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.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome back, all. Photographers may have finally shot Tiger Woods last week, bundled up in a hoodie at the rehab clinic in Mississippi. How bad did those photos hurt Tiger’s failing image? We still aren’t near the end of this saga, are we?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: They actually stirred a little sympathy in me. Tiger has always been so regal in the way he’s carried himself. The person in those photos seemed meek and defeated.
[Have a question for Alan? Leave it here and he may answer you in this week’s mailbag.]
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: If Tiger and his team had dreamed up a worst-possible scenario for most every step of this mess, it wouldn’t have been as bad as what’s unfolded. If Tiger had issued a one-sentence “I’m going into rehab” statement, the rehab would’ve ended up as a non-event. Instead, the hoodie images get beamed around the world. As Farrell said way back, it’s not the transgression that kills you, it’s the cover up.
Shipnuck: Rick is correct is that this obsession with secrecy keeps hurting Tiger. He’s always been a control freak and this story became uncontrollable a long time ago.
Van Sickle: Heads should roll at IMG, which continues to show that it has little interest in or understanding of the world’s media. In their defense, the best spin doctor in the world couldn’t diffuse this mess. It would be like trying to hold back Lake Michigan with a spork.
Lipsey: I disagree. A terrific adviser could have steered the TW ship differently and this whole thing would’ve been over, or on the relative backburner.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think Tiger’s “strategy” of saying nothing will prove to be brilliant for him. He’s rejecting all convention. In his silence he is saying what we’ve long suspected: I’m not doing any of this for you. Now it’s confirmed. His attitude has always been take no prisoners. When he comes back, I’m guessing we’ll see even more of that.
Van Sickle: Bambi is right on. I don’t expect Tiger — or Phil, for that matter — to talk at length about Tiger’s issues. When he finally returns, Tiger will say he had a problem, he got treatment for it and, hey, I’ll answer a few golf questions now before I leave. That’ll be it. No Oprah tell-all, ever.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: There’s a theory that people become more likable when they’re flawed. I’m not sure if that’s going to hold true for Tiger. Not the way things are going, anyway. We’ll see what happens after he gets out of this program that he’s allegedly in, and addresses the public again in a meaningful way. (No more robo-“statements” from his Web site.) He’s gotta come clean, like Kobe, with some human emotion that we know he isn’t faking. There is absolutely no other way.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Earl taught Tiger that the way to beat your naysayers was to kick ass on the golf course. He has never been chummy — he doesn’t even go in the locker room — so why should he start now? As I’ve said before, Tiger doesn’t owe us any explanation for his actions.
Morfit: He’s gotten chummier in the last few years. I was surprised to see him hanging out with Stricker and the boys in the locker room at the Deutsche Bank, watching football before his round. It was almost like he knew he’d marooned himself on an island, and he was trying to figure out if he could get back to civilization.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He would win a lot of fans back by spilling his guts. The longer he’s quiet, the worse he looks. That makes me believe that he’s calling all the shots on this one. Surely, someone he trusts has told him how bad he’s looking in all of this.
Bamberger: I am so much more interested in watching Phil play Torrey than I am in whatever Tiger may or may not be doing in Hattiesburg. The new season begins this week.
Shipnuck: Amen, Bamby!
Gorant: I’m with Michael. More than anything I’m over attempting to play crisis-management expert.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Yes, couldn’t agree more. Golf Channel says Phil has been tinkering and has a 6-degree driver in his bag. The guy is always looking for an edge.
Evans: If Tiger is in Mississippi, I hope he gets the help he needs. But I think we have to move on with the season. Phil has a chance now to be the main attraction.
Shipnuck: It will be fascinating to see how Phil, who’s both media savvy and occasionally prone to controversy, handles all the Tiger questions this week.
Gorant: He won’t say anything, but Amy and the kids will run onto the 18th green after every round.
Herre: I bet Phil will be circumspect when asked about TW. No upside to expounding on the subject.
Shipnuck: He knows that, but everyone else has weighed in, and now it’s Phil’s turn.
Bamberger: Phil will show his humanity, I would guess, when discussing Tiger. It’s the main reason people love him. And don’t love Tiger.
Van Sickle: Seems like golf, Golf Channel and maybe the whole industry need Phil to play well this week. Between Tiger and the NFL playoffs and the lackluster Bob Hope field, I’m not sure the public has noticed the PGA Tour season has begun. Phil being Phil could help with that.
