in Arnold’s Bay Hill tournament a bunch of times, with a fifth-place finish in 1981. Welcome Stat Man (as Fred Couples and Lance Ten Broeck use to call him) and welcome back everybody else. Sean O’Hair began Sunday with a five-shot lead over Tiger, and they went to 18 all even. We all knew how that was going to end.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: This whole thing looked eerily familiar all day, with one minor difference: For today’s performance, in the role of the overmatched younger challenger in the TaylorMade cap, the role of Sergio Garcia was played by Sean O’Hair.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I played college golf against O’Hair’s instructor, Sean Foley, a Canadian with a mind equally rich on Malcolm X and Homer Kelley. Between Foley, Bob Rotella and caddie Paul Tesori, O’Hair might have the best team in golf.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Or too much information.
Morfit : The other tournament this reminded me of, in addition to all the ones where Tiger has owned Sergio, was the 2007 Players. O’Hair never looked very comfortable playing against Phil Mickelson on Sunday, either, missing a handful of very makable putts at the end.
Bamberger: How much is Tiger doing for Arnold with this stuff? Arnold, in his pink shirt and blue blazers, standing right there as Tiger performs incredible acts. You can see how much the two men like each other. Arnold, getting near 80, must be getting such a lift out of this.
Donald: Even Jack has to be amazed by the number of times Tiger has done this — 66 wins. Six more and he will be at even-par 72.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Good to see Tiger so into it and then cut loose emotionally at the end. He’s back, and right on schedule. Amazing.
Evans: Other than Jordan I can’ think of anyone in sports history who has delivered more on-command winners.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It’s a short list, to be sure. Reggie Jackson. Joe Montana, maybe.
Shipnuck: Jordan missed plenty of potential game winners. Tiger has only missed one putt that mattered, against O’Hern a few years ago at the Match Play.
Bamberger: Mike, and everybody else: how would you compare Tiger’s intimidation factor to Jack’s and Arnold’s?
Evans: I think Nicklaus was more intimidating because he had shots and power that no one else had in his era. Shot for shot, Tiger can be matched, but no one can make the clutch putts like he can. Nicklaus truly played a game that his peers were not familiar with. Tiger is the best at a game that everybody has to have to survive on tour.
Donald: There is an intimidation factor for sure, but he makes the putts to win. Sean parred the last two and Tiger shot 67.
Morfit: If Woods were simply playing a different game from these guys, that would be one thing, but he’s not, and that’s more impressive. Aside from his putting, he’s not really even playing all that well. While he’s obviously intimidated guys like Garcia and O’Hair, who come back to him just enough, Woods simply finds a way to squeeze that one last shot out of his final score nearly 100% of the time. He was dominant circa 2000. Now he’s more clutch than dominant.
Donald: One for Tiger. Can you say Bethpage?
Bamberger: Who do you see beating Tiger at Augusta, Mike?
Donald: Zach, Trevor . . . Augusta can produce some different winners. Bethpage really separates the field. Long and strong.
Evans: I think Tiger goes 2-4 in the majors.
Morfit: I’ll say two, Bethpage and one other.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Tiger wins the Masters, then at Bethpage. The weather at the British is such a crap shoot that you can never tell, and Hazeltine might become a birdie-fest, and that might not favor Tiger.
Friedman: No love for Paddy at Augusta in this group? No chance of a Paddy Slam? He was T11 this week.
Donald: Harrington? I am not sure he will beat the other Irishman. You know, the 19-year-old.
Ryan Reiterman, producer, Golf.com I’d rather see Harrington vs. Woods at Augusta. We’ve seen enough Woods vs. Mickelson to know how it will turn out.
Herre: I agree, Ryan. Harrington is the one guy who is as tough as Tiger.
Morfit: I guess Harrington played a little better at Bay Hill, but he sure hasn’t done much to inspire confidence this year. If he wins Augusta after hitting it where he’s been hitting it in 2009, I’m ready to concede he’s totally figured out the majors.
Shipnuck: He’ll be there for sure. In our Masters preview I have him in a playoff with the Big O!
Dusek: Oscar Robertson got a special invitation?
Herre: I was concerned about Tiger’s putting. Not anymore. His short game is so good. I like his chances at Augusta. After that, we’ll see.
Bamberger: I think Tiger can win all four majors, I really do. If he gets in contention, who can beat him? He gets up for races better than anybody since Mark Spitz. Yes, Double D makes a good point about British Open weather being a crapshoot — but it also evens out by Sunday afternoon. I think this is the year.
Evans: Too many things have to go perfect for Tiger to win all four. At Augusta, after its most recent growth spurt, Tiger is just like everybody else. I pick Paddy to win if 6 under is the score to beat. If the course plays easy, Mickelson beats Tiger in a close one because Phil will go after everything. If the weather is perfect, Stewart Cink or Kenny Perry could win. Don’t ask me why. I’m a feel player.
