Every week of the 2011 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 and join the conversation in the comments section below.
POINTS, MURRAY WIN PEBBLE PRO-AM
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: D.A. Points seemed so thrilled to be playing with Bill Murray and so relaxed by Murray’s antics that he got out of his own head and played great golf. Should he hire Murray as a caddie or at least split the purse with him?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: That’s the beauty of these pro-ams. They’re not for everyone, but some guys, like Points and defending champ Dustin Johnson, seem to thrive when they’re slightly distracted and aren’t grinding so hard.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Mark O’Meara made a career of it.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Hire Murray as a caddie (but the act could get really old after this week). Split the purse only if Murray splits his appearance fee.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Murray’s probably a little tied up with his day job (whatever it is), but maybe Points can have his regular Tour caddie sell Ben and Jerry’s on tee boxes and lie down in the grass between shots, a la Murray on Sunday. How can you get nervous with that happening around you?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Bill Murray as a Tour caddie — that’s a good idea. I’d like to see him on Tiger’s bag.
Herre: Former Tour commish Deane Beman didn’t care for Murray’s act way back when, but the fans always loved him.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It was nice to see CBS finally embrace Murray. For years, he has been ignored and given tee times away from the camera while CBS focused on its sitcom stars (who were never remotely funny on air) or the impressionist from Vegas whose name escapes me. This is great vindication for Murray and the best thing to happen to this tourney in a long time.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: D.A. was definitely in the zone this week if he was able to concentrate around Murray, who obviously played well for the two to take the pro-am title. At any rate, D.A was due. He’s been good enough to win for a long time.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I think it’s easy to not fully appreciate how important a good mindset is to playing good golf. Anyone who earns a PGA Tour card has all the shots and has put in the work to get there, but having a guy like Bill Murray hanging around could provide just enough distraction to let a good-natured pro play well.
Van Sickle: The Murray distraction was great, but if Points doesn’t get a break and hole out from the fairway at 14 for eagle, we would’ve enjoyed an even more exciting and close finish. Who knows?
Gorant: On the other hand, Murray can be a distraction for the pros out there trying to make a living. Not saying it was a factor, but Points’s playing partner, Bryce Molder, closed with a 74. Should Murray tone it down when he’s in the final group?
Van Sickle: Murray did tone it down for the final group.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Nah, Murray’s got to be Murray. Straight no chaser.
Bamberger: If you asked him to tone it down he’d walk.
Evans: Murray should comport himself more like a professional. There is too much money at stake on the PGA Tour for Murray’s routine. I don’t want to sound old-fashioned, but Jack Lemmon and Bing played the crowds and the game with a mix of reserve and fun that made the tournament appealing for fans. The old-timers always had a healthy respect for the guys playing for real money.
Dusek: Sorry, you sound old-fashioned.
Wei: Murray just shows up and everyone laughs. He doesn’t really have to do anything. If he waves, we laugh. If he doesn’t, we still laugh. But how about that really awkward chest bump attempt between Points and Murray on No. 14? Might have been the funniest moment of the day.
Van Sickle: Murray made sure it was an intentionally lame chest bump.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Murray should just do his thing. He was asking Bryce if he wanted to putt first on 17, and I’m sure he was respectful in his own way. He knows the drill.
Dusek: Agreed. If you are playing the AT&T, you’ve got to know there are going to be comedians, celebrities and other semi-famous people on the course who will be nervous and out of their comfort zone. If you’re lucky enough to get into a fun-loving group, embrace the experience. If you don’t think you can do that … don’t sign up to play this week.
Godich: It was backed up all over the course. I thought Murray did a pretty good job of staying out of the way. As Dave said, if you don’t like the format, take the week off.
Hack: Beyond his antics, Murray can flat out hit it. One of the best scenes in “Lost in Translation” — non Scarlett Johansson edition — is when Murray is playing golf. For a knucklehead, he’s really got a great move.
Van Sickle: Murray is like Jim Herre. His best shot is the shot of a 2-handicapper. His bad shots — never mind.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Murray has long been this tourney’s biggest draw, bigger than Phil or Tiger or Costner or anyone else. If any of the pros don’t love his schtick, they’re vastly outnumbered.
