PGA Tour Confidential: Buick Open

PGA Tour Confidential: Buick Open

Tiger Woods won his fourth title of the season on Sunday.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I suppose we have to begin at the Buick. There’s nothing in golf more boring than Tiger Woods holding a multi-stroke lead during the final round because we all know there’s no way he’s going to cough it up. Sure enough, he closed out his 69th career victory (!) with clinical precision. And yet Saturday was one of the most entertaining rounds of the year thanks to Tiger’s outrageous scrambling. What did you all make of his performance this week?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I know what you mean, Alan, but still, I was awed by it. We’re seeing something the likes of which we’ve never seen before, this level of domination. I find it mesmerizing.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger will probably win six times this year, but he will not win a major. There is no pressure on him at Buick or the Memorial or the FedEx playoffs. The majors must feel like a bulldozer on his shoulders.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don’t know what was more interesting, watching Tiger or the strange gaggle of golfers from the witness protection program chasing him. You had bigger names at the U.S. Senior Open — Funk, Norman, O’Meara, Sindelar — than you did in Flint. Nobody pushed Tiger all day. It was game over from the time he put on his red shirt Sunday morning.

Shipnuck: Not that he cares, but Tiger is now the Player of the Year front-runner thanks to four victories. But it’s funny how, owing to his own exacting standards, his whole season comes down to one week. Win the PGA and it’s a great year. Don’t win and the whole season was a waste. You have to wonder if he gets any joy from a win like today’s, or is it just part of the pre-PGA checklist?

David Dusek, deputy editor, For the fourth time this season Tiger won two weeks before a major. Sure, his short game looked sharp, but none of his inexperienced pursuers looked like they had any chance to track him down on Sunday. I’ll be very curious to see what we get from Tiger next week at Firestone against a field consisting of 49 of the world’s top 50 players.

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Greg Norman had his Saturday Slam, should we dub Tdub’s wins at Bay Hill, the Memorial, the AT&T and the Buick the Fortnight Slam?

Shipnuck: I think even Tiger was a little bored today, which is why he tried that crazy-ass shot from behind the tree on the par-5 13th. He over-cut it into the water but still saved par, no doubt the most memorable sequence in an otherwise forgettable final day.

Hack: Today was like North Carolina v. McNeese State in the first round of the NCAAs.

Dusek: Except that McNeese State starts that game tied 0-0 and can call time out. No one keeps the pressure on like Tiger.

Bamberger: I don’t agree with the ho-hum, check-it-off-the-list idea. In addition to the checking account, there’s Nicklaus and Snead. He loves that record he has for consecutive cuts. There’s every reason to think getting to 82 career wins is a critical goal, too. Can MJ say he is the greatest basketball player of all time? Not really. Can Ted Williams say he was the greatest hitter of all time? Not really. I think Tiger would love to own every aspect of the record book so there can be no debate (except the one about the quality of his competition).

Hack: Faldo made a great point on the broadcast when he said Tiger will save a lot of trees in the future since golf’s record book will only have two words: Tiger Woods

Dusek: I disagree with Farrell about Tiger at Hazeltine. He’ll win there.

Herre: Tiger still has issues off the tee, but considering the competition, he has to be the favorite at the PGA.

Shipnuck: Depends on the rough. He hit only 11 fairways on the weekend at Warwick Hills. You can get away with it there but probably not in more penal weeds. Firestone is tight and twisty and usually set up pretty tough, so I agree it will be a good test of where Tiger’s game is.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: On the other hand, this kind of loose-on-the-lead win can be a confidence booster, especially with that sizzling second round to get his ship righted.

Hack: Give Tiger credit for one thing. He knew he needed more reps, added the Buick (a place where he’d dominated in the past) and got it done. Can’t imagine what the tournament would have been like without him. Yikes.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Unless Tiger can go from slapping hooks, fades and sky balls off the tee to hitting lasers, he has no chance at Hazeltine. A week at wide-open Bridgestone (the course where he won after banging it off the clubhouse roof) won’t tell us anything. We’ll know how major-ready Tiger and his tee shots are only when he gets to Hazeltine.

