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.
TIGER (MAYBE) AND PHIL IN WALES: CAN THEY LEAD THE TEAM?
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Happy Labor Day, guys. Here in Kansas City we celebrated with burgers, hot dogs and watermelon, but the PGA Tour honored America’s workers the old-fashioned way — by showering $1.35 million on Charley Hoffman for winning a FedEx Cup playoff tournament sponsored by a German mega-bank.
But before we get to that, let’s talk about Tiger and Phil and the Ryder Cup. What are your up-to-the-minute assessments? Do either of these guys look like they’re ready to anchor a Ryder Cup team?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: They both looked better this week, but neither is exactly in top form. Maybe they’re on schedule to peak in early October.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I’m liking what I see out of Tiger more than Phil. Put Tiger with a hot putter (Stricker?), and Pavin might have something. Phil has just been too hot and cold.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Phil looks ready, at times. For some reason he doesn’t seem to be able to concentrate for a full 72 holes. Tiger is still a wait-and-see. If Pavin picks Woods tomorrow, he’s got to hope that Tiger continues to tighten his new swing under pressure over the next two tournaments and is ready by Oct. 1.
Godich: Based on what Pavin has to choose from, I would be absolutely shocked if he doesn’t pick Tiger. Shocked!
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I think we know what we’re going to get from both of them — inconsistency. Now, that might not be a deal-breaker in match play, but you can’t count on either one winning five matches.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: If there was ever a time for Tiger to draw on his will and make himself play at his best, it would be at Celtic Manor. A big-time performance at the Ryder Cup could set up his 2011 season perfectly. Oh yeah, and give the United States a chance to retain the cup.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Has Tiger really earned a pick with his play? If Corey left him off, NBC and the PGA would have a fit, but Pavin would really earn that gutty little Bruin moniker.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger earned his spot with 14 majors and 71 Tour victories.
Hack: Seems like a long time ago.
Morfit: It’s pretty bizarre in a season like this that Woods is not only still a worthy wildcard pick, but he’s also still No. 1 in the World Ranking. It doesn’t say much for the rest of the top 10-20 players. What does the guy have to do, die?
Bamberger: I think Tiger, especially, will relish the opportunity to be the leader he never has been. If he makes the team, and I think he will, I think Tiger will have a monster Cup, in the team room and on the course. All part of the reclamation project.
Herre: Michael, what about all the skunk eyes he’s going to get from the wives?
Bamberger: Too much wife activity already in the Ryder Cup, starting with Mrs. Corey Pavin going at it with Golf Channel reporter Jim Gray. But I’m sure Christine Bamberger would say you’re making a great point.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I’m sure the team dinners with significant others will be VERY awkward moments for everybody. Imagine the wife/girlfriend who gets to sit next to Tiger.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: No way Tiger can be a leader in the team room. It’s not in his nature to give speeches or sound off on a bad day with pep talks. He’ll lead in his own way, with a quiet reserve and good play, hopefully.
Godich: Put him in the first group out every session and let him set the tone.
Bamberger: All Tiger has to do to be a hit in the team room is be one of the boys.
Evans: He doesn’t want to be one of the boys! He never has, not even as a child. All he cares about is kicking ass! That’s what Earl taught him from the beginning.
Bamberger: I’m impressed by your assuredness, Farrell. My opinion is that he’s lonely.
Dusek: Don’t you think, Farrell, that as he gets older, and after all he’s gone through this season, that he might want to change that? Even if just for one week a year?
Godich: I agree with Dave. Now that he’s lost his family, Tiger may have finally realized that there is more to life than golf. Check out the big grins and handshakes with Els and Cabrera as he walked off the green the last two days. There’s nothing that says you can’t be ultra-competitive on the course and show another side off it.
Herre: I’ve often wondered: What makes Earl some sort of oracle? Ever consider that he may have messed up Tiger?
Dusek: I think you could make a strong argument that any parent who encourages his child to become so exceedingly focused on one thing — golf, tennis, spelling bees, etc. — has messed the kid up to some extent. It’s almost part of the sacrifice of being that good at something.
