Every week of the 2011 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.
WOODS WINS, BUT WHAT'S NEXT?
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago we watched a slumping Tiger Woods lose in a playoff at the Chevron World Challenge to Graeme McDowell. On Sunday we saw Tiger win the Chevron, finishing birdie-birdie to overtake Zach Johnson. What have you seen from Tiger Woods in the last month that makes you think his 2012 will be any different from his uneven 2011?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Frankly, not much. He made a couple of big putts to win on Sunday — and reacted as if he had just won the Masters — which is progress. (It's interesting that he experimented with a new putting grip at the Chevron, holding the putter the same as he grips his other clubs.) But he also hit some loose shots and really struggled to separate himself from Zach Johnson, who has struggled this year.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He's clearly more comfortable with his swing. That's important. A much bigger deal is that he made a few putts when he absolutely had to. There's a belief there again. That's enormous progress.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger looks fit physically, mentally and emotionally. That birdie-birdie finish was vintage, and I don't think it really matters whether it was at the Chevron or Doral. He hit the shots he had to, made the putts he needed, and beat a stud in Zach Johnson.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Beating 17 guys is not a big deal. Playing golf like it's really, really important to you is. I think he'll win in 2012; I'd be shocked if he didn't.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He seems to be shaping a lot of shots, and he is starting to roll the ball better. Plus, most important, he looks healthy, and his frame of mind looks good. I'm ready to buy in.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Winning this event doesn't even warrant an asterisk. It's not even an event. The whole field could play in six threesomes. But Tiger went head-to-head down the stretch and birdied the last two holes to win. Based on his reaction, he clearly thought it was a big deal. Winning the Chevron wasn't huge, but making two putts to win at the end wasn't small.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: His misses seem to be in the correct spots, which gives him better chances to recover. Oh, and that putter is warming up again.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Last year it was Graeme McDowell who was making putts to beat Tiger, but he's started to hole more putts over the past few weeks. Coupled with more consistent iron play, that makes a big difference. Better putting alone would help Tiger to a better 2012, but I think the rest of his game is starting to look sharper, too.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I loved that he finally embraced the big moment today and delivered with the putter when he had to. He looked like the Tiger of old on 17 and 18.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+ I think it was important for Tiger just to get that elusive win. As long as he stays healthy, I'm bullish on him for 2012. He looks relaxed and confident out there, like he's having fun again. Still, this was an 18-man money grab. Wake me when he wins his 15th major.
Shipnuck: It's easy to dismiss the World Challenge as a meaningless exhibition, because that's what it is. But both Tiger and Zach were grinding like their (professional) lives depended on it. So the victory is meaningful to me.
Mick Rouse, SI Golf+ Intern: And it was obviously meaningful to the players. I highly doubt any of these guys showed up this week not wanting to win. Lots of money, some ranking points, and a W against Tiger Woods were at stake.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Winning breeds winning, and if Woods thinks he's a winner, he'll play like one. Watch out.
Dusek: For anyone else, I'd say that winning an 18-man, no-cut event is nice but shouldn't be considered a huge deal. In Tiger's case, I think this is a really big deal.
Rouse: Any win is huge for Tiger right now. It will only build the confidence he has been gaining over the past month. He's not back yet, but he is becoming more and more dangerous.
Reiterman: He's also about to move up 30 spots in the world ranking.
Van Sickle: There should be no world ranking points for this golf outing. That's ridiculous, and a whole other story.
Tell us what you think in the comments area below: Will Tiger win in 2012?
WINNING, SCANDAL AND LEGACY
Walker: If Tiger Woods does return to form and start winning majors again, how will we look back at his scandals and two-year slump? In other words, does winning fix everything or will Tiger always carry the weight of those scandals?
Shipnuck: Winning fixes a lot of things — look at Mike Vick — but the scandal will always be part of Tiger's legacy. If he breaks Jack's record, the scandal assumes less significance. If the scandal and its aftermath pretty much stop Tiger's career, then they will be a bigger part of his story.
Rouse: See Kobe Bryant.
Bamberger: We'll never look at Tiger the same. He's a different person. In some ways, far more interesting.
Godich: You can say that again, Michael. It was starting to get a bit boring.
Hack: The scandal will always be in the bio, but the more he wins, the more likely the scandal falls somewhere after the jump instead of in the opening graphs.
Godich: I don't care how many majors he wins. The scandal will always be in the lead.
Lipsey: For me, Tiger will always have an asterisk by his name, like Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens. Tiger didn't cheat on the course, but he exposed himself as anything but likeable.