Dusek: In that case, we don’t know if ANYONE is major ready. Ogilvy, Casey, Furyk, Singh, Westwood, Garcia … They’ve all been inconsistent this year. And is there any way to guess how Phil Mickelson is going to play over the next two weeks? Tiger will be as ready, or more ready, to win at Hazeltine than anyone else.

Bamberger: All Tiger has to do to win the PGA is shoot a lower score than anybody else. It doesn’t matter where he does it from. How many guys are actually ready to play 72 holes and shoot a lower score? Not a whole lot. As Picasso had his Blue Period, maybe Tiger is in his Seve Period, where he wins from anywhere.

Lipsey: But as we saw in the first three majors, Tiger doesn’t win from “anywhere” in majors. Buick, Memorial, yes, but not majors.

Evans: Those days of Tiger winning from “anywhere” are over. He hits more off-line shots than ever.

Dusek:Statistically, that’s not true. Going into this week Tiger was hitting 63.45% of the fairways. Last season he averaged 57.86% and in 2007 he averaged 59.83%. He’s down in GIR from 71% to 66.5%, but off the tee, he’s better.

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Herre: The stats are misleading. Tiger is relying on his three-wood and baby cut more than ever.

Dusek: If he’s winning with a three-wood or baby cut off the tee, should he care? It’s a scorecard, not a postcard. If no one can post a better number using a driver than Woods can with a fairway wood, he’s still the better player. And yes, stats can be misleading, but some of those misses where likely only a few feet into the rough and gave Woods a good angle to the green. He’s not 2000-2001 great off the tee, but he’s getting better. And Tiger only needs to be “straight enough.” He’ll never be Fred Funk or Jim Furyk or Zach Johnson. But with his short game and putting, he doesn’t need to be.

Herre: I’m gonna miss the Buick Open. The fans were obviously well-lubed, but I thought Sunday’s final round was kind of poignant. Hasn’t Michigan suffered enough? The Tour stop has to go, too?

Shipnuck: Spoken like a guy who never had to sweat it out in Grand Blanc, which I’ve done a few times! Just look at the field this week. The players voted with their feet. Only the locals and Tiger’s accountant will miss this Buick.

Hack: We joke about Tiger being a one-man stimulus package, but it sure looked like he was this week in Flint/Grand Blanc, a part of the country that needed some buzz, dollars and smiles as much as any.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The Buick Open was my first tournament. Drove down with my folks to attend it several times as a kid. Saw my first hole-in-one live, by the great Roger Van Dyke. He was a local club pro. A tourney with a lot of history, but all you had to do was drive around Flint the last few years to realize this isn’t a PGA Tour town anymore. It’s an unfortunate Rust Belt city. If you don’t get in the one Courtyard Marriott, you’ve got serious hotel issues or you’re driving 30 miles from Pontiac. On one level, I’ll miss the event where I saw Arnold Palmer and Tony Lema and Mason Rudolph and Homero Blancas and Tom Weiskopf and the rest. On the other hand, it’s not a tour stop that players like. I wasn’t too keen on covering it in recent years when I’ve gone. So I’ll miss it, I guess, but I won’t miss it.

Shipnuck: Can we please give it up for Catriona Matthew, the 39-yearold Scot who won the Women’s British Open 11 weeks after having her second child? And she did it in style. Friday she went eagle-ace on consecutive holes and during the final round she birdied three in a row in the middle of the back nine to slam the door. Performance of the year, male or female, in my book.

Hack: Catriona bounced back after some squirrelly shots early, too. Well done, and how about Lorena? I’m amazed that she not only went major-less this year but contention-less in the majors.

Shipnuck: Yes, like the PGA Tour, the LPGA is suffering from too much parity. Cristie Kerr is leading the Player of the Year points race, and her claim to fame is coughing up two majors.

Hack: I like one of the UK tab’s headlines on Matthew. Super Mum. That’s quality.

Friedman: Mum’s the Word!

Bamberger: Matthew is a total delight. I love hearing her talk and watching her play, and I love that the women’s British Open is going to real courses. The LPGA has three true majors: the old Dinah, the U.S. Open and the British. The LPGA Championship needs a real home, or a rotation of real courses. When you survive four days at Lytham, you’re the real deal. When you do it between diaper changes, it’s three times more amazing.

