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.
WATSON’S WIN, PHIL’S CLOSE CALL, TIGER’S HO-HUM START
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: The Farmers Insurance Open was promoted as the Tiger & Phil Show, but come Sunday the role of Woods was shared by two understudies — long-knocker Bubba Watson and the rookie sensation from Venezuela, Jhonattan “Johnny” Vegas. Watson birdied the last for his second PGA Tour victory, denying runner-up Mickelson his fourth triumph at Torrey Pines. Anybody feel cheated by this result? Or are we learning to love the post-Tiger landscape?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: All in all, I’d say it was a much, much better show this year than it was last year, when Ben Crane won despite muffing a short putt on 17. It came down to power golf, as it does on the South, and Watson birdied all four par 5s, while Mickelson birdied only three of the four. That was the difference. Or that and the fact that Phil’s eagle putt on 13 decided to come back out of the hole.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I loved it! Jhonny Vegas has been a revelation. I just wish he could keep his ball dry a little better. And SIGOLF+ will have a very revealing story on Bubba in this week’s special Equipment Issue.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What more could you want in a golf tourney? Star power, exciting youngsters, a nail-biting finish, plus the enduring psychodrama that is Tiger. This week was a blast from start to finish.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: If this is the future, lay it on me. New faces and old in good weather on a U.S. Open course? It’s all good.
Morfit: Speaking of revelations, the big one for me this week was that Phil really wants it again. He’s really working at it, and feeling well enough to work at it, and it’s paying off much earlier than we’ve seen in recent years. Good for him.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don’t feel cheated at all. Sweet leaderboard, California coastline, HDTV — I couldn’t get enough. What a cast of characters, too. Tiger? He had no magic this week. Not a dollop. Makes you wonder how quickly he can find it for Augusta.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It’s a great example of what golf will do without Tiger and Phil some day. Vegas shows you can create a new star in two weeks or less.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: A star du jour, for sure. A star for the long haul? Looks promising, but only time will tell.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I don’t feel cheated at all. That was fun to watch, right down to Bones’s tending the flag for Phil’s last approach shot. A great mix of names on the leader board. And a lot of quality golf shots.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: Win or lose, watching Mickelson doink that tee shot and then have the flag tended from the fairway was classic Phil. Bubba’s clutch birdie putt and emotional TV interview afterward were pretty good too. About all we could ask for.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Bubba Watson smashed his way around Torrey Pines and then made a terrific up-and-down for his second win. A rookie battled to the very end and almost won in consecutive weeks. And Phil nearly holed out for eagle with Bones tending the pin. Hard to feel cheated about that finish.
Hack: Smashed is definitely the word. How about Bubba’s drive on 13? He jumped out of his spikes to hit that one. And he kept burying those par savers on the back nine. Kinda reminded me of someone else.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Hard-core golf fans had to love it. An entertaining Sunday with three likeable characters at the top, and Bubba’s emotional post-round interview was the perfect capper. Still, with Tiger out of it early, I’m interested to see how the TV ratings turn out.
Godich: Well, it’s not like he was ignored. Even as far back as he was and after the ridiculously long basketball game, CBS saw fit to show him with its third golf shot of the telecast.
Morfit: I went out to watch a bit of Tiger today just in time to see his classic no-handed follow-through after he fanned his tee shot on the par-3 16th hole. I was really surprised he didn’t do better this week.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Cheated? No way! Maybe not the same ratings that Phil/Tiger would have generated, but as a golf geek, I thought it was awesome. I couldn’t help but root for Vegas. He’s just a charming, great guy, and it doesn’t hurt that he has an inspiring story. He is the real deal. Too bad about his shot on No. 18, but it took some guts for him to go for it, which I liked. It’s still hard for me to fathom how Bubba makes his way around the course with that swing and moving the ball so much. But he hit all the shots down the stretch for the big W, so kudos.
Morfit: And while we’re crediting Vegas for going for it on 18, let’s give credit to D.A. Points for having a go with a fairway metal. Nice to see him salvage par and a fifth-place finish despite his splash-down.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: When the golf is this good who cares who wins? Tiger and Phil have raised the level of play on Tour. It may happen this year or in 10 years, but the game will eventually pass them by.
Dusek: There was plenty of great golf to be seen without Mr. Woods around. Bubba and Vegas crushing drives and exchanging birdies on the back nine; Mickelson horseshoeing an eagle-putt, uphill, on the 13th; and Phil asking caddie Jim MacKay to tend the flag on the 18th. It was a really fun weekend.
FORECASTING MICKELSON’S 2011 SEASON
Garrity: Mickelson couldn’t quite produce the finishing kick, but his short game looked sharp, his arthritis didn’t rear its ugly head, and his wife, Amy, walked the course with him. Should I sell my gold and put the proceeds into Mickelson futures?
Godich: Do it. He looked excited to be out there again.
Shipnuck: I agree Phil played great. But he absolutely had to hit the last fairway and missed by 20 yards. Not a good sign.
Morfit: You can add up how much Mickelson missed by on 13 and 14, and it wouldn’t total more than about two inches. That eagle was in the hole, and his approach on 14 was about two inches from being perfect before it bounded backward into the trap.
Bamberger: Phil’s swing looked absolutely great. So rhythmic and in control, without losing the power. I think his play in San Diego tells us that he’s all in for ’11.
