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.
IS THIS THE END OF TIGER FOR 2010?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: What is there to say about Tiger Woods? There were at least some positive signs in his last two appearances, but this was a disaster from start to finish. Even though it seems obvious he’ll continue to play, is Tiger basically done for 2010?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Tiger will play the PGA and the Barclays and call it a year. His confidence has to be completely and totally shot after this week, and Whistling Straits and leafy Ridgewood Country Club are not the best places to suddenly find your game. He’ll be back some day, but it’ll be 2011 at the earliest.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I predicted Tiger would win at Firestone, so what do I know, but it looks as if Woods is heading south, and he may not have bottomed out yet. I look for a struggle the rest of the way this season.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I believe Tiger just dropped to No. 119 on the FedEx list. He might not get into the Barclays. Tiger looked as if he’s mentally checked out, maybe for the year. Sergio Garcia said he’s taking two months off after the PGA Championship. I won’t be surprised if Tiger does something similar. In his case, though, I’m predicting that he’ll claim a mysterious and previously unmentioned injury that will preclude him playing in the Ryder Cup and, if he qualifies, maybe even the FedEx Cup. It’s about saving face and re-grouping out of the spotlight. Which he can totally do.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Rare is the golfer who gets to the top, totally loses his game and gets it back. There’s A LOT more roadkill than there are players who’ve rebounded back to the top.
Gorant: True, but Tiger’s been through other droughts, notably when he changed teachers (which he just did), and he’s come back to dominate again. Plus, he certainly has some things going on in his life right now that are not conducive to playing good golf. This is not like Ian Baker Finch losing his swing.
Herre: A swing change is one thing, a life change is another. Plus, Woods never looked this bad when he was tweaking his swing. He looks like a different player, especially on the greens.
Van Sickle: For Tiger to play this bad, it can’t be just physical. It’s mental. Chipping and putting require focus and concentration. He didn’t have either this week.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger can’t putt or chip, and worst of all he can’t hit it close with his scoring clubs. Yesterday I saw him fan an 8-iron from the middle of the fairway. You can only get progressively worse as he did this week when you don’t know how to improve. He’s got to get some help from a swing instructor.
HANK IS GONE. IS STEVIE NEXT?
Gorant: Someone pointed out to me this week that Tiger and his caddie Stevie Williams hardly seem to speak on the course, and at times Stevie would simply tilt the bag toward Tiger and stand back, indicating that Tiger was doing his own distances and club selections. Is this part of the problem?
Morfit: No, I don’t think that’s part of the problem. I think that’s an unspoken realization that the way Tiger’s playing the game, they’re not going to stand around parsing the difference between a 180-yard, hard 8-iron and a 180-yard, baby 7-iron. When you’re playing this bad, and this far behind, the goal is just to hit the ball on the club face and keep it between the trees.
Evans: Tiger has always pulled his own clubs. He knows what he wants to hit. He and Steve have never had the kind of chemistry that Phil and Bones display on the course. It’s not in his nature to talk stuff to death with people. That was the special thing that he had with his dad. Steve is more protector than anything so I wouldn’t put much stock into what you see from them on the course.
Lipsey: Wouldn’t be surprised if Stevie gets axed soon. You can’t fire yourself, so golfers usually fire those around them, notably teachers, agents and caddies, to look for a fresh start.
Van Sickle: You know how it is when things go bad — blame the caddie, the coach (he’s already gone) and anyone else.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think Stevie was just trying to avoid getting whacked by an 8-iron after another slice or pull hook.
WILL TIGER PLAY IN RYDER CUP?
Gorant: You’re Team USA captain Corey Pavin. Tiger doesn’t snap out of it over the next few weeks. Do you take him as a Ryder Cup captain’s pick anyway?
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I wouldn’t take him.
Lipsey: I’d leave that decision up to Tiger. I’d ask him point blank if he thinks he’ll help the team. If he says yes, I’d take him. Tiger would give Pavin the right answer and live up to his word.
Hack: Nope. I tell Tiger to root for the team from home. He’s not playing well enough. Can’t see Tiger enjoying all those player/wife functions, either.
