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.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: We’ve got a lot on the table this week but nothing bigger than the Deutsche Bank Championship, which had it all — Tiger Woods lighting it up on the undercard Monday with a hole-out from the fairway and a 63, followed by a tight finish. The way things have gone this year, this thing figured to have Jason Dufner’s name all over it.
Sorry, Duff, but Steve Stricker’s birdie-birdie finish won it. Once again, we behold the power of cheese. Stricker is now No. 1 in FedEx Cup race, passing Tiger. Do you care yet about the FedEx Cup? Or should we just enjoy this as a thrilling finish to a tournament?
Tonight we’re joined by a special guest, former Greater Vancouver Open champion Brandel Chamblee, my favorite ghost author and now a star commentator and renaissance man for Golf Channel who also excels at fetching coffee, so I’ve heard.
Brandel Chamblee: Are you relishing this Gary, being a cheese head?
Van Sickle: I don’t believe cheese and relish go together. That’s just my opinion.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Great finishing kick by Stricker, though I was sorry not to get a three-way playoff with Dufner and Verplank. That’s the big three of charisma. No, I still don’t care about the FedEx Cup, but it might determine player of the year. If Strick has two more good weeks and takes the Cup, he’ll have a strong case.
Van Sickle: It would be weird to see Steve Stricker win an award that ISN’T Comeback Player of the Year, wouldn’t it?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Harrington said essentially the same thing, that the POY race is wide open and depends on what happens in the FedEx Cup. But there was a caveat: One of the major winners had to have a huge FedEx Cup to steal it from Tiger. I second that assessment. Stricker didn’t win a major. So far the most likely player on that front is Cabrera.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Maybe Tiger’s being out of the running on Sunday helped out; people were aware that the FedEx Cup was up for grabs and seemed to like it. I overheard more than one spectator comment that this was providing “a real finish” to the golf season. Take that, Glory’s Last Shot! So maybe this FedEx thing is starting to take root.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Two tight finishes — what’s not to like?
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I don’t care about the playoffs, and I don’t think the fans do either, but I do like the fact that the PGA Championship is well in the rearview mirror and we’re still getting meaningful golf played by big-name players.
Van Sickle: Mr. Dusek makes a salient point. Whether it works or not as a race, the FedEx Cup has forced Phil and Tiger and others into playing events at a time of the year when they’re normally done.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: The golf was good, but the Fedex Cup is still just easy money for the best players. It’s kinda like giving Don King a chance to promote Tiger Woods four times a year. Does Stricker winning mean now that he is the favorite going into Augusta? Probably not.
Chamblee: I don’t care what you call the end of the season, playoffs or money grab, it is still bringing out the best golfers in the world and giving us compelling story lines.
Morfit: I had more than one player tell me this week that they had no earthly idea how the points thing works. Mickelson, a rocket-scientist in his spare time, said all he understood was that you move up if you play better. But here’s the amazing thing: If the original goal was to get Tiger and Phil and the other stars to play more tournaments leading up to the Tour Championship, including the Tour Championship, then this thing is a resounding success.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: One other good thing about this weekend: We just learned who the best player without a major is — Mr. Stricker.
Van Sickle: Johnny Miller deftly handled the Stricker issue at 17 when he asked whether Stricker is a closer or a contender. In majors, Stricker has been a contender, not a closer. This time, Stricker answered Johnny by pouring in that crucial birdie putt. Great TV.
Dusek: I’ve moved past the comeback. Stricker has won a few times now since his resurrection and has positioned himself solidly in the top 10. Enough with the comeback. He’s here and deserves to be thought of along with the game’s other elite players with a last name other than “Woods.”
Shipnuck: Stricker is the best player without a major this year, but I still think Sergio’s body of work is stronger as Best Player Never to Have Won a Major. Stricker has rarely been a serious factor in the majors. I don’t think Sergio is off the hook yet.
Van Sickle: Based on how they’re playing, and how they’ve played this year, several players rank ahead of Sergio on the no-major list. That would include Stricker, Kenny Perry, maybe even Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson. For a body of work compared to talent, however, Sergio is still No. 1.
Hack: Stricker’s been hot for a few years now. He was in the final group at Carnoustie and has actually been in the heat in majors quite a bit the last couple of years, especially at the U.S. Open.