Morfit: The Tiger who came out on Tour and flourished with a me-against-the-world mentality is gone, and he’s not coming back. At least he’s not coming back if Woods knows what’s good for him, which I suspect he does. That old Tiger was great for playing golf, but terrible for the rest of it.
Lipsey: Tiger hardly uses the locker room on Tour, and he’s friends, real friends, with so few. Not to mention his off-course exploits and lucre. How can he really be one of the boys?
Bamberger: Superior acting skills, which he has.
Dusek: You wear the uniform, you encourage your teammates, you inspire them with your play and your sportsmanship. You act like a teammate. That’s being one of the boys, and for a week, Tiger can certainly do that.
Morfit: Tiger can hang with the guys when he wants to. It’s not that hard. Last year the Deutsche Bank had a day when all the players wore their college colors, and Tiger wore his Stanford cap and watched football with the guys in the locker room.
Dusek: Right now, just being one of the boys might be all Tiger wants.
PICKING THE NEXT FEDEX CUP CHAMP?
Garrity: The leader board of the Deutsche Bank Championship had a few working stiffs on display on Labor Day — Jason Day, Tom Gillis and Brandt Snedeker — and last week’s winner, Matt Kuchar, remains the points leader with two events to go. Can a relative no-namer join Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh as FedEx Cup champs? And if so, which of these proletarians do you pick to win the $10 million bonus?
Evans: It’s hard to claim any of these guys for the working man, unless you give a surging Tom Gillis the nod, a journeymen who had a fifth-place finish today. I like Kuchar to win it all come Sunday night of the Tour Championship in Atlanta, but I’m not sure the Tour or FedEX wants that.
Herre: I don’t know why the Tour would object to Kuchar — he’s playing great, could have a big Ryder Cup and is an outstanding representative of the Tour.
Bamberger: I totally agree. When the economy is ragged like it is now, the Matt Kuchars are the ones who keep corporate money in the game. Matt has a knack for making people feel comfortable. That goes a long way in the pro-am game.
Morfit: The Tour would much prefer Kuchar to Hoffman, if we’re talking about who looks “golfier.” We should all hope Hoffman plays lights-out the next two tournaments for that very reason.
Dusek: There is nothing bad anyone can say about Matt Kuchar except that he doesn’t move the needle. That’s not his fault and shouldn’t be any of his concern either.
Bamberger: Well, he is part of the slow-play problem. When he’s playing poorly he’s painfuly slow.
Gorant: He moved the needle as a smiling 18-year old. Maybe if he starts winning he can reclaim his allure among a wider audience?
Dusek: I think a lot of that was people feeling like he was the second-coming of Bobby Jones. Georgia Tech star, U.S. Amateur winner, extremely well spoken and nice-guy-next-door good looks. He’s everything the Tour should want in its players, and I’d love to see Kuchar become a real star on the PGA Tour.
Morfit: I’ll take Jason Day to win the $10 million bonus, despite his mysterious health issues. He’s played very well at Ridgewood and TPC Boston, which are two very different golf courses. I think he’s entered a zone where he’s going to play well every week, and I only see him getting better at closing these things out.
Godich: I’ll take Kuchar. He has been the most consistent all year.
Gorant: I like Day too, but I wouldn’t sleep on Stricker, who’s playing well and lingering near the top of the points list. He’s got a great track record in (it feels strange to type this with a straight face) the playoffs.
Bamberger: I like Kuchar to win the thing; he’s been such a steady-Eddie.
Dusek: This is a numbers game as much as anything else, and Kuchar has lived in the top 10 all season. If he keeps collecting good finishes — and there’s no reason to think he’s going to stop now — he’ll win the $10 million. That would give him about $15 million for the season. What a country!
Hack: The math says it’ll be Kuchar. He’s been an ATM this year.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: The point system is volatile. One of the difficulties of picking a winner at this point is understanding the complexity of the playoff calculations. Kuchar feels like the favorite because of his consistency this year, but Tiger and a host of other guys are just a win away from being in the thick of it.
WHAT ABOUT HOFFMAN, AND THE REST OF THE RYDER CUP CANDIDATES?
Garrity: No love for Hoffman for the FedEx title? The guy shot 62 today, holed an incredible bunker shot on 13, sank putts from every direction … and he’s No. 2 on the points list going into the BMW Championship.