Herre: Tiger will remain dead to some people, especially women, but winning will win over most golf fans.
Morfit: His scandal and two-year slump may ultimately be viewed as the thing that made his final act that much sweeter. Or we may look back and realize he frittered away (and was denied, by his left knee) too many major starts in what should have been the prime of his career. Stay tuned.
Van Sickle: Tiger will always be different to some folks. But to most fans, winning cures everything. You saw it at the Chevron, the way many fans were exulting in Tiger's finish. Tiger is the most exciting golfer we've seen in decades. Many of his fans, if they ever left, are or will be back.
Dusek: The scandals won't ever be completely expunged from our memory or the fans' memories, nor should they. However, if Tiger starts to win on a consistent basis (three or four times a year including a couple of majors), we'll look back at his two-year drought as the prelude to one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history.
Lipsey: Greatest comebacks? It wasn't like Tiger was hit by a bus. His comeback is nothing compared to Hogan and others. Woods came back mostly from a bad divorce that he caused and some lingering knee issues.
Bamberger: Well, a comeback not from a Greyhound bus running him over, but from the front-page of the NY Post running him over.
Lipsey: Tiger's been on the front page since he was a kid. No comeback there.
Herre: Get serious. Tiger's a private person. Having his personal life dissected in the tabs and on the gossip sites had to be severely damaging.
Tell us what you think in the comments area below: Does winning fix everything?
MCILROY OR WOODS?
Walker: On the other side of the world, Rory McIlroy came from three strokes back to win the Hong Kong Open and get within striking distance of Luke Donald for the European Tour money list battle. Who is poised for a better season in 2012: Rory or Tiger?
Morfit: I'd go with Tiger. I like his ability to get on a roll and stay on a roll, and I just haven't seen that as much from Rory.
Bamberger: Rory, for sure. He's a better golfer than Tiger now: drives it better, putts it better, pitches it much better. Tiger knows Augusta National better, which is huge there, but anywhere else I'd take Rory.
Van Sickle: Rory hasn't really proved whether he's got what it takes to close out wins again and again. He's starting to prove it, but look at his record the last few years. He has a lot of lost leads and a lot of close calls. A few more wins will turn those close calls into positive stats. Tiger has a long history of winning. He knows how. Does Rory yet? We can't wait to find out.
Dusek: Obviously Tiger is poised to make a bigger impact next season than he did this season, but a year from now we'll be writing that McIlroy will have had a better season in terms of wins. Rory is on the cusp of being a five-to-eight-win, multiple-major-winning player. He's oozing confidence and is going to be a monster in 2012.
Godich: Agreed. I think Rory is set up for a monster year. And there is something to be said for youth.
Herre: Rory. The kid is just coming into his own. He is clearly ascendant. I think we've already seen Tiger's best — and it was arguably the best ever.
Shipnuck: In June you would have said Rory. But he's learning about all the distractions and complications that come with superstardom — it's turbulent! For both guys, it's all about majors. I could see each of them winning one. And if Tiger can win one, he can win more than one.
Lipsey: Woods, one major in 2012. McIlroy, zero majors.
Hack: I'm picking Rory to win the Masters, so Rory has the bigger year. I do think Rory will see a lot of Tiger at the Masters, though. Possibly face to face Sunday. I'd be up for that.
Dusek: It's going to be a long winter waiting for the Masters.
Tell us what you think in the comments area below: Will Rory have more wins than Tiger in 2012?
'SHORT' HITTERS ON TOUR
Walker: Chevron runner-up Zach Johnson was also winless in 2011 coming into the event. He has fallen to 44th on the money list in 2011 from fourth in 2009 despite being eighth in driving accuracy and 11th in strokes gained-putting. Unless you can putt like Luke Donald, is the PGA Tour now no country for short-hitters?
Shipnuck: Great putters will always have a place. They just have to do everything else well, too. Zach hadn't been in contention in a good long while, and winning takes practice. But he'll be fine.
Bamberger: Mark Wilson has shown you don't have to be a bomber to win, but it helps. Now more than ever.
Lipsey: There are no short hitters on the PGA Tour. Zach averaged 278.2 yards off the tee this year. The Tour has only long, longer and crazy long hitters.
Morfit: I'd agree with the Lipper. None of those guys are really short, and I'd say today was ultimately decided by short game and particularly putting, as is so often the case.
Rouse: These guys are so good that all it takes is getting hot at the right time. There's more to winning than just a booming drive.
Godich: Zach knows what works for him and has gotten really good at it. After all, this is the guy who laid up on every par 5 when he won the Masters.