Van Sickle: Right — Carnoustie, Oakmont, Sahalee, Olympic Club. I think I’m still forgetting at least one. But he has never been able to make a move on the final nine. At least, not like he has in FedEx Cup events.
Hack: Sergio has taken himself off the hook with his play.
Shipnuck: Nah, Sergio’s still on the hook. One mopey season doesn’t save him. I’ll look forward to continuing the persecution next year.
Dusek: I have to side with Damon on this one. Sergio’s putting has been SO bad that I can’t put him among the game’s elite. Stricker, Casey, and Westwood are better than Garcia right now. Rory McIlroy is better too.
Shipnuck: BPNTHWAM is not about who’s hot this second. It’s an accumulation of heartbreak and despair and near-misses in the majors. I still think Sergio is the guy, though Westwood is making a strong case. Stricker and Casey have to lose a few majors before I’ll give them proper consideration. Rory is exempt until he’s at least 27.
Dusek: I suppose you’re right. If you aren’t legal to drink a beer in the United States, you can’t be the BPNTHWAM.
Shipnuck: The guys who lost were once again more interesting. For the third time in a month Paddy blew it. Cabrera couldn’t close the deal on the 72nd hole. Furyk and O’Hair and Goosen all shrunk from the opportunity.
Van Sickle: It does say something about Goosen and Paddy and the rest. Where have all the closers gone?
Herre: Paddy better be careful — he’s going to get a reputation.
Shipnuck: I think Paddy’s already got a new reputation. Amazing how much opinions have shifted on that guy in one year. Those hooks he hit to lose the lead were one thing. He could’ve redeemed himself — and his whole year — with that final putt, but it never had a chance.
Dusek: It’s a pity that Cabrera doesn’t play more in the U.S. Of course, that would mean Johnny Miller wouldn’t be able to wonder why he hasn’t won a PGA Tour event.
Shipnuck: As the resident Angel expert, I’d say he hasn’t won regular tour events because he doesn’t really care about them. He shows up to make a check. The majors get him focused, and the allure of history keeps him from packing it in after a few bogeys.
Dusek: He certainly doesn’t give off the aura of a guy that cares one way or the other about the U.S. PGA Tour. He plays the world, has his two majors, and doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Life is good.
Hack: I don’t know, I think the winner was more interesting this time. This was Stricker’s third win this season. A few years ago, he couldn’t hit planet Earth. Amazing to see where his game was and where it is now. It’s a remarkable turnaround and he knows it. Hence, the tears every time he wins.
Morfit: Funny moment from Stricker’s press conference: As he was teed up by PGA Tour official Doug Milne, Milne’s voice croaked a bit as if he was having trouble getting the words out. Stricker quipped, “Are you crying? You getting a little emotional, Doug?”
Van Sickle: Little-known fact: Stricker was second (to Tiger) in tour’s scoring average stats this year. That’s an impressive run. He’s not ranked second in the world as a fluke. He’s gone out and earned it.
Morfit: A thought about all the guys who didn’t get it done is that maybe we’d better give the winner credit, because 63-72-65-67 on this golf course is pretty damn good. If the greens weren’t absolutely perfect and relatively flat, there’s no way 17 under is happening here. Steve Stricker, I salute you. Now go win a major already.
Evans: Stricker is the Wayne Levi of this era — good all-around player who will wind up with 12 or 15 wins in his career and be quickly forgotten unless he wins a major or two.
Lipsey: Brandel, do you think Mozart will ever go back to playing Amadeus-like golf, or is this the Tiger we’ll see for the rest of his career? Is 19 majors still a lock?
Chamblee: I think he will get to at least 19. He’s got another 50 or so majors to win 5. Having said that, this is a different Woods. He plays around weaknesses, he makes mistakes and he fights his swing. From the ’99 PGA to the ’02 U.S. Open, he won majors by margins of 15, 8 and 5 shots, and he won 7 of 11 majors he played. Since then, he’s won by bogeying the last two holes, he’s won by narrower margins, and he’s won less often in the majors. I don’t think that we will see him go back to the swing he had in 2000 because he argues that he wins more now, but he does so only in the events that he says matter less to him — regular-season events, where the price for a mistake is not as costly as it is in majors.