Morfit: I don’t know much about Hoffman except that he closed the range Tuesday and opened it Wednesday at TPC Boston. He also showed up to a tournament for the caddies a few years back, as his caddie’s caddie. Speaks well of him, I think.
Hack: I wonder if Captain Corey is going to show Hoffman any love when he makes his picks tomorrow.
Gorant: Maybe, but the green glove would have to go. Can’t look at that thing during a Ryder Cup.
Godich: Hoffman certainly doesn’t seem to be one who’s going to get rattled. Why not take a flyer on him for the Ryder Cup? After Tiger and maybe Zach Johnson, nobody is exactly jumping off the page.
Herre: Hoffman’s too streaky. But it was nice to see him put together four rounds last week.
Godich: That streaky nature could make him a productive Ryder Cupper as well, though.
Herre: Hoffman would be the ultimate reach for Pavin. If Hoffman is picked, you know Pavin is desperate.
Bamberger: Yes and no. He should pick the players he thinks have the best chance to help the U.S. team win. Azinger wanted hot players. But if your choice is Hoffman (hot) and Tiger (lukewarm), who are you going to pick?
Gorant: Can he trade for Jason Day?
Dusek: If Pavin takes a flyer with one of his picks, I’d rather see Rickie Fowler.
Godich: Would he get a special wardrobe?
Herre: I agree with Double D. Fowler would be a terrific pick. He makes birdies, and even though he’s a rookie, I think he could spark the U.S. team.
Morfit: Agreed. I’d put Fowler on the team and put him out there with his old Walker Cup pal Dustin Johnson and see what happens.
Hack: Fowler and his Twitter pal Bubba would work, too.
Godich: Take them both then. I’d rather see Hoffman and Fowler than, say, Stewart Cink and Lucas Glover. And least they’ve shown something. And Pavin only has to play eight in a session.
Evans: Fowler has time to be a Ryder Cup stalwart. Let him earn his way on the team.
Walker: Four wildcard picks are cause for way too much thinking. If we dumped the wildcards, players 9-12 in Ryder Cup points would be Anthony Kim, Lucas Glover, Zach Johnson and Tiger Woods. Sounds like as good a four as any.
Herre: Except Kim. He would be a liability at this point.
Godich: Agreed. He hasn’t made a cut since coming back from the injury.
Dusek: After the injury, picking A.K. would mean selecting a player purely on hope, not on recent performance.
Morfit: Kim would be a pretty big leap of faith at this point, but in a way every pick is.
Lipsey: If his wrist is OK, his mind could turn him into a point-making machine, like he’s been before in match play events.
Herre: Kim could just as easily pack it in if the going gets tough.
Godich: If nothing else, make him an assistant captain. Then he and Sergio could go toe to toe. Loved Kim’s reply at the Ryder Cup when Sergio was making a really lame argument about taking a drop. Kim said something like, “Do what you have to do,” then proceeded to kick his butt.
Dusek: I was right next to him on the hillside when he said that to Sergio, turned on his heals and walked up to the green where his ball was waiting. He was on a mission that day, and THAT’S the player you want on your team. But I’m not sure he can be that player right now.
Walker: The argument for Kim is that he can be the emotional heart of the team. No matter how well they play, that’s not in Tiger’s or Phil’s personality. When I think of the 2008 team, I remember Kim, Mahan, Boo and Kenny Perry’s dad. That’s the case for picking Fowler too.
EUROPEAN TEAM’S FORM, AND PAVIN’S PICKS
Garrity: Colin Montgomerie, the European Ryder Cup captain, had to like what he saw over the weekend. Two of his boys, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Edoardo Molinari, finished one-two at the European Masters. Should the knowledge that many of the European players are in top form influence U.S. captain Corey Pavin’s four picks?
Evans: Not one bit. Corey should stick to his guns and pick the guys that he wants. European Tour fields aren’t exactly the deepest in the sport.
Gorant: I think it matters more to Monty than to Pavin. Glad for Molinari though, who seemed to justify his selection after catching some backlash for beating out a couple of English blokes.
Dusek: Pavin can’t worry about what Monty has done, or what the European players are doing. He needs to put together the best team possible and try to help them all play their best when they get to Wales.