Morfit: It takes a lot more bravery now to pick Tiger than to leave him off the team. That’s never been the case before. I wouldn’t pick him.
Gorant: Tiger said Sunday that if he doesn’t get better he shouldn’t be part of it. He seemed to be setting the stage to bail for exactly that reason, no excuses or explanations given.
Evans: Azinger won the cup without Tiger, and Pavin can do the same, but the fallout from a healthy Tiger sitting back home in the U.S. could overshadow the whole event.
Van Sickle: That’s why Tiger can’t take a pass on the Ryder Cup by simply saying he’s playing poorly. There will be too much fallout and people will read other things into his absence. Hence my previous prediction of a mysterious “injury.” Of course, Tiger may magically scrape together a third fourth-place finish in a major next week and become a logical candidate for a pick. Don’t expect it, but it could happen.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I would love to listen in on the call where the PGA of America explains to NBC why they left a healthy Tiger off the team.
WILL THE AMERICANS BE OVERMATCHED IN THE RYDER CUP?
Gorant: Despite the flailing American superstars, it was not a bad week for Captain Pavin. Six Americans finished in the top seven, including Hunter Mahan and Sean O’Hair. Ryan Palmer is an interesting guy who tends to go very low when he’s on and would be great for match play. Is there hope for the U.S. after all, especially considering Lee Westwood’s injury?
Evans: The U.S. has a great chance of winning the Ryder Cup with a team full of rookies. I worry more about the team that’s expected to win, and the Europeans will carry that weight.
Morfit: The best things that could happen for the U.S. team are as follows: Phil wins the PGA, Boo Weekley finishes tied for second with Scott Verplank and, for the second time in two PGAs at Whistling Straits, Justin Leonard. Then Steve Stricker wins his second Barclays.
Lipsey: Tiger’s absence could motivate the heck out of the U.S. players and make them want to prove there’s golf beyond Tiger. I’d give the U.S. a good chance without Tiger.
Herre: There’s always hope, but I don’t see it. The Euros will be motivated, and the Americans have been in and out all year. Plus it’s a road game.
Van Sickle: Agree with Jim. Americans don’t have a great chance. They have a chance, of course, but every team always does. It’s too early to make a call because we still don’t know who’s on the team and who’s hot and who’s not come late September. But if I was going to wager — and I’m not — I would not plan to bet on the Americans this time around. Unlike last time, when I thought they were a lock.
Hack: Wales is to Europe what Kentucky is to the United States: passionate, rugged soil. This one could get ugly.
HAS HUNTER MAHAN MADE THE LEAP TO ELITE PLAYER?
Gorant: One guy who doesn’t have to worry about a Ryder Cup captain’s pick is Hunter Mahan, who assured himself a spot on the team with his win at Firestone. Once or twice a year this guy looks like he’s ready to step up and become an elite level player — before fading back into the pack. What gives? Is it psychology, consistency, complacency, or that some courses suit him better than others? What do we think of Hunter this week and overall?
Hack: Love the swing, lose the shades.
Van Sickle: Mahan was one of the few contenders on the board going into Sunday who really didn’t have a lot of pressure or expectations on him. He played great, they all struggled. Not unusual for top players to back up on Sunday, it happens all the time. At least one guy stepped up.
Morfit: Mahan seems pretty streaky, which I think is a result of the putter. But it’s pretty big time to win at Firestone. In theory, anyway, if your game can shine around that place you can pretty much win anywhere.
Hack: Hunter’s right where he’s supposed to be. Three wins and a WGC at 28 in the Tiger era is about right. He’s got two wins this year. Everybody isn’t going to win five or six events each year like Tiger used to.
Lipsey: Mahan is an elite-level player. Golf is hard and nobody, save Tiger, plays (used to play?) great every week.
Gorant: Elite is a guy who’s won a number of big events and is a consideration to win every time he tees it up (i.e. Mickelson, Harrington, etc.). No doubt everyone goes through ebbs and flows with their game, but there’s a group of guys who have established themselves at the top of the Tour. Mahan is not yet one of them.