Friedman: Matthew was also unflappable from the fescue. This win makes me think that Annika, should she decide to come back after giving birth, might be a force again.

Shipnuck: And it was just announced that future Women’s Open venues will include Carnoustie and the Old Course. Maybe that will lure Annika out of retirement! The other big news out of Lytham was the finalization of the Solheim Cup teams. U.S. Captain Beth Daniel used her two picks on 49-year-old warrior Juli Inkster and, most intriguingly, Michelle Wie, who remains winless at the tender age of 19. Has there ever been any other captain’s pick in any Cup — male or female — who had to face the level of scrutiny that now awaits Wie?

Lipsey: Curtis Strange

Dusek: Darren Clarke in 2006 … for a while at least.

Shipnuck: Maybe Poulter last year. But Clarke, Poulter and Strange were all proven winners, at the very least.

Hack: You could see the Wie pick coming weeks ago. For a tour and an event that need buzz, Wie was a natural pick. She was ranked just high enough and was playing just well enough that it doesn’t look like too much of a reach.

Shipnuck: It’s true that none of the other options were playing great, but if Wie loses a crucial match Daniels can expect to get barbecued.

Bamberger: Inkster has so much Hale Irwin-Curtis Strange-Lee Trevino. She wants to beat you so bad she can taste it. Even at 49, a good pick.

Shipnuck: Oh yeah, I love Inkster, too. She will be a huge influence on an otherwise young team. And she can relate to the likes of Wie because Inkster has daughters about that age!

Herre: I bet Inkster is a playing captain next time around.

Shipnuck: The Ryder Cup has a long history of taking players to another level — see Freddy, circa fall ’91 and spring ’92. Maybe it’s exactly what Wie needs to find her inner closer.

Friedman: Did Wie bump anyone truly deserving?

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: After the British Wie was 13th in the standings and Inkster (who missed the cut) was 16th. Laura Diaz (11th) and Stacy Prammanasudh (12th) were in front of Wie, but just barely, and Wie only had one year to accumulate points. Not two.

Shipnuck: No doubt Wie has been consistently good. The real question is whether she can make a do-or-die putt. After all these years it remains an open question. Hopefully we’ll find out in a few weeks. The final round matchup of Fred Funk and Greg Norman was being billed as David v. Goliath, based on Norman’s distance advantage. But I thought couching Funk as the underdog was ridiculous, given that since 2004 he’s won three PGA tour events, including the Players, and now five times on the Senior circuit, while Norman hasn’t won anything anywhere this millennium. Anyway, Funk shot a stellar closing 65 and won going away, and as usual Norman was shaky on Sunday. Does anybody else wish Funk would get even half the fawning acclaim accorded Norman?

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Bamberger: Plus Funk says hello to us by name! He’s really way underrated, and to his peers that U.S. Senior Open really counts. That is, it’s not just about money. Funk would have to go crazy now, but he could still play his way into the Hall of Fame with more U.S. Senior Opens, which his game is designed for, and a win on the regular Tour. Maybe it’s the ginger ale talking, but I just dig the fact that Funk can give up so many yards, do nothing remarkable, think well and win big.

Herre: Funk in the HOF? That IS the ginger ale talking.

Bamberger: Only if he goes on a tear for the next five years. He has a Players. He has a Senior U.S. Open. If he could win a British, if he could become the oldest winner on Tour, why not?

Friedman: Well, in an ideal world, all us short guys would get the acclaim! But let’s face it, neither Fred nor his game are sexy. His game, though, is brilliantly suited for the Champions tour.

Herre: You know, Funk was the crowd fave at Crooked Stick. He’s really good with the galleries.

Shipnuck: He’s always treated as a kind of jolly mascot. What I’m saying is we need to belatedly recognize how much game he has.

Hack: It’s fashionable to talk about what great shape Norman’s in. Funk is in great shape, too. He works extremely hard. The old golf coach can still get it done.