Morfit: I thought Pavin was going to pick Tiger, Zach, Cink and Leonard, but I’m reconsidering. I think Corey’s got to think out of the box if he’s going to have a shot at this. Tiger’s in, and Johnson is pretty likely in, too. That leaves two pretty wild wildcards, where Captain America could make himself look pretty smart if he gets the right two guys. He may as well be bold in such an underdog position.
FOLEY SPEAKS. WAS TIGER LISTENING?
Garrity: Sean Foley, who is auditioning for the role of Tiger’s swing coach, made waves last week with a Fox Sports interview. He said it would be a “huge mistake” for Tiger to go back to his Butch Harmon swing, dismissed Hank Haney’s coaching as an obvious dead end, and then rejected the notion that his own method is a mere trend, saying, “If I’m the flavor of the month, I’ve been the flavor of the month for 10 years.” Is this what Tiger needs as he rebuilds his game? A coach who’s more arrogant than he is?
Gorant: He’s Canadian, he can’t be arrogant. The word is self-assured, John.
Bamberger: Tiger hated it when his father got mouthy, when Fluff got mouthy, when Butch got himself all over TV. But if Tiger believes in what the guy is teaching, all will be forgiven. Foley’s his own man, and I find it hugely refreshing.
Dusek: Maybe this was Foley’s way of letting Tiger know that he’s not Earl Woods, or Fluff, or Butch. If Tiger wants his help, this is the package he’s buying.
Godich: The biggest factor is that Tiger knows he needs help. If he thinks Foley is the guy, Tiger can live with that.
Lipsey: What they say doesn’t matter; it’s what happens on the lesson tee between player and teacher. My hunch, and it’s just a hunch, is that Foley is outstanding on the tee and is well suited to handle Tiger.
Morfit: Right. It’s about results, and Foley’s gotten them.
Herre: Frankly, I’m surprised that Tiger is buying what Foley is selling. The guy is asking Woods to make swing changes, and I get the feeling Woods is sort of tip-toeing into them, almost as if he’s not totally convinced but feels has to do SOMETHING.
Garrity: The swing guru who should be puffing up his chest is Chris O’Connell, who turned Matt Kuchar into a world-beater in less time than it takes to negotiate a celebrity divorce. I like that O’Connell has Kuchar playing with a one-plane action that dispels all that fussy “is the wrist bowed or not” fog that coaches love. As Kuchar told Johnny Miller today, “I just try to turn as hard as I can and the club squares up.”
ON SENIOR TOUR, COUPLES IS OVERSHADOWED AGAIN
Garrity: Nice story out of Pebble Beach yesterday, with 50-year-old Ted Schulz winning his first Champions Tour event, the First Tee Open, by a stroke over Tom Pernice, Jr. Schulz was one of the “rising stars” I wrote about 20 years ago at an AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, but he didn’t rise much above the horizon, winning only twice on the regular tour and giving up the life a decade ago. So, congrats to Ted. But my question concerns Fred Couples, who was unimpressive down the stretch and missed a very short putt to bogey the last and finish fifth. Freddy looked unbeatable in the spring, but he’s no longer a lock for Player of the Year. What gives?
Morfit: Long season.
Bamberger: Boredom. Back issues. September baseball. College football. You can scream all you want, “Focus, Fred, focus.” But you can’t make him do it. Still — truly, bad putting and all — he’d make a great Ryder Cup teammate. He wouldn’t hurt, and he’d probably help.
Herre: Fred’s probably tired. Carrying the senior tour must be exhausting.
Godich: He’s tired of always getting upstaged by Langer.
Evans: Bernhard Langer is the Champions Tour player of the year. Couples was a flavor of the month. Good and great at times, but he never seems fully engaged long enough to win a lot.
Bamberger: Winning both the U.S. and British Senior Opens? Bernhard is the player of the year, no qualifier needed.
Herre: I agree that Langer is POY on the Champions tour, but Couples is SOY — story of the year. If you think Kuchar can’t move the needle…
Lipsey: Yours truly caddied for Schulz at the 1988 Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club. He was in quasi contention until Sunday. I taught him everything he knows.
Morfit: That explains why we haven’t seen him for 10 years.