Evans: Before this week, Hunter hadn’t done anything since the Masters. He’s already an elite player, but not yet an every-week elite player.
Van Sickle: Give the man some credit. He made sure to get his Monster energy drink water bottle on camera when he won in Phoenix, and he did it again here while watching the finish on a monitor. Did you think he was really that thirsty? Guy got it done for his sponsor. Well bowled, sir.
Lipsey: Elite-level move there.
DOES MICKELSON WANT NO. 1 RANKING TOO MUCH?
Gorant: Let’s move on to Phil Mickelson. For about two months now, it’s been win and you’re No. 1. Today he only needed a fourth, and after three solid rounds, he blew up. Does Phil have a mental block?
Morfit: Mickelson says he doesn’t think that much about the No. 1 ranking, but of course he does. It’ll be a huge relief if and when he does attain it, just to be able to say he did it, and to get people like us to stop asking him about it.
Evans: Historically, when Phil shoots himself out of a tournament he checks out mentally. I don’t think it’s getting to No. 1 as much as he just didn’t have it on the first tee after starting the day with hopes of pushing the leaders.
Herre: Phil admitted the problem — he’s rusty. Still, he played pretty well for three days. Maybe he puts four together at the Straits.
Van Sickle: Incredible to me that Phil was using the excuse that he was rusty coming in here. Well, it’s the week before a major championship. Whose fault is it that you’re rusty? And why would you let your game get into that position before the year’s final major? I’m not buying the spin.
Morfit: Good point, Gary. I’m not, either. A guy who’s making a major equipment change like the shorter, 44-inch driver has been playing and tinkering, not sitting on the couch or vacationing in Aruba.
Gorant: I agree. He hit 78 percent and 72 percent of the greens on Thursday and Friday. Doesn’t sound too rusty. Those numbers plummeted as Tiger faded and he had a shot at the top spot.
Hack: It wasn’t rust. It was the moment. Phil wasn’t ready. Eventually, the math will push him over the top even if his golf doesn’t.
Morfit: The math would probably have put Westwood over the top before Phil, since Westwood was playing better, but it’ll work to Phil’s advantage that Westy WD’d from the Bridgestone and will miss the PGA Championship.
Herre: Loved Phil’s post-round interview with Kostis. Guy shoots a 78 and he’s still gracious. Classy.
Evans: Tiger also gave a very gracious interview on Sunday.
PGA CHAMPIONSHIP PICKS
Gorant: We know Cameron’s got Loius Oosthuizen, and we’ll assume John Garrity wants Robert Karlsson. Who’s everyone else picking for Whistling Straits this week? I’ll go with Steve Stricker.
Morfit: I’m voting for Katsumasa Miyamoto, the Japanese guy who shot 62 with an orange ball on Saturday. I’d never even heard of him. Of course he backed it up with a 75. We may never hear from him again.
Van Sickle: I like King Louie, as Cameron does, because he’s good in the wind and it’ll probably be breezy (not necessarily windy). Have a hunch about Rickie Fowler, who didn’t finish strong in Akron. Maybe Dustin Johnson.
Herre: I’m going with Padraig Harrington, who seems to be rounding into form — second at recent Irish Open, quiet top 10 at Firestone.
Hack: Stricker to win. Justin Leonard is my dark horse. After the WGC, I feel good about both.
Dusek: Paul Casey. He didn’t get it done at St. Andrews on Sunday, but he’s back to playing the way he did before injuring his ribs last season at Turnberry.
Walker: Rory McIlroy. After King Louie, the best story at St. Andrews was McIlroy finishing T3 after his 80 on Friday.
Lipsey: Edoardo Molinari.
Evans: As I correctly predicted for the British Open, the winner of the PGA will be a guy that nobody knows much about.
Van Sickle: Well, that’s pretty specific.
Gorant: I’m glad you feel vindicated, Farrell, but you’re basically taking the field, which is not exactly going out on a limb. Step up and pick a name.
Hack: As my eighth grade science teacher, Ms. Lazio, used to say, “Commit, people!”
Evans: Bo Van Pelt is the winner of the PGA Championship if he can putt better than he did today inside of 10 feet.