Bamberger: He could contend in a British Open, a windy one especially.

Van Sickle: Pretty impressive golf for a guy who’s looking at knee replacement in the next three to 18 months and has a torn labrum in his shoulder that could blow out any time and end his season. He got it done and Norman, the superstar with all the tools, didn’t. And, ironically, Fred totally outplayed him on the par 5s.

Friedman: Here’s an interesting factoid: The tape-delayed Senior British was not a Nielsen blockbuster but actually got higher ratings last weekend than the rain-plagued RBS Canadian Open, which had to show last year’s action and consequently was just above test-pattern levels.

Van Sickle: Hard to go wrong with Greg Norman on TV. He still looks good. Plus with Chrissie in tow, he’s a 2-for-1 celeb buy.

Lipsey: Will Norman keep grinding in senior majors? Or is he going to realize he’s got the worst karma of any golfer in history and hang up the spikes?

Van Sickle: Don’t look for Greg to play a full-time sked or even a half sked in senior golf. He’s not going to help Tim Finchem’s little senior circuit. He’ll play a few majors, maybe one or two others that he might have a sponsor affiliation with, and that’s it. These near misses and disappointments are not whetting his appetite to play more golf. Also, he’s really liking tennis these days.

Hack: Greg can put on the straw hat like old times, but he’s a part-time golfer competing against guys who are grinding like mad. I wonder if these close calls will make him want to play (and practice) more or less.

Friedman: I think he loves being out there again and, more importantly, Chrissie loves him being out there again.

Van Sickle: Only other senior event Norman will play this year (as of now) is the Jeld-Wen Tradition, which is the fourth (of five) majors, and it starts two weeks from Thursday. Maybe the senior tour should turn its five majors into a FedEx Cup-like playoff system and just play them five weeks in a row, since they’re not far from doing that right now.

Friedman: That might outrate the FedEx Cup!

Shipnuck: We would be remiss if we concluded without discussing John Daly’s latest trainwreck, a sporty 51 on the back nine on Friday en route to an 88. His swing coach/apologist Rick Smith blamed it on Daly’s dieting, which, according to Smith, has left his client in a 'toxic' state. Is there anything left to say about Long John that Waylon Jennings hasn’t already said?

Evans: John Daly needs a good dietician. The guy wants to lose weight and doesn’t understand how to keep it off. Let’s not beat him up for having a problem that many Americans have. Big John is more Johnny Cash than Waylon Jennings: Long suffering and richly talented with a good heart.

Friedman: If the “toxic” explanation is true, I have some sympathy. Adds to the Everyman image. But if it’s true, clearly he needs to get things checked by a doctor.

Shipnuck: He did shoot a semi-respectable 37 on the front. Was he not toxic then? Daly has a long history of quitting, and he sure didn’t seem to be grinding on his final nine holes.

Hack: A 51? I beat him by five shots at Montauk Downs, which I contend is tougher than Warwick Hills.

Herre: Daly’s not a kid anymore. What he’s doing — consuming only 600 calories a day, not sleeping, losing 80 pounds way too fast — is not only unhealthy, it’s very dangerous. He could keel over of a heart attack or a stroke.

Van Sickle: What are you trying to say, that Daly’s not making the smart move? That’s his life story. He needs a responsible authority figure that he’ll listen to, something that he’s never had.

Lipsey: Golf Channel has to be bumming that JD tanked again the week they announced his new reality show. That show could be done before taping begins.

Shipnuck: Actually, this only makes the reality show more morbidly interesting. Maybe the whole thing was a stunt orchestrated by Golf Channel P.R. minions. I wouldn’t put it past them.

Bamberger: Maybe he’s more of an attention freak than we allow for. Fifty-one! In those pants! Everybody was watching.

Van Sickle: Among the things JD doesn’t need to be doing right now is another reality show.

Herre: Although Daly said something to the effect that he was trying as hard as he could, the Golf Channel guys weren’t buying it. They were killing him on TV.

Friedman: Agree his problems make the reality show more of a draw. Just like all the other problem celebs: Danny Bonaduce, Celebrity Rehab, etc. If this is well produced, you won’t be able to look away.

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