PGA Tour Confidential: BMW Championship

PGA Tour Confidential: BMW Championship

"Few people who knew me well expected me to make it to 50."

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.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Greetings, all, from the bureau at an undisclosed location somewhere west of the Hudson.

Tiger Woods won the BMW (Bravo Mr. Woods) by a touchdown and a two-point conversion, thanks largely to a spectacular 62 on Saturday. Can we assume he’s figured something out, or was it just a case of everything working for him on one special day?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger figures out courses better than anybody since Jack Nicklaus. I’m guessing Cog Hill is his second-favorite course in Chicago now, after Medinah. He’ll win there more than he loses, just like St. Andrews, Pebble and Augusta National, before the proofing.

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Tiger was scary-good on Saturday, but I loved the way he played the par-5 9th hole on Sunday — way left off the tee, a low bullet that left him behind a tree, then a wonderful punch that he drew around the tree to about 10 feet. Of course he made the birdie putt. Tough to compete against such brilliance.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Cog Hill is an easy course, and it showed in Tiger’s 19-under score. Tiger could hit the ball all over the place and still make birdies. All to say, this tournament is no indication of how well he will fair in next year’s majors.

Morfit: I’m pretty confused about the state of his game. He seems more like most other golfers now in that he’s streaky-brilliant as opposed to just plain brilliant. It’s just that Tiger’s brilliance, when it comes, surpasses anything the rest of the guys can summon.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Between all these wins at Cog Hill and a pair of PGA Championships at Medinah, the guy should feel more at home in the Windy City than Mayor Daly.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Tiger was great this week, and deserved to win, but why was his 62 treated like the arrival of Haley’s Comet? So far this year on Tour there have been one round of 60, six rounds of 61, and 25 rounds of 62. All those rounds did not generate the level of fawning and predictions of invincibility that Tiger’s did. In fact, it’s kind of shocking that Woods has only three 61s and three 62s in his career. Again, a great day and a great win, but I’m not sure it totally erases what’s happened in the last few weeks.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger showed this week what Rudy Duran, his childhood coach, says Tiger has had since he was about 4 years old. He plays one shot at a time, with no thought to the past or future, and he cherishes every shot as an opportunity to do something really fun and really amazing. Nobody else “brings it” like that to literally every shot he or she plays.

Gorant: Maybe Bubba Watson, but it doesn’t always work out as well for him.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think we talk so much about swing planes and positions at the top that we sometimes forget that golf is still competition. Tiger is still hungrier, mentally tougher and miles ahead of his peers. I still don’t think it’s even close.

Evans: Damon, we care about swing planes and such because that’s all that Tiger cares about. And in the end, his obsession with perfection is going to cost him some majors over the next several years.

Hack: Sure, but there is also something to be said for intangibles and imagination and want-to, and Tiger cares about those things also, even as he tries to own his swing.

Dusek: Tiger doesn’t care about swing planes as much as he cares about winning.

Morfit: What do people make of the fact that order has been restored in the universe? Does having Tiger back in the top spot make the FedEx Cup more compelling or less so? And how do we assess the odds of a guy in the top five, like Zach Johnson, winning at East Lake and taking it all?

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I didn’t need Tiger in the top spot to find it compelling. I think the whole thing’s a hoot! Granted, it’s still gimmicky. But you do get all the top players in big markets for four tournaments in a row. Luckily, we’ve had three different winners so far, and that’s also helped the buzz. I’m even loving the grousing about “fatigue.” Boo-effin’-hoo! Hey, tell that to an NHL player who’s trying to keep his feet moving through the slush on Memorial Day!

Yes, the elimination system has its share of unfairness, in the sense that it progressively discounts regular-season performance — but that’s what playoffs are all about. There are many, many examples from other sports of dominant regular-season teams being unceremoniously ousted in the postseason, and it might happen to Tiger at Atlanta. So if he gets bumped from the lead, he’ll have to settle for … $3 million. If someone like Zach can get hot and win — essentially, gaming the system — more power to him. It would be like a wild-card baseball team winning the Series.

Morfit: Yeah, I liked that the pros were saying they were fatigued. I’m sure they’ll get a lot of sympathy. Maybe, though, we shouldn’t be surprised if Woods goes W-W at the FedEx finish. Even with a bad knee, he’s still in better shape than 99% of the guys out there.

Hack: Having shifted over to the NFL beat, I’m amazed at how many of these tough guys love Tiger. I’m writing an article on Adrian Peterson for Sports Illustrated, and he told me about meeting Tiger for the first time this summer. They spent most of the time talking about how much they bench press.

Dusek: Sorry, but I still don’t feel any buzz surrounding the inappropriately named “playoffs.” I know it’s been written before, but this is a points race, not a playoff. Paul Casey didn’t compete in the first two events and still could have competed at the BMW! In the NFL and baseball, the best teams are given a bye through ONE round as reward for their regular season performance. Then, like everyone else, they face elimination if they lose. That’s a playoff.