Herre: Watching Murray do his thing is a much better show than watching Bryce Molder do his.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Marino and Walker probably weren’t thrilled to be playing behind Murray’s group either. But Murray is Murray. It was a lot of fun to watch today.
Morfit: Good point, Ryan. Marino looked like he just wanted to get on with it starting on 16 or so, when he still had a legit chance.
Godich: Yeah, shame on Murray for stopping to chat up the soldier at the 16th green. Where is the golf etiquette?
Shipnuck: Golf is a stuffy, country club sport? Today I think Murray has done more for the game’s image than a decade of First Tee commercials.
Evans: Alan, Murray is a country club golfer who dresses like a yeoman. Don’t be fooled by the routine. He’s not rushing to make tee times at his local muni. I don’t think anybody is fooled by his act or drawn to the tournament because of him. I’m probably wrong, but my instincts tell me that the Tour probably wishes Murray had taken a backseat on 18 and let Points be the star.
Van Sickle: Murray is the tournament’s biggest non-pro attraction. He packs ’em in and treats them to six hours of improv. The show he puts on is amazing. Try following him for 18 holes someday, and you’d begin to appreciate him. He’s been The Man among the celebrities there since he started playing in the early ’90s — yes, even when CBS was trying to make us believe George Lopez and Ray Romano and Kevin James were superstars. Even the CBS guys in the booth, Nantz and Faldo, said they wanted to see Murray finish on 18, and who’s squarer than them?
Dusek: Today was the first broadcast my stepfather has seen all season, and he watched because it was Pebble Beach and he knew Bill Murray would be on at some point. He didn’t know the leaders, but he knew he’d be entertained by both the course and the guy if he came on the screen. I don’t think he’s alone.
MARINO’S SUNDAY FADE
Gorant: What about Marino. He’s been close a lot, will he break through?
Van Sickle: Marino had short (but not straight-in) birdie putts at 10 and 13 and a reasonable must-make at 16 that he left short. Then again, he holed a long one at 11. If he can clean things up a bit with the putter, he’ll be very dangerous.
Evans: Definitely. Marino had a second at the Sony to start his year. I think he’ll win before the year is out.
Wei: Maybe if there isn’t water on the 18th! What a contrast between his almost-eagle finish at the Sony and majorly losing his concentration to close with a triple-bogey.
Van Sickle: Marino is a birdie machine. Reminds me of Pat Perez and a little of Bubba Watson. He’s a feel player who goes for broke and lives off the long ball and stuffing it close. Like those other two guys, he shoots too low not to win sooner or later. He just needs a little more practice at playing the final nine in contention. The only question mark is the putter under pressure. I think he’ll win.
Godich: Yeah, he makes so many birdies that one of these weeks he will lap the field.
TAKE YOUR PICK: PEBBLE VS. AUGUSTA
Gorant: D.A. Earned a spot in the Masters, and in his post-round interview called Pebble the “most iconic golf course in America.” Think anyone at ANGC noticed or cares? More important, if you had the chance to play one or the other, which would you pick?
Godich: Tough call, so I’ll take the nine oceanside holes at Pebble and the back nine at Augusta.
Bamberger: I think Points is correct. Pebble is an overrated course, but it is the most iconic course in America. It has the Pacific, the ghost of celebrity, it’s semi-accessible if you can save up the money for it. Nicklaus feels the same way, and he’s an ANGC dues-paying member. If I could play one, though, I’d take Augusta. Many, many more great holes, plus a quarter of the great things in modern golf have happened there.
Dusek: Considering the guy won for the first time on the PGA Tour, next to one of the funniest guys around, I think the green-jacketed members won’t care. As for which I’d play next, that would be Augusta in a heartbeat.
Wei: Augusta, without a question, because I can’t simply dish out $500 to play it.
Van Sickle: That’s an easy choice. You’ll never get on Augusta National otherwise. At Pebble, you just need a credit card… and a high limit.
Godich: And six or seven hours. The one time I played it, we waited on the eighth tee for an hour. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Herre: Augusta National definitely has more mystique but mostly because only a very small percentage of golfers ever get inside the gate, which only reinforces the game’s elitist image. I’ll take Pebble.
Evans: Augusta National. Because not everybody can play it.
Hack: Augusta National because it’s (nearly) impossible to get on and every hole tells a story.
Ritter: Sign me up for Augusta.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Augusta without a question.
Morfit: Augusta National.
