Every week of the 2010 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.
TIGER’S FINAL-ROUND 65 AT AUSTRALIAN MASTERS
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: We got a sneak peek at Tiger’s new digs last week, but I’m more interested in what he did on the golf course a half a world away. After three days where he couldn’t make anything at the Australian Masters, he shot up the leaderboard with a final-nine charge to finish fourth. Should we make anything of his fast finish? Or is he just teasing us again?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Oy, we’re leading with Tiger? I move to ban any conversation about the guy until he wins another tournament.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Same old same old. He can’t seem to put together four rounds, which is why he hasn’t won all year.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger is a work in progress, all the way around, and this unimaginable thing — a winless year — will be a major motivation for him in the new year. Tiger playing well, even if it’s only for one round at a time now, is still one of the most exciting things in sports.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Maybe Tiger is the new Luke Donald.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Tiger is fighting two swings and a balky putter, but he’s notched two-straight top 10s. Can’t wait to see how he plays once his new swing is in place.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: What you guys keep overlooking or not considering fully is that Tiger is going through a swing change and trying to put his personal life back together after an ugly divorce. How can we expect him to play consistent golf under these circumstances? Of course the greatest player ever can play great on any given day. Look out for Tiger in 2011 when he’s had some time to work things out.
Godich: How much time does he need to work things out?
Evans: I wish I knew. Tiger is facing hurdles in his life that he’s never seen before. Jack Nicklaus never went through a divorce and the public humiliation of a sex scandal. If golf was Tiger’s only problem, I wouldn’t be worried about how well he’s going to do in the future.
Herre: Frankly, changing coaches and swings does not inspire confidence. It’s usually the sign of a golfer who is searching.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger’s old swing won more tournaments than most guys alive, combined. He doesn’t need a new swing. He needs a lobotomy.
Reiterman: Well, he’s 3 for 3 when making a swing change. I’d go that route instead of doing nothing and hoping things turn around.
Herre: Ryan, I would say TW’s two for three.
Reiterman: I meant the two changes under Butch Harmon and one under Hank Haney. Those worked out OK. But, yes, the jury is still out on Sean Foley’s changes.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: He’s also still playing musical putters. Woods dropped a mallet in his bag on Sunday after a miserable round with his once-reliable Scotty Cameron. He said that he made the move to better navigate the slow Australian greens, which was the same explanation he gave when he made a similar swap at St. Andrews. It’s a pretty clear sign that he’s lacking confidence.
Lipsey: Not many guys get it back once they start playing musical putters.
Reiterman: Vijay Singh would disagree. He’s had more putters than Tiger had mistresses, yet Vijay’s had a pretty nice career.
Lipsey: Vijay is the exception to the rule. Some guys find a way to successfully play musical putters, but not many.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I can’t wait for next year. The young guys like Fowler and Rory and Day are so crazy good, and Tiger and Phil have a lot to prove after a relatively down year.
Lipsey: Relatively down year? TW and PM won once combined. Maybe their worst-ever year combined.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I hear you, Cam, but remember when young guys like Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia and Aaron Baddeley looked crazy good, too? It’s a big jump from crazy good to playing up to it and winning big tournaments. I’m not sure any of these guys are ready for it any more than I’m sure that Tiger and Phil are still the guys to be shooting at.
Evans: A new generation of good players is supposed to replace Tiger and Phil. That’s life, in general. Joe Paterno is the only person that gets to hang on forever.
Morfit: I hope Tiger comes back huge next year. The Tour could use a boost.
Van Sickle: Tiger’s final-round 65 is just another rock in the foundation that he’s building en route to becoming a comeback story — the one thing he’s never done in his career because he’s never had to. I’m not saying whether anyone will be rooting for him. But at some point, after the adversity and bad play he has endured, the media will pick him up as a comeback story. Atonement? That’s a different issue. But he will be a comeback story … if he in fact comes back.
Morfit: The off-season should give him more than two months, and that ought to work wonders. I recall other players losing their games while building monument homes and Tiger has had that plus a few other things going on.
Van Sickle: His full swing is going to come back a lot quicker than his putting stroke. His results already indicate his ball-striking is getting better. The jury is still out on whether he’ll be a dominant putter again, which will determine how successful his return to golf eventually is.
Bamberger: I think the ultimate determinant of whether Tiger becomes dominant again is something we can’t know: how much he wants it. You can make a case either way, that golf means more to him now than ever before, or much less.
Godich: I would argue that it means more to him now, because that’s about all he’s got.
Evans: That’s crazy. He’s got his kids and his mother and his friends. He’s got a lot other things in his life besides golf.
Morfit: I’d guess it means less to him. Who does he have to play for?
Van Sickle: What’s amazing is that we’re talking about Tiger at length and not two words about the Australian Masters champion, who is a pretty nice comeback story himself. That’s the Tiger factor. No matter how far he falls, he’s only one win, maybe even one sensational round, away from resurrecting Tiger-mania.