Gorant: I disagree. I think this has been the most successful iteration of the playoffs. Lots of top guys jockeying for position. Lots of comeback stories (Garcia, Harrington), some long-shot dark horses (Leishman, Slocum) and guys grinding to keep their season alive and/or to get into the top five. Definitely thought it added something, and Casey’s case only proves that the regular season does mean something. It’s not perfect, and no, it’s not history, but the playoffs definitely added to the golf season this year.

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Bamberger: This FedEx thing, for all its flaws, is working or one reason above all others: Tiger’s playing four straight at the start of football season. The season lives. They’re not majors, they’re not minors, but it’s good golf on TV with players whose swings and tendencies you know, with outcomes you don’t. Finchem is getting what he wants, and we are, too.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: As Dave says, what’s wrong with the points system is evident at the finish. Snedeker had to make a bogey or better on the final hole to advance to East Lake, a fact that he had no way of knowing and that the TV guys were only just able to figure out while he was playing 18. John Senden made it in after Snedeker’s four-putt. You’ll never have drama with a system that is virtually indecipherable to fans, media and players. It should be based on cumulative par for the four weeks, simple as that.

Bamberger: I’m with you, Gary. Simpler is better. That’s why pay-per-view boxing works so well. You knock the guy out, you win. Even I get that. Turn this “playoff” thing into something nasty and it’ll grab people way more, especially in football season.

Van Sickle: The real losers in this FedEx Cup deal are the tournaments who got bumped to the fall schedule and the sponsors who host events post-U.S. Open. Hartford, Canadian Open and Greensboro, for instance, have no chance of getting the top players because they know they have to play six out of eight weeks at the end of the season (four FedEx, the PGA, and one WGC). It’s going to be difficult for those events to survive.

Friedman: You’re right, Vans, it is a zero-sum game. They robbed July and October to pay September.

Evans: The only way they could make it 'nasty' would be to include a match play event in the playoff.

Friedman: But what if Tiger gets knocked out at the Barclays? Justice will have been done, but we’d then have the equivalent of a San Antonio-Detroit NBA Finals, ratings-wise.

Morfit: Since the FedEx Cup is so contrived anyway, it always struck me as odd that the Tour couldn’t come up with a more compelling way to whittle the players down to the final 30. It’s sort of the same situation with the Olympics, where the powers that be put on their thinking caps and came up with the exciting format of … 72-hole stroke play. Huh?

Dusek: The NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB face the possibility of major market teams getting bounced early from the playoffs every year. If the action is good, fans watch.

Friedman: No they don’t — at least not in the numbers the networks and leagues want. Only the Super Bowl is relatively matchup-proof.

Dusek: But that furthers the argument. Those leagues take that risk every season, get burned some years, and still continue with the system.

Van Sickle: Teams have built-in fan bases because they represent cities. Golfers are individuals with no built-in fan support. It’s completely different. If the Sacramento Kings make the NBA finals, a whole city roots them on. Who’s rooting for Jason Dufner (besides me) in the FedEx Cup?

Herre: We all saw how crazy it got on Sunday. It seemed like the NBC guys were updating the standings after every shot, and they still couldn’t keep up. They could go tilt on Tour Championship Sunday.

Van Sickle: The FedEx Cup points race doesn’t work. Period. The concept works only because it coerces the top players to play four more times.

Hack: In the major sports, the playoffs are the best and most important time of the season. In golf, the playoffs are not. The term “playoffs” just doesn’t work. Why not call it the FedEx Four More Chances To See Tiger Woods Dollarpolooza?

Morfit: Is it a done deal that if Chicago gets the 2016 Olympics, Cog Hill will be the course?

Herre: Don’t think so, Cameron. There are many great courses in Chicagoland, and my guess is they’ll be lining up for the Olympics. Tiger, however, gave his blessing to Cog Hill. It will be interesting to see if he has as much pull with the USOC as he does with the Tour.

Dusek: Well, we know it won’t be at Butler National, and it’s tough to imagine Chicago Golf Club volunteering. Medinah is set to host a Ryder Cup soon. As nice as it might be to have the Olympics at Olympia Fields, the pros didn’t love it. Cog Hill might be the best available option.

Herre: The USOC will go with the course that makes the most sense logistically. The pros may not have cared for Olympia Fields (got to love the name), but I liked how easy you could get there by train from the Loop and other parts of the city.

Van Sickle: It’s not a good sign when Johnny Miller talks about the new greens and says “they probably ought to have windmills.” It appears that Cog Hill’s greens have even sillier slopes than they did before. I thought that was one of the big things that was going to be fixed. I’m also not sold on Cog Hill as a future U.S. Open site. Tiger shooting 19 under didn’t help that cause, either.