MICKELSON ROUNDING INTO FORM?
Gorant: Looking around the field at Pebble, what do we make of Phil, who was close again but couldn’t mount a charge?
Godich: I like what I’m seeing out of Phil. He’s close.
Van Sickle: Phil is close but maybe not that close. This wasn’t so much missing short putts like he did in Phoenix. Phil threw a bunch of shots away with mis-plays on the par-5s, supposedly his money holes. You’d never make any sweeping conclusions about a guy’s stroke after putting on Pebble’s mystifying surfaces, but Phil is hitting too many errant shots to win. He’s hitting enough good ones to finish in the top 20, though. If the bad ones are blamed on his arthritis or his body not cooperating, that would be a legitimate excuse.
Hack: I’ve learned not to worry about Phil’s West Coast starts. He seems to always perk up right when the azaleas do.
Herre: Early in Phil’s career, the West Coast was the ONLY place he won.
Bamberger: I think Phil’s doing his tapering thing, just as he did last year. Augusta is where it’s at, and where he’s pointing.
Dusek: Mickelson is thinking Augusta, so while I won’t be surprised it he wins Riviera, I think he’s already planning and tinkering for the Masters.
Lipsey: Phil’s major planning is an old, silly story. It’s hard to root for somebody who openly admits that he doesn’t care too much about events he’s playing and is always planning ahead.
Dusek: But you know he’s not the only guy with that line of thinking. After you’ve won enough, I think you’re entitled to concentrate on the majors and use other events as tune-ups.
Wei: Phil seemed to have his concentration dialed in until that bogey on the 14th. Seemed like he kind of knew he was out of it then. I found it impressive he flew back to San Diego for his daughter’s dance recital after his round last night.
MARQUEE DUBAI GROUP DOESN’T DELIVER, AND TIGER’S SPITTING INCIDENT
Gorant: A lot was made this week of the grouping of Woods, Westwood and Kaymer in Dubai, but none of them finished better than 10th. Does the pre-tournament buzz of these manipulated pairings justify the practice, or does their inevitable failure to live up to expectations create too much of a letdown?
Bamberger: It’s great for TV, good for fans, fun for writers. Thursdays and Fridays are far better now than they used to be.
Dusek: I love the idea of putting the top-ranked players in events together. It creates buzz, let’s us compare and contrast the guys in a somewhat head-to-head manner, and maybe (just maybe) gives them a little more motivation early in the tournament. Plus, we all know the week-to-week pairings are rigged already. Otherwise, how can you explain that Tiger and Phil have never been “randomly” put in the same grouping?
Godich: Not only that, but they are always on opposite ends of the draw — one playing in the morning, the other in the afternoon, and vice versa.
Van Sickle: We all know that Tiger and Phil are a TV tradeoff, a way for Golf Channel to be guaranteed of having one of them on the course in the afternoon during the telecast. Nothing wrong with that, either.
Dusek: Agreed. In the absence of a supergroup (like Cream or Temple of the Dog), you’ve got to make the most of what you’ve got.
Reiterman: With so many top players on both tours, it’s becoming rare that the top 10, and especially the top 3, are together in the same event. Why not take advantage of having such a good field? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with manufacturing a little buzz on Thursday and Friday.
Van Sickle: Those pairings are great for TV, but most weeks, not so great for the on-course spectators. Normally, it’s better if the crowd is split up a bit. It didn’t matter in Dubai, where there aren’t big crowds. Only so many people can get a view of any threesome. But if there are 10,000 people following a group instead of 5,000, it’s the difference between seeing a few shots or seeing the backs of heads. I think the on-course spectators’ interests should come before TV producers’.
Herre: I had no problem with the superstar pairing. In fact, it seems like a no-brainer. I did have a problem, and have for some time, with Woods spitting on the 12th green on Sunday. Gross. Glad the British TV announcers called him out on it.
Morfit: Yeah, there was a lot of spitting by TW today, and a loud club slam after he blew his drive right on 12.
Lipsey: Could be good signs. When he was spitting and cussing, he used to win.
Van Sickle: Interesting that Sergio Garcia, a former spitter, was in the vicinity when Woods expectorated.
Wei: I find the fuss over Tiger spitting kind of funny. Of course, I’m not a proponent of hocking loogies on greens, but have you ever been to a PGA Tour event? EVERY golfer spits. We’re lucky Tiger didn’t have a wad of chew in his mouth.