Herre: The Hope has been a snooze, that’s for sure. For non-majors, a Monday finish is deadly. You gotta give ’em props, though, for getting in all five rounds. The forecast looks pretty good for this week.
Van Sickle: Sunday’s finish was a nightmare for Golf Channel, with leaders spread over four courses and interspersed with amateurs who are a few notches down on the celebrity pole. The Clambake it ain’t.
Bamberger: The best thing was watching Mrs. Bubba putt. What a beautiful stroke.
Evans: Tiger makes Phil important in the game. Nobody really cared about Frazier until he fought Ali.
Gorant: That’s a vast overstatement. Phil has his own set of fans and followers, and they would be the same with or without Tiger.
Evans: We can’t know what Phil’s career would have been like if Tiger had not emerged, but we do know that he would not have been as wealthy and well-known to non-golfers.
Van Sickle: Another sweeping statement. Phil could’ve become the beloved, hard-charging Arnold Palmer of the 1990s and maybe become the next King. Who knows what the Tour marketing types could’ve done with that? Maybe not as big as Tiger, but who knows? Maybe Phil would have 14 majors right now and he would be as big.
Evans: Vans I like your optimism about the Tour without Tiger. You’ll need it 15 years from now.
Lipsey: Phil seems like he was always going to be more Greg Norman (hexed in majors) than Nicklaus or Woods (winning piles of majors).
Van Sickle: Tiger made Phil more important, but Phil was already important before Tiger showed up. Phil was looking like The Man before Tiger overshadowed him.
Evans: Phil was important to golf, which is different from being important to the stability of the whole industry. It’s a different kind of importance.
Van Sickle: Regardless, it sounds like Phil realizes what an opportunity this is. He’s been working harder than ever to get ready for this season. Maybe that’s a function of recovering his putting stroke last fall — there’s nothing more invigorating or exciting than that. Maybe it’s a function of seeing a weakness in Tiger or a need in golf. Either way, this year could be a big win-win for Phil, a year where he could cement his legacy with a couple of major wins.
Morfit: On that note, I’d love for Phil to win six or seven times, including two majors. It’s possible; it’s just a question of whether he’s invested enough to put in the work. It’s his time, no doubt about it, and I think even he knows that.
Gorant: Not to digress, but did you see Don Henley? That guy has discovered the fountain of youth, or the best plastic surgeon in LA. He looks like he’s 40.
Van Sickle: Henley had a good moment on network TV at a past Hope. Jimmy Rogers interviewed him on a tee box and asked why he never wrote any songs about golf. “Because they’d suck,” Henley said. And a bunch of hack musicians have proven that over the year. (Not counting Jake Trout and the Flounders, who were semi-hilarious.)
Herre: Henley’s right. And there hasn’t been a good golf movie, either. Many great books, however.
Gorant: Call me crazy, but I still enjoy an occasional viewing of Tin Cup. Suspension of disbelief a given.
Herre: Are you sure it’s not just Rene Russo’s golf attire?
Lipsey: Caddyshack wasn’t good?
Herre: Silly, yes.
Van Sickle: It was a peach, hon.
Van Sickle: What is it about golf that nobody can make it look authentic? Like the golf episode of CSI the other night, which I dissected in The Daily Flogging? At least Tin Cup had a semi-surprise ending in that Costner didn’t win the Open.
Van Sickle: Anyone interested in which non-winner may finally score at the Hope on Monday? On Sunday’s final hole, Bubba Watson showed why he hasn’t won when he gaffed a wedge into a greenside lake. Also up there is Alex Prugh and Tim Clark. Or have football and a Monday finish drowned out the Hope?
Lipsey: Scary to think, but Confidential could get higher ratings on Monday than the Hope finish.
Morfit: Tim Clark’s gotta have a win in him. It’s just gotta be in there.
Herre: I wouldn’t bet against Clark. Nice player who’s always in control of his ball and, despite the long putter, can get it going on the greens.
Van Sickle: I like Clark. He’s deadly with a wedge, and these are wedge courses.
Godich: Watson had a real chance to put some distance between himself and the field. Missed a short birdie putt on 17, then doubled 18. He could’ve been up four. Now he’s tied.
Van Sickle: Even the announcers have pointed out how odd Watson’s swing is, how he never gets off his left side. That may explain his inability thus far to close the deal.