Van Sickle: The chic story to write now is whether Tiger’s competition is weak, compared to Jack’s battles with Arnie, Player, Trevino, Miller and Watson. The world rankings might back up that theory — before the Deutsche Bank it was Paul Casey 3, Stricker 4, Kenny Perry 5 and Stenson 6. Not exactly murderer’s row in majors.
Chamblee: Tiger has also lost a lot of his intimidation factor. He no longer blows it by everybody, and when you play from the same place as everybody it is hard to blow the field away. He can’t swing hard anymore because he fears the driver and plays away from it. He makes careless mistakes that keep him within reach and make him look human and make putts much more important because his leads are never as large.
Morfit: It’s interesting that Stricker played his first two rounds with Tiger, and fired a 63 on Friday. It seems like guys are no longer petrified to play with Woods. He’s got some work to do to restore his mystique to the full 11 on the mystique-o-meter.
Shipnuck: Also interesting that even in a magical round, Tiger made two back-nine bogeys, keeping him from posting a really low number and scaring everybody else.
Van Sickle: Tiger is too smart to not get the driver situation straightened out eventually. I look for him to make changes this offseason.
Herre: Gary, What kind of changes? We’ve talked about Hank Haney. Does Tiger need to make an equipment change?
Van Sickle: I don’t know. Could be swing changes, coaching changes, equipment changes. Nothing would surprise me. He can’t be happy with the status quo, and he can’t believe it’s just a matter of the putts not going in. That’s just stuff to feed the media and keep them off his back.
Dusek: I think Tiger makes some equipment changes before he starts his 2010 campaign. He tinkered with driver shafts after the Masters, and I expect Nike will bring more toys for him to try. Either more shaft options, or possibly a new driver head. The added loft worked for a while (14 of 14 fairways Sunday at Memorial), but he needs to get something he can rely on every week.
Van Sickle: I don’t know Tiger’s plans, but if you’re not driving it well, there are two options. Fix the swing or fix the equipment. Maybe he needs to go old school and use a 43.5-inch, steel-shafted driver to start hitting fairways. He can afford to give up a little length.
Morfit: It would be interesting to see what would happen if Tiger adjusted his schedule to play smaller tracks like Colonial and Harbour Town, places he’s always avoided. That 3-wood is so automatic it seems like those might be the type of courses he could dominate on.
Chamblee: In my opinion, it’s not an equipment issue, it’s a swing issue, pure and simple. He wants to swing like Hogan, flat, but his left wrist is flat and his thumbs are not UNDER the shaft like Hogan’s. It’s funny how people try to copy Hogan and just swing flatter. Hogan said the secret was cupping the left wrist, which gets the thumbs under the shaft. Having said all that, if Tiger wants to copy a swing, it should Byron Nelson, who matched Hogan’s control but didn’t have to work nearly as hard.
Dusek: I wish I had control like Hogan and didn’t have to work hard. Hell, I wish I had control.
Van Sickle: Brandel, you’re not still on Hank Haney’s Christmas card list by any chance, are you?
Chamblee: Look, I really like Hank, I do. I just differ with his philosophy as adamantly as I can. I think taller guys should not swing flat. If Tiger’s hands were above his right shoulder at the top of his swing, I think he would be driving longer and straighter.
Hack: It’s interesting, whenever Tiger is asked if he’s a better player now than he was in 2000, he insists he’s better now. 'I’ve got more shots' is his stock answer. He says he knows more about the game, his swing, etc. Do we believe it? Does he even believe it? Maybe the competition is just better? That fitness trailer is awfully busy these days.
Chamblee: He certainly wins more often than he did in 2000, but NOT in majors, and not by as wide of margins in the majors he wins.
Morfit: I do not believe him when he says that. The competition has caught up? Huh? Just look at the margins. At Turnberry, Tom Watson said Tiger’s 15-shot win at Pebble was the most amazing achievement in golf. Period.
Herre: Something is definitely out of whack with Tiger. Last time he was this in and out was 1998, when he was overhauling his swing.
Morfit: I watched him play most of his round Saturday and just didn’t see a 63 coming. He complained about his putting afterward, but he holed medium-to-long ones for amazing par saves on 9, 11 and elsewhere. I think the guy is gassed from playing so much golf, and/or still not 100% with the knee.