Bamberger: It’s an epidemic of low-class golf! You cannot spit on a golf course, and on a green? No. Never, never used to happen.
Reiterman: Tiger’s definitely not holding up his pledge to show more respect for the game (cursing, club throwing, spitting, etc.). Not surprising.
Evans: A while back on Golf.com I wrote that Tiger is a bad spitter, and I still hold that belief after this latest episode. He just doesn’t have that tight, liquid spiral. It’s like a kid putting his thumb over a backyard water hose.
Gorant: Tiger usually explains his spitting with a reference to his allergies, which can be bad. Not excusing it, but just throwing that out there. Personally, I think that even if your allergies cause the need, you can wait until you’re between holes.
Dusek: Sergio spit in the hole once!
QUIROS BEATS LOADED FIELD
Gorant: Alvaro Quiros outlasted everyone in the desert, helped by an ace in the final round. What do we think of this guy? He’s crazy long and has a decent short game. Has he reached his apex as an exciting and excitable occasional winner, or is there another level out there for him?
Van Sickle: He could be the Spanish Dustin Johnson, or D.J. could be the American Alvaros Quiros. Either way, I love watching them play. They’re great for the game.
Godich: Agreed. And anybody who can post a triple bogey and still win has what it takes to get to the next level. He has won in each of the last five years. That says something.
Bamberger: Absolutely he has another level in him. He’s just learning to play, truly. He has horrible distance control. He’s wildly inconsistent as a putter. He’s so much fun to watch and listen to. He could win a Masters when he gets it all together. He can be a Vijay, and he could be around for a long time because he’s fit and has a range of interests and hobbies. I’m a huge fan.
Lipsey: I sure wish he played Stateside. He’s as fun to watch as anybody, and a lively speaker too.
Dusek: No one has more fun, or smiles more easily on the course, than Quiros. I watched him crush tee shots at Firestone using a persimmon driver two years ago (he’d never hit a wooden wood before), and he was giddy. He was laughing and joking, and everyone else on the range stopped to watch him blow the ball by them using a 30-year-old club.
Herre: Quiros is a freak, but he is in ascendance. Sort of reminds me of Bubba Watson, but with a more conventional swing. Still makes the big number now and then. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from him.
Wei: Quiros reminds me of more eloquent, gregarious Dustin Johnson.
ASSESSING TIGER’S PROGRESS
Gorant: In the PGA Tour Confidential equivalent of throwing a piece of raw meat into a lion’s den: Tiger Woods?
Godich: Eldrick needs to play more. That’s the best way to get acclimated to the new swing.
Van Sickle: He’s not there yet. Not the swing, not the stroke. Not for 72 holes, anyway. Small progress, perhaps.
Dusek: I loved that ESPN, starting Friday evening, asked a few newspaper columnists who don’t write about golf if Woods was finally going to win this weekend. In our instant gratification society, lots of folks seemingly can’t understand that this isn’t going to happen overnight. You can’t use spray paint if you want to create the Mona Lisa.
Van Sickle: Tiger’s work ethic, unparalleled among his peers, will win out eventually. He’ll get there. Probably just not soon enough for ESPN.
EURO RYDER TEAM ADJUSTMENTS
Gorant: Jose Maria Olazabal, the next European Ryder Cup captain, said he would return to the standard two captain’s picks at the next Cup, saying it’s not about him, it’s about the players. Is this Ollie getting one more shot in on Paul Azinger? Does it reflect a certain arrogance among the Euros, as in, “any 10 guys from our side can take your hand-picked crew”? Or is it none of the above?
Van Sickle: It’s a shrewd way to get more players off the world ranking list first, filled in with guys from the money list. Using this format, Edoardo Molinari, Donald, Harrington, Justin Rose and Poulter would’ve qualified automatically last time; Francisco Molinari, Ross Fisher, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Peter Hanson wouldn’t have qualified. Ollie’s choice would’ve made the last team even better. It’s as shrewd a ploy as Azinger using only that year’s money list. Brilliant.
Herre: Don’t think it’s a shot at Azinger, and I’m taking the move at face value. Ollie is a traditionalist. The Ryder Cup should be about the players, not the captains. Simple as that.