Godich: Good point. If I had said in July that Tiger or Stuart Appleby would win twice in the next four months, which one would you have picked?
Bamberger: We saw that at Pebble with nine good holes! The lesson, I think, is that golfers really don’t care about Tiger’s personal issues, and do care about seeing greatness.
Shipnuck: I don’t think there’s any doubt Tiger will win again relatively soon. He may even start with the 2011 Masters. For me, the question is, “Can he be dominant again?” Of that, I’m not so sure. But I can’t wait to watch him try.
Van Sickle: Tiger’s misplaced putting stroke, really the key to him being a dominant player, is far more serious than you realize. Ernie Els and Retief Goosen quit seriously contending for majors when their sweet strokes left them in their late 30s. We’ll never know how Tiger feels about his putting since he’ll never tell us. But think about it: How many of the all-time greats didn’t lose their putting strokes later in their careers? Besides Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, I can’t think of many. It’s the biggest reason players stop winning in their 40s.
CHILDREN’S MIRACLE NETWORK CLASSIC IN ORLANDO
Godich: There was all kinds of drama in Orlando: Robert Garrigus and Roland Thatcher going for their first win and the battle to get into the top 125 on the money list. But I have to admit the Kodak Challenge was kind of intriguing. That all-or-nothing sweepstakes between Troy Merritt, Rickie Fowler and Aaron Baddeley was kind of fun. Anybody else get sucked in?
Herre: Mark, you must be joking.
Gorant: The Kodak Challenge has been the most successful game-inside-the-game promo the Tour has had since the West Coast Swing sponsored its own jackpot. I don’t think anyone pays a lot of attention to the Kodak Challenge during the year, but it seems to make for an interesting story over the last events. Maybe that’s a comment on how drab things are otherwise.
Van Sickle: It’s probably going to get more drab. With Turning Stone walking away from the Tour and apparently being replaced by the Viking Classic, the Fall Series loses another stop next year. It’s the incredible shrinking PGA Tour.
Evans: Sorry, the Kodak Challenge is good for Kodak and the players who make birdies on those holes, but I’m not sure the fans are paying all that much attention. I would be sorry for the game if they did.
Bamberger: Kodak Challenge: another marketing gimmick in a game that, fortunately, is not choking with them, but you got to be vigilant, this time of year especially. Tight money should kill most of these sideshows.
Morfit: I got wrapped up in the Kodak. I think the winner-take-all aspect added even more pressure than a regular playoff. Merritt is a good guy and it was fun to see him and Fowler jabbing at each other as only friends can.
Godich: C’mon. Three guys playing for $1 million, winner-take-all. I think Merritt stopped breathing at one point.
Van Sickle: I agree with Mark. It’s more compelling to see three guys battling for $1 million winner-take-all when they’re guys to whom that kind of money still means something instead of Phil or Tiger or Vijay, who already have way more money than they could ever possibly spend.
Reiterman: Nothing was more compelling than watching Thatcher nearly self-destruct on the back nine then drain that five-footer for his card. On a side note, did anyone else think Levin three-jacked on purpose? I know it’s a stretch, but you have to wonder. That three-putt allowed Thatcher to finish solo second and make enough to keep his card. Thatcher was projected by the Golf Channel to finish outside the top 125 if Levin had two-putted for par.
Morfit: I had the same thought after Levin’s weak first putt, but he was obviously trying to make the second one.
Van Sickle: I like that Garrigus redeemed himself for his hideous finish in Memphis, a mental error compounded by physical errors. [Garrigus blew a three-shot lead on the final hole of the St. Jude Classic and lost to Lee Westwood in a playoff.] That was cool. But Roland Thatcher may be my new favorite player. He blew a four-shot lead but jumped form 179th to 122nd on the money list, kept his card and said something like, “You’ve never seen anyone so happy after basically vomiting away a tournament.” Three cheers for Vomit Man.
Bamberger: You have to credit John Feinstein (I think) with the puking thing: he picked up on players talking about vomiting all over themselves in the ’95 Ryder Cup, and ever since it’s become a colorful part of golfers dissecting their internal lives.
Morfit: There were some other funny post-round quotes, too. Loved that Garrigus said his W was for Tony Kornheiser, who, according to Garrigus, said post-Memphis that we’d never hear from the guy again. If it were that easy to motivate a guy from the press room, I’d say Tiger’s never going to win another tournament.
Van Sickle: That’s hilarious, Cam. Has anyone ever seen Tony Kornheiser at a golf tournament? I mean, ever? I’m not even sure he was at the Open at Congressional in ’97 but I suppose he must have been.
Godich: How do you think Johnson Wagner is feeling after doubling the 16th to drop into a tie for third? Looks like he’s Mr. Irrelevant at No. 126 on the money list.