Dusek: Maybe he’s not 100% with his knee, but after the comments he made this week about Ernie Els’s work ethic, I assume that Tiger’s on a bike or lifting weights as we type. I was pretty surprised to read that he called Els out for not working hard enough after his knee surgery.
Hack: I read those comments more as, “Everybody knows Ernie isn’t a bust-your-hump-in-the-gym type.” And when you tear up a knee, you have to be a Mr. Olympia, bust-your-hump-in-the-gym type to come back anywhere near as strong as you were before. I think this was Tiger’s way of saying, “This is why it’s taken Ernie years to come back and play well, whereas I came back in less than a year and won five times.”
Dusek: I wasn’t there to hear him say it, but if that was his meaning, he should have chosen his words better. I read it as a cheap shot at Els, who at the time of his knee injury was going through some emotionally challenging times at home. Tiger has the luxury of being a bust-your-hump-in-the-gym guy, but when Els learned that his son Ben had autism, he understandably might not have been as focused.
Morfit: That comment was one of the surprises of the week for me. Tiger just doesn’t say that stuff. My read is that he was trying to remind everyone how hard it is to come back after ACL reconstruction, and that five wins is five wins. I think even he felt awkward about throwing Ernie under the bus to make his point, because he immediately backpedaled about how it’s harder for Els to work out given how much he travels, yada, yada, yada.
Chamblee: Given the emotional duress that Ernie has been under and the complete focus that it takes to play this game at the highest level, I don’t know how Ernie has even managed to play as well as he has.
Van Sickle: Any thoughts on the Presidents Cup wild-card picks? Couples has semi-committed to Glover and Mahan. Will Norman go out on a limb and take Michael Sim and Ryo Ishikawa? (Editors’ Note: The captains made their choices on Tuesday.)
Herre: The team stuff is always fun. Perfect way to wrap up the season. Fred Couples has to make Verplank a captain’s pick.
Morfit: I agree. You don’t necessarily need a young bomber at Harding. But I think ol’ Fred has painted himself in a corner by telegraphing that he was going to pick Glover and Mahan.
Shipnuck: If you want a putting wizard, go with Brian Gay. He’s has everything that Verplank has but owns another gear entirely.
Hack: I can’t put Gay ahead of Verplank. Verplank’s entire career has been about grit, toughness and that putter. No way Gay goes on before Scotty V.
Dusek: Mahan came up huge in the Ryder Cup. Glover won the U.S. Open. Verplank is a veteran with a sweet putter, but at what point does youth demand to be served?
Morfit: The Ryder Cup was almost a year ago. The U.S. Open was in June. I’m not saying those guys won’t come up with the goods at Harding, but momentum and grit count for a lot.
Dusek: Selecting Ishikawa would fit right in with the Golf as a Global Game theme we’ve had since the Olympic announcement and Y.E. Yang’s win at Hazeltine.
Morfit: I think Norman might do something really out of the box, although I’m not sure what. Jason Day? Ishikawa? Sim? Marc Leishman? Norman could justify pretty much any pick he wants.
Van Sickle: Ishikawa would also generate interest in Japan in those TV rights.
Herre: I was surprised when Tiger didn’t go on camera with NBC after his round. Jimmy Roberts had to paraphrase what Tiger had said to what I assume was a hoard of reporters. Any thoughts, Brandel?
Chamblee: Jim, I was surprised too. With Tiger I hear so many wonderful things from his brethern on the Tour about him. Straight up guy. Honest, fun, no airs. But with the media he keeps score. He holds grudges, he wants to control the depth of questions. When things or stories don’t go his way, he shuts people off. He has that power. Too much power, I think.
Herre: Too bad for NBC and its viewers.
Bamberger: Jimmy has worked really hard to develop a relationship with Tiger, one that would be useful all the way around. And it appears Tiger’s not interested. Nobody wins.
Lipsey: Would Jack, Arnie or Gary Player ever have blown off anybody? Don’t think
Van Sickle: Arnie, Jack and Gary only had to face about five writers, and they were good buddies with all of them. Different time.
Dusek: Tomorrow morning, no sports fan is going to remember that Tiger didn’t talk with Jimmy Roberts or other members of the media on camera.