Van Sickle: Let’s move on to the only real tournament of the week — the Abu Dhabi Championship. A good finish. Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer were tied going to the par-5 18th, one shot ahead of Rory McIlroy. Poulter and McIlroy had to lay up and hit mediocre-at-best wedge shots to make pars. Kaymer, the stoic young German, pounded it on in two and two-putted for the win. Now Kaymer is going to be No. 6 in the world rankings. This trio looks like a pretty good foundation for the European Ryder Cup team, too. How far are all three of these guys going to go?
Godich: I think Kaymer may have won the tournament when he made that par putt on 17. It was a good 10 to 12 feet. Poured it right in, then piped the drive on 18 while the other two missed.
Gorant: Kaymer is impressive. Showed a stat during the telecast today that he’s won more on that tour by his age (he just turned 25) than Olazabal, Garcia, Casey, Monty did. Very solid.
Bamberger: That Kaymer stroke is absolutely beautiful — in the same class as Mrs. Bubba’s. It reminds me of what Faldo said about Norman’s perfect stroke at Birkdale: it’s not fair.
Van Sickle: You’ve got to like the way Kaymer finished it, but not the way Poulter and McIlroy seemed to get a little weak-kneed. Kaymer has five wins in just over two years. Maybe he got his feet under him in the majors when he finally had a good showing in one, placing sixth at the 2009 PGA. He’s definitely a player to watch — behind Phil, for the moment.
Evans: If Kaymer decides to play in the states, he could be a top money winner. Poulter can win any week he plays, and McIlroy is the next European star. Yet I don’t think the three of them together will make the European side dominate. There are just too many good players to single them out.
Lipsey: The Euro tour definitely has great mojo, buzz and personalities, and just a few years ago it was on the brink.
Herre: That’s because the Euros’ Mideast swing is getting stronger every year, sucking the life out of the Hawaii events and the Hope.
Godich: Good point. Why do you think young guys like Kim and Villegas are sneaking over there?
Herre: Appearance fees, big purses, Road to Dubai points. Also, being on a first-name basis with the sheik is probably a good career move.
Van Sickle: Appearance money. It’s pay for play, simple as that.
Godich: And if you’re looking to sharpen your game, would you rather play 5-hour-plus rounds with four amateurs or get guaranteed money while playing against some of Europe’s best?
Lipsey: As Els has learned the hard way, though, pay-for-play almost always kills you in the W column, especially in majors.
Gorant: There was a lot said this week about limiting releases for Tour players so they can’t abandon ship to chase cash in Europe while U.S.-based events stall. I can’t see how they can stop these guys, though. They can’t play every PGA Tour event.
Morfit: Embarrassing, though, that a guy like Anthony Kim — La Quinta High alum, Madison Club member — would fly halfway around the world to play in Abu Dhabi when he could have just stayed home and played in his hometown tournament. The Hope really needs a miracle.
Lipsey: I think it’s a good idea to limit the releases. If you want to be a member of the PGA Tour and benefit from its pension plan, etc., then you should play most of your golf in the states.
Van Sickle: We still need a FedEx Cup eligibility rule requiring players to tee it up in, say, three events from a list of 10 (that rotates every year). Maybe then some players will show up in new places. If you don’t fulfill it, you could still play in the FedEx Cup but wouldn’t be eligible for the $10 million — or any of the bonus pool money.
Bamberger: I beg to differ about the only real tournament — what about Fred Couples and Tom Watson battling in the final round of the senior event?
Godich: I like Couples, but I have a problem with a tournament that gives a sponsor’s exemption to a winners-only event. Is the Champions Tour that hard up?
Herre: Yes, the Champions Tour is that hard up. Everyone is hoping that Couples can get fans excited, but it remains to be seen how often he will play. Maybe more than was originally thought now that he’s single again.
Van Sickle: In light of senior golfer Jim Thorpe getting a prison term and $2 million fine, is anybody besides me going to be extra careful on their income taxes this year?
Bamberger: Years and years ago, Jim Thorpe bought a house from a friend of mine, for his mother, in Buffalo. He came to the closing with a suitcase filled with cash. I’ve always loved the man’s style, but he clearly went way too far. Just like Jerry Koosman, who claimed he didn’t have to pay any taxes because of his job. He decided that federal tax law didn’t apply to him. Lefty pitcher, don’t ya know.
Lipsey: A jailhouse interview with Thorpe would be fascinating. He’s always been a great quote
Gorant: The frightening part is, that penalty didn’t even include his practice round winnings.