Morfit: Johnny Miller seemed pretty sold on Marc Leishman, going so far as to say perhaps Adam Scott will voluntarily give up his Presidents Cup spot to Leishman. (Uh, right.) What do we make of this guy? He was the only player who got almost as much praise as Tiger on Sunday.

Van Sickle: Johnny misfires sometimes, and his Adam Scott comment was one example. Adam isn’t going to give up his spot. Sure, now Leishman looks like a legitimate prospect, but the fact is that he’s a rookie on a hot streak. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be hot a month from now. His play was impressive, though.

Friedman: Well, Captain Norman seemed not to have heard Johnny, given that he was shown on CBS with bride Chrissy Evert Lloyd Mill Norman watching Federer vs. Djokovic at the U.S. Open.

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Lipsey: Leishman looks good, and confident, but let’s come back in a couple years on him. Who knows, maybe he’ll have more majors than Sergio by then!

Evans: Leishman? We will not remember him come January.

Morfit: Seems as if everyone’s surprised that Norman picked Scott. This was a way-way-out decision. Scott beat only five of the 20 club pros at the PGA. I’m not even sure Adam Scott would have picked Adam Scott. Would a Ryder Cup captain have made such a pick? In other words, did Norman realize he could get away with it because, relative to the Ryder Cup, no one takes the Presidents Cup seriously?

Lipsey: The Shark’s got pride and smarts. I don’t think he’d do this for friendship. He must have a hunch. He might be crazy, but he likely sees possibility, far fetched as it might be.

Gorant: Is it more egregious than Gary Player picking Trevor Immelman before Immelman had won anything or even played on the PGA Tour?

Morfit: I think it is different from the Immelman case because Scott has plummeted so far so fast and is playing with such an evident lack of confidence. The thing that stood out from the Norman quotes was how much he believes Adam will be a positive influence in the team room, which I read as an indirect swipe at odd man out Rory Sabbatini.

Evans: I like the Shark, but he made a bone-headed decision. I guess he likes Scott’s beautiful swing and Australian heritage more than his output this season as a player.

Dusek: I learned about Norman picking Adam Scott after my plane landed on the West Coast on Tuesday. I was convinced that we’d touched down in Jerry Seinfeld’s Bizarro World. You know, where Adam Scott has actually been competitive this season. If he doesn’t play well, Norman will get grilled, and he’ll deserve it. Sabbatini? J.M. Singh?

Bamberger: Norman is showing off, spectacularly, his contrarian nature. Adam Scott is good company; guys like him. It doesn’t matter how he’s playing — his teammates will pick him up, and he can get lucky, or not, in one day of singles. I think he’s a good pick for clubhouse reasons. And that means a lot in a team event.

Van Sickle: Norman has mentored Scott. He was picking his boy, no question, much the way Nick Faldo picked his mentoree, Ian Poulter, for the Ryder Cup. I’m surprised Adam didn’t tell Norman that he was playing rubbish and didn’t want to be on the team. Still, it’s not as if anyone else on the PGA Tour has stood out. Michael Sim and his three Nationwide Tour wins would’ve been a smart choice, but Norman must’ve figured that Adam Scott playing not near his best was still better than the alternatives. And I have to think Rory Sabbatini’s personality didn’t help his chances.

Herre: No question Scott will be good in the team room. He’s very popular.

Morfit: Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, will make his professional debut this week at the Albertsons Boise Open. (He got a sponsor’s exemption.) What do we make of his chances as a touring pro? Sons and grandsons of successful Tour pros have had mixed results, at best.

Evans: I have no idea, but I know he’ll get to chase the dream for as long as he wants.

Van Sickle: Saunders couldn’t crack Clemson’s lineup and left school early. If you can’t beat the guys at Clemson (a college powerhouse), you’re going to have a tough time beating the pros, who are a lot better. Saunders has gotten a lot of invites (as an amateur) to things that his record suggests he doesn’t deserve. That said, he’ll get every opportunity to prove that he’s got the game to play as a pro. He might just surprise us all.

Ryan Reiterman, producer, And he didn’t even make the match play at the U.S. Amateur. Not the way you want to turn pro.

Bamberger: I remember seeing Gary Nicklaus playing a practice round with Vijay Singh at a Tour event — and spending good chunks of it on his cell phone. How good is young Sam? How bad does he want it? That’s what matters. The golf ball has no idea who his grandfather is.

Dusek: I can tell you that the folks at Callaway were not pleased to learn that after feeding Arnie’s grandson gear for years, he’s not going to be using their stuff. They feel snubbed and said they weren’t even given a chance to make a deal with him.

Morfit: I guess if Zach Johnson can become a star on Tour, Sam Saunders could do it, too. That is assuming No. 3 on the Drake golf team is the equivalent of a No. 6 or 7 at Clemson.

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