Morfit: The last time any of these guys said anything interesting on camera was two years ago, when Phil said he was going to skip one of the FedEx tournaments because Finchem hadn’t listened to his input. If they said stuff like that every time, I’d care more that Tiger stiffed the viewing audience.
Van Sickle: And when was the last time a TV guy asked Tiger a meaningful question? Because when someone does, it’ll be the last time he asks Tiger any question.
Herre: Of course they don’t say much, although I loved Maltbie’s line when Stricker was tearing up: “Don’t take me with you.” It’s simply the protocol of the thing. TW shoots a great round at what is basically his own tournament yet he doesn’t go on camera. What’s with that?
Bamberger: Feherty does well with Tiger, through the veil of humor, and Maltbie in his own way does, too, I think. But Tiger really doesn’t want us — the press — to get to know him. Not in a meaningful way. And I think he’s the same with his fellow players.
Morfit: I saw him watching college football with the guys, Stricker and Lucas Glover, in the locker room before the second round Saturday. I’d never seen that before.
Lipsey: Think it would be different if Earl were around?
Van Sickle: Earl is the one who taught Tiger the bunker mentality. Plus, Earl would be doing the interviews for Tiger, and loving it.
Bamberger: I don’t know, Gary. Earl was way negative on his son when Tiger failed to show up at that college dinner in Georgia, connected to the Southern Open, in his rookie year.
Van Sickle: That was a dinner in his honor, an award. Not just another TV sound bite grab.
Morfit: Tiger has so much power it would be sort of funny if he decided to really see what it could do on the open road. It would certainly illustrate how ridiculously top-heavy the game has become if he announced that he’s skipping the Tour Championship in favor of a bass fishing expedition, or that he’s just not that into the Presidents Cup anymore, but thanks anyway.
Herre: Tiger could do that, but it would not be good for sales.
Van Sickle: What’s the excitement level at now for the FedEx Cup standings, now that Stricker is ahead of Tiger? I find it hard to get interested when I know the points are going to reset after next week. I mean, why even bother to follow along when they’re going to put everybody on the same lap for the finish?
Morfit: That was what guys were talking about in the media tent. What’s the hubbub about when they’re all going to be reset for the Tour Championship anyway? The whole thing is so contrived as to be laughable, but you can’t argue with the caliber of players who are showing up.
Hack: I’ll give the Tour credit for one thing. They’ve got a bunch of big-name players shooting promos for the FedEx Cup, talking about history and all that. Doesn’t Paddy say in one ad that players will one day be asked how many FedEx Cups they won? I’m not buying that one, but the players (Tiger, Mahan, Weir and more) are saying what the Tour wants to hear. Or at least they did in that TV spot.
Morfit: That TV spot makes me cringe. It tells you everything you need to know about the power of money to get people to say and do almost anything.
Van Sickle: Cringe-worthy and it rings hollow, I agree. FedEx Cup in a nutshell: Attendance, A-plus. Interest, C-minus.
Dusek: Exactly. The soldiers did what they were ordered to do.
Bamberger: But last week at Liberty National, they didn’t. The guys who didn’t like the course weren’t afraid to say so, in the polite terms of our golfing culture.
Van Sickle: I was disappointed by the Golf Channel’s coverage of the senior event at Pebble, the First Tee Classic. (Brandel was in no way involved, by the way.) Jeff Sluman went to the 18th tee with a two-shot lead, pending a birdie putt at the 18th green by Gene Jones, who had a chance cut it to one shot. Billy Ray Brown did a short piece on how scary and dangerous that tee shot is — perfect timing to set up Sluman’s shot. Except we never saw it. Instead, Golf Channel cut to a fluff interview with Tom Watson and his junior partner. By the time we got back to live action, Jones had missed the birdie putt and Sluman had already played his first two shots at 18. I’m not kidding. Golf Channel missed the leader’s — and the tournament’s — two most important shots of the day for an unnecessary interview that could’ve been shown later. It was bad TV and, for me, ruined a tournament that I was looking forward to watching.
Bamberger: Great point, Gary. They are shooting themselves in the foot. They should present the senior tour as an actual athletic competition, which is how the golfers view it, and the public will come around. Winning and losing is where it’s at. News, including sporting news, has a rich history of drawing eyeballs.