Bamberger: Back to Bay Hill for a minute. Here’s a question we used to ask a lot: on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “I own this guy,” how deeply was Woods in Sean O’Hair’s head?
Dusek: O’Hair tried to put on a poker face after dunking that approach on 16, but his stomach must have been churning.
Evans: Sean was shaky coming down the stretch on Saturday, playing with Jason Gore. He’s tinkering with his swing and getting an earful on every shot from his excellent caddie, Tesori. I don’t think Tiger was in his head as much as O’Hair is struggling to “feel” what he wants to do.
Dusek: I loved listening to the caddies on those last few holes. Steve Williams and Tiger in the fairway on 16, O’Hair and his man talking 7-iron vs. 8-iron on 18. NBC is doing a nice job of keeping quiet and letting the player and caddie tell the story.
Friedman: Love the colloquy between O’Hair and Tesori, as conveyed by the on-course mikes. Fun to listen in. “Don’t be in a rush … we ain’t playin’ any more anyway!”
Friedman: Mike, would you be comfortable if your caddie was miked?
Donald: I would not like everyone hearing me and my thoughts. Too much second guessing in the weeks after by Monday morning QBs.
Herre: I’d guess that most pros feel that way, Mike, but listening in helps us civilians better understand what’s happening out there.
Bamberger: Mike, I know you were not one to have a lot of chit-chat with caddies. But from your experience, is this new, this intense conversation between caddie and player, even when the player is almost over the ball? Is Steve Williams really telling Tiger anything he doesn’t already know?
Donald: I am always amazed by the banter between Phil and Bones. I know that Steve is a great caddie, but I think Tiger is extremely smart and has a great feel for the game and would have won 60 or so tournaments with a pull cart.
Bamberger: Remember when he won at Pebble with his Stanford buddy on his bag?
Evans: Like some of you — Bamberger and Lipsey, that I know of — I have caddied in pro tournaments with “real caddies,” and most of the players like having somebody to talk about their choices. The top players hire their caddies to be tough, but also to know when to back off and let them hit the shot they feel.
Friedman: Tiger in prime time: what NBC has been dreaming about since last June at Torrey Pines. No way they go past 6 p.m. for, say, a duel between O’Hair and Zach Johnson! (For that, they shunt to the Golf Channel.) It will be fascinating to see what the Nielsens are for this thing, particularly because it went up against NCAA hoops and 60 Minutes.
Morfit : It helped NBC, too, that the second NCAA hoops game was a yawner.
Shipnuck: No doubt this has been thrilling, but Ogilvy at the Mercedes and Phil’s wins at LA and Doral were great fun and meaningful, too.
Bamberger: Phil has a chance to make a real statement this week in Houston, in the week before the Masters. What do you all think he will do?
Evans: How can he make a statement at an event where Tiger is not in the field? Golf tournaments don’t mean anything unless Tiger is playing. But I don’t want to seem negative in this forum. So I’ll say that he wins and goes to Augusta ready to take on Tiger.
Bamberger: Good point, Farrell, but if Phil shoots 290 at Houston, it gives Tiger a big edge going into Augusta, don’t you think? I mean, there really aren’t that many people who can beat Tiger at Augusta, and you need your head on straight to do it, and I have a feeling that a bad showing for Phil at Houston could have a hangover effect for him at Augusta.
Morfit: I’m sure Mickelson will try to stoke his confidence even further with a W. The thing is, even after watching Woods win Bay Hill, it seems like Mickelson is hitting it better than Woods heading into Augusta.
Bamberger: Well said, Cameron. Tiger’s distance control — of course it was breezy, but it’s breezy at Augusta — was not the show of perfection it often is.
Donald: It is interesting their different ways of approaching the majors. Phil still has more wins and majors than Couples and Love put together.
Herre: Not to digress, but I thought Peter Jacobsen had a strong week in the booth. Good to hear his raspy voice again. Was particularly amused about comments on Jason Gore’s outfit. He said Gore would look better in a shirt with a collar, but what I think he meant was that Gore would look better in a shirt that didn’t look three sizes too small.
Friedman: Jacobsen has that easy conversational style and says what’s on his mind.
Dusek: At Demo Day during the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Cobra had cardboard cutouts of all their star players near their tent. All of them were actual size, but a Cobra rep told me they “shrank” Gore’s cutout just a little. PhotoShop and scissors.
Bamberger: I am nothing like a TV expert, but it seems to me that CBS has always had better pictures, and NBC, because of Johnny Miller and Roger Maltbie especially, has always had far more interesting things to say. But the pictures NBC had this week — the balls in traps, the shades of green on the greens, Tiger’s tongue — these are images that can stay with you for years. Anybody have a strong feeling on who is at the head of the class in golf coverage right now?
Friedman: I think NBC’s coverage is more fluid and vivid. It may come down to how you feel about Johnny, especially versus Faldo. I like Dan Hicks — he’s a very nimble anchor. Nantz, though, may carry more authority, more gravity. I should add that I like Johnny!