Van Sickle: The PGA Tour is really a country for putters. Good putting doesn't win anymore. You've got to putt great. With the best-ever golf equipment in their hands, it's harder than ever for Tour players to separate themselves from the pack. Ballstriking alone, even the long ball, doesn't do it. That's why there is still room for Mark Wilson and Luke and the modern equivalents of Corey Pavin. If it were all about driving distance, Dustin Johnson and a few others would be dominating. They aren't.
Herre: If you're a shortish hitter and none of the guys on Tour are truly "short" — you have to be almost perfect to keep up with the bashers who simply attack courses and are capable of making bushels of birdies. Nothing new here. They've been playing the big game on Tour for a decade.
Dusek: So many young players kill it off the tee, and courses aren't getting any shorter, so obviously length is important. If you're not long, you'd better be straight and crafty. Zach Johnson and Scott Verplank have to make putts to win, but then again, so do Gary Woodland and Dustin Johnson … which is why the bombers don't win every week.
Wei: Length is always an advantage. Most of the courses (and setups) on Tour favor bombers. It's been like that for a while. Luke Donald deserves even more credit than he's been given for reaching No. 1.
Tell us what you think in the comments area below: Can short-hitters still win a lot on the PGA Tour?
Walker: Geoff Ogilvy and Robert Allenby reportedly almost came to blows over their ill-fated pairing at the Presidents Cup. Is this an isolated incident or are there a lot of personal feuds bubbling beneath the placid surface of professional golf?
Bamberger: I think they've always been there, but tweeting brings everything to the surface and gets everybody involved. Rory Sabbatini has bunches of these things, right?
Shipnuck: Social media is great for beef. Another reason we love it!
Godich: Well, who can ever forget Tiger's staredown of Phil when Lefty almost hit that tee ball out of bounds on the 18th hole when they were alternate-shot partners at the Ryder Cup?
Hack: Ogilvy-Allenby could be the undercard to Singh-Mickelson from spike-gate at the Masters some years back.
Dusek: In a world where everyone has a smart phone with a camera, video camera, and program that can broadcast messages around the world in a flash, any spat that happens is going to get reported. Golf is not immune to this stuff.
Herre: The Ogilvy-Allenby thing sounded like a kerfuffle. Words were spoken, a drink was spilled. Please.
Dusek: Mascots at SEC football games get rougher than this.
Morfit: I would say this is an isolated incident only in that we became aware of it. These guys don't all love one another.
Wei: There are more personal feuds than we think. Golfers aren't better people, despite what Jim Nantz says.
Tell us what you think in the comments area below: Are off-the-course feuds good for the game?
CHEATING ON TOUR
Walker: A poll of 50 PGA Tour caddies in the January issue of Golf Magazine found that 54 percent had witnessed a PGA Tour player cheat at a Tour event. Misdeeds cited included tamping down the rough with a 3-wood and then hitting a 9-iron out, and marking a ball to "make a 23-inch putt into a 21-inch putt." Do you think cheating is a problem on the PGA Tour?
Herre: A lot of players are simply careless when marking their ball. You see it all the time. They casually flip a coin behind the ball, then, when replacing it, pay more attention to lining up the logo or mark on the ball than putting it back in the same exact spot. In effect they are "teeing up" their putts.
Shipnuck: It's not a problem with the best players. Only Gary Player among the legends has ever had to defend himself. If the journeymen are occasionally bending the rules, that's a problem with human nature, not golf.
Dusek: Like Alan said, it's human nature. I can't imagine that guys who are leading Tour events are cheating, but I wouldn't be surprised if a player fudged a rule to help move from a tie for 35th to a tie for 25th, thereby "earning" enough money to stay safely inside the top 125 on the money list.
Bamberger: I'm sure the caddies have it exactly correct. I don't know if there's more or less of it today than there used to be. You'd think, with TV and cell phones, there'd be less, but maybe not. It's serious. The root of golf is that we believe the scores that the players turn in. You get a Tour card, you should get a call from Leonard Thompson or Tom Watson about how to keep score and why it's at the heart of the game.
Van Sickle: The players will police themselves. If anyone is bending the rules too much, they'll get called out. Things like drops from casual water and sprinkler heads may be given too easily, but players treat that like a professional courtesy. It's not a problem. There are too many cameras out there anymore.
Godich: There are dishonest golfers, just like there are dishonest clergymen, politicians, educators, etc. And considering the amount of money at stake, is anybody surprised?
Tell us what you think in the comments area below: Is cheating a problem on the PGA Tour?