Herre: Wagner was probably planning on Q-School anyway.
Van Sickle: I’m sure Johnson Wagner (whose name sounds like a law firm I’d trust) is bummed, but on the other hand, he’ll probably still play at least 20 events on Tour next year. It’s the guys outside the top 150 on the money list who lose their conditional exemptions who are truly bummed. Nationwide is now on their side.
Bamberger: If you’re 126 to 150 you still can play a good West Coast schedule, you still can get some club money, you can still get a good caddie — it ain’t that bad.
Shipnuck: Yes, 151 is the number that can kill a career.
MICHELLE WIE WITHDRAWS FROM LORENA OCHOA INVITATIONAL
Godich: It was another victory for a South Korean at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. In-Kyung Kim walked off with the victory, but perhaps the biggest news involved Michelle Wie, who WD’d with a back injury. Cause for concern?
Van Sickle: I hope not. She’s 21, and the off-season is all but upon us. She’s got time to heal while she goes to school. No reason for her to beat balls for a couple of months if she doesn’t want to.
Evans: There is always something with Michelle. It’s hard to say if there is cause for concern until we get a status report. But her handlers have to be a little concerned that she’s had so many injuries at such a young age when she’s not even playing a full schedule.
Herre: Wie has such a violent swing — you can see how it puts stress on the back. She might have to slow things down a bit, which would translate into a loss of yards.
Bamberger: When she was 15, she had one of the smoothest swings in golf, with a beautiful transition that was right out of Ernie Els. It is odd how it changed.
Morfit: The back is golf’s ultimate rally-killer, and having it happen to Wie is not the same for LPGA as if Inbee Park WD’d.
Bamberger: I believe bad short putting is golf’s ultimate rally-killer — the bad back is the golfer’s headache. They all have it to some degree and they all learn to deal with it. Michelle Wie looks so limber and flexible, I’m surprised to hear she has a back issue.
Van Sickle: Bamberger is right on. I played on overseeded bermuda greens today in Florida and the ball was veering all over. Couldn’t buy a putt and not all of those misses were my fault. It was hard to stay interested in playing golf after the first couple of holes when the only way you could make a putt was by accident. It’s like playing greens that have just been aerated — nae putting, nae golf.
Bamberger: Remember Nick Faldo watching a 53-year-old Greg Norman make those perfect strokes at the British Open in 2008? He said, “It’s not fair.”
OLYMPIC DRAMA: JACK AND ANNIKA VS. NORMAN AND OCHOA
Godich: Finally, also out of Mexico came news that Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa were throwing their hats in the ring for the design on the Olympic course in Rio for 2016. Jack and Annika have teamed up too. If you had to pick between the two, who are you taking?
Herre: The last I heard, the property the PGA Tour and the Olympics have their eyes on in Rio is privately held. The Tour intends to build a public course.
Van Sickle: Is it too late to cancel Olympic golf? Still a bad idea but even if it’s not, it’s the wrong format. It should be team play, perhaps like college golf, instead of individual play. The field is too small (60) and filled with way, way too many players not ranked inside the top 200. Other sports have that problem at Olympics — that’s why they run heats. Golf won’t have that. Some kind of qualifying would be a way to save the whole plan. As for designer — is there no third option?
Bamberger: I’d go with Norman and Ochoa. For one thing, the Lorena Ochoa Invitation looks like a perfectly run event on TV and she has to get some of the credit for that. The course, the good galleries, the way she carries herself. I just really enjoyed watching it, and I think she’d throw herself into a Rio golf project in a very big way. As for Norman, he thinks big, outside the box and loves the stage. He’s as outsized as she is modest — I think they’d be a great team. Annika and Jack are peas in a pod.
Evans: Jack and Annika, but I hope neither group gets it. The gig should go Dan Blankenship, an American-born architect and Pete Dye pupil, who has done more projects than anybody in Brazil.
Lipsey: Shark is an ideal Olympic ambassador. Ochoa would be a very qualified partner.
Bamberger: Oh, there will be dozens of options. Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Tom Fazio — who wouldn’t want to build an Olympic golf course?
Van Sickle: I’d go with Crenshaw, Doak, Jim Engh, Ron Forse — there’s a lot of design talent out there. We’ve got enough high-maintenance, slow-play, target-golf courses already. Thanks, Jack.
Herre: Guess the Tour feels it needs star power for marketing purposes, but both choices feel like contrived, made-up alliances of convenience.
Reiterman: Agreed. Who’s next? Tiger Woods and Yani Tseng? Phil Mickelson and Paula Creamer?
Van Sickle: Andy North and Jan Stephenson?
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Jack and Annika, no question. Nicklaus has done more to grow the game internationally than anyone, and Annika’s position in the women’s game is unmatched. We’re not going to pretend this commission is about the quality of the golf course, right?
Van Sickle: Silly us.