Evans: The commentary is definitely sharper on NBC. CBS has a lighter but still dignified approach that serves the needs of the Green Jackets. Golf eggheads certainly have to dig NBC. But people who like language have to love Faldo and Feherty and Nantz’s smoothness.
Donald: Also Oosty.
Shipnuck: Faldo? I can never make out what he’s mumbling.
Herre: Again, I really like the miked caddies, and NBC is going to push that hard in Houston. The Tour needs to get onboard running interference for NBC with the players and some of the caddies, who are sure to push back. As for which network is best, CBS has been doing a fine job for decades, but is a bit stuffy. NBC is doing all the innovating at the moment.
Morfit: I agree with Sir Herre. It’s cool that NBC invited Jake to do the Bay Hill telecast seemingly on a whim. I can’t see CBS allowing itself such a flier.
Donald: In this economy, everyone should do whatever it takes to make it more interesting and a good buy for the advertisers. Nascar!
Evans: The guys on TV are as good as Tiger makes their telecast with his dramatic performances. I’m concerned that someone like Trevor Immelman or Zach Johnson will steal the show for the third year in a row in Augusta.
Reiterman: If Tiger’s out of the picture, I’ll put my money on Stewart Cink to be this year’s Zach Johnson/Trevor Immelman.
Friedman: This could be This Week’s Sign of the Apocalypse!
Donald: It is interesting that someone would check up on Cink by way of Tweeter, or is that Twitter? There were quite a few articles about Davis Love III and his fight to get in the Masters.
Evans: I wish Billy Payne would look domestically before going to Asia to deliver exemptions. DL3 should get a special invite from the Masters for his decades of fine play and stature as a good Southern gentlemen.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Just back from a week’s vacation in Italy, and I couldn’t help but notice the dearth of anything golf. Even when I told people I cover golf, they couldn’t have cared less, whereas at home people jump at that and ask, “Have you met Tiger?” All that made it so clear why golf is stagnant — the game has not been able to find an audience outside of its hardcore corps of devotees, which is growing older and smaller by the day. (Tiger isn’t golf, he’s entertainment, so his huge TV numbers don’t count.) That’s why the Masters is making a big push into Asia, why the LPGA is going abroad big-time. Golf will forever be a niche game outside of Tiger, and on par with the NHL, unless the game finds a way to expand its reach.
Bamberger: Rick, there is a calzone waiting for you here in Philadelphia. In the meantime, the game is great, the game is growing, the game has never been healthier. Didn’t you hear? Tiger’s won again.
Donald: Golf is going down because the courses have become too difficult and equipment is too expensive. Most golfers can’t even post a real score any more.
Bamberger: Mike, have you played with Mark O’Meara in recent years? Why is he not winning on the Champions tour? His swing looks the same to me as forever. Does anyone have any insight into his relationship with Tiger? Are they still close?
Morfit: I spoke to O’Meara at Tiger’s silly season tournament and he (O’Meara) sounded like he was more into fishing than golf. He wasn’t even trying to pretend he really cared how he did on the Champions tour.
Bamberger: That’s fascinating, Cameron. O’Meara to me was always so competitive. It’s hard to imagine him apathetic.
Evans: The senior tour is a putting contest, and O’Meara doesn’t make enough putts at this point in his career to beat Loren Roberts and Jay Haas every week.
Donald: The split with his wife took its toll on his short-term desire, but he has been at the doorstep again and again.
Evans: O’Meara won the two majors in ’98 and got famous for fishing with Tiger.
Before all of that, people used to get him mixed up with Mark McCumber.
Bamberger: This week the ladies (women) will play their first major, the Nabisco. Is there anyway the LPGA can capitalize on what the men did this week? What do you see Michelle Wie doing? Is Karrie Webb ready to be Karrie Webb again? Will Annika watch on TV?
Morfit: That poor tour so desperately needs Wie to win a tournament, everyone else in the field should just pull a hammy on Sunday.
Evans: Short of Nancy Lopez coming back and reprising her late ’70s run, the LPGA has to have one of its American girls win all the majors to make compelling news. Wie doesn’t have the game or the attention span to play consistently.
Shipnuck: Just finished talking to Karrie, and she said she felt more relaxed this week than at any other tournament of her Hall-of-Fame career. Clinging to the lead at 18 she launched a 350-yard drive. She will factor at Dinah. Wie hit it all over the place this week so she’s an enigma, as always.
Shipnuck: Sorta great. She’s more of a sideshow than a legit player.
Herre: The LPGA is trending positive, IMHO. The Korean TV deal is huge, and Ms. Bivens made a nice save this week in Phoenix. A popular winner at the Dinah — Wie, Pressel, even Juli Inkster — would be an added plus.
Bamberger: Ladies and gents, thank you for all your good typing, and a special thanks to Mike Donald for joining us. Your “pull cart” line is one we can all steal. See you next week.