Hack: Odds are that Phil’s about to tie Tiger with four green jackets. How many of us had that in our golf pools, circa 2002?
Van Sickle: Whoa, big fella. Way too early to start conceding Phil another green jacket just because he almost won at Torrey Pines.
Hack: Even without his high finish at Torrey, it’s hard not to lean Phil’s way at Augusta. He’s won three out of the last seven Masters. Tiger’s won one out of the last eight.
Wei: Phil said it was a boost to have Amy out there with him again. The moral support is huge, but I’m not willing to put my money on Phil yet. I still find him unpredictable, especially with his health. While it didn’t this week, the arthritis could kick in at any time.
Dusek: Mickelson always seems to look on form during the West Coast Swing. If he’s playing well at Doral and Bay Hill, then it might be time to re-allocate the portfolio, but I’m not ready to shake up my investments just yet.
Morfit: If he can play this well on a course he really hasn’t liked since it was redone in 2001, Mickelson can probably contend at TPC Scottsdale next week, too. I think he’s serious about wanting to atone for what he admits was a milquetoast 2010 (his Masters victory notwithstanding).
WOODS PICKS UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF
Garrity: Let’s move on to the Tiger Woods Reclamation Project, or “The Big Dig,” as I call it after watching Eldrick chunk two greenside bunker shots on Saturday. Did Tiger’s up-and-down play at Torrey Pines suggest that he’s getting close? Or is he still playing swing instead of golf.
Morfit: Well said, JG. He’s still playing swing. I saw him doing a lot of pantomiming out there, which is always a bad sign. Bottom line: Woods no-showed, but Phil bailed out the Farmers and the Tour this time.
Shipnuck: This is a huge step back for TW. He spent seven weeks preparing to play like this?
Wei: It’s a process, Alan!
Shipnuck: Yes, a long, tedious process.
Godich: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: He needs to play more and build a little momentum. His whole game is suffering because he is so focused on mechanics.
Herre: Tiger’s still playing swing. Looks pretty much the same as he did for most of 2010 — spraying drives, not real sharp with the irons, lots of longish par putts. It will be interesting to see how and when he gets out of this rut.
Bamberger: Peter Kostis said something really insightful, which I can paraphrase: there’s a difference between players who want to win and players who need to win. I really don’t know where Tiger is on that question. He didn’t become Tiger Woods by making perfect swings, no matter how good his swing was back in the day.
Godich: You don’t think Tiger wants to win? You don’t think Tiger wants to beat Phil? If that’s the case, then that might be his biggest problem.
Reiterman: Tiger said this week he’s (obviously) working toward Augusta. So it looks like he’s a work in progress for a few more months. Through 27 holes this week, we saw the old Tiger. The rest of the week? That strange character we’ve seen for most of the last 12 months.
Morfit: Phil said something interesting in his press conference: “I’m not making any changes. I’m done making changes. I’m trying to hit shots now.” That is so counter to where Tiger is right now, and maybe it explains the difference between almost winning and being an also-ran.
Lipsey: It seems like Phil says something different every week. That’s Phil. Tiger sticks to his plan. That’s Tiger. Over the long haul, Tiger’s way has proven more effective. We’ll see what the future holds.
Hack: Tiger’s clearly still playing swing. But even when he starts playing golf again — and it’s hard to believe he won’t eventually — he’s going to find a deep and talented roster of competitors in his midst. Tiger looked ordinary this week. He’s looked ordinary for awhile now.
Godich: When he was on the 10th hole on Friday, Golf Channel flashed a graphic that Tiger was one of three players in the field without a bogey on his card. Then he proceeded to bogey 12 of his last 44 holes.
Dusek: After Tiger hit his fifth ball at the range before his pro-am on Wednesday, Shawn Foley filmed his swing and then showed it to him. Six swings later Tiger was looking at more video. I was shocked. Sure, it was practice, but less than 24 hours before the start of Woods’ first round of the season, the camera was out and he and his coach were looking at video. I think that says it all.
Godich: Tiger’s bunker play was atrocious. He just looks lost.
Evans: Tiger is still battling old swing habits. After this week I think he may have taken a step backward in terms of having a tournament-ready golf swing that combines the consistency and power that it takes to win.
Garrity: Our old drinking buddy John Daly put together two fine rounds before falling off the third-round leader board with a flurry of bogies. John played San Diego on a sponsor’s invite, but he probably didn’t ingratiate himself to other tournament directors when he blasted the Bob Hope and Phoenix stops for not giving him a similar pass. Is John’s anger righteous? Or is he just being a jerk?
Bamberger: The game owes him nothing, and you can’t measure what he owes the game. He should learn to grind it out and keep his mouth shut while doing it.
Reiterman: Well said, Michael. And the fact that he refuses to go to Q-school is crazy. He’s relying on people to give him chances instead of going out and earning it.
Godich: That’s John being John. Maybe he was denied because of dress code violations.
Herre: After all these years, the chickens are coming home to roost for Daly. He’s had plenty of chances.
Van Sickle: It’s impossible to have any sympathy — or dare I say respect? — for Daly when he’s done nothing to prove he deserves yet another sponsor’s spot and won’t even make the effort to go to Q-school. He thinks he did the Hope people a big favor by going to those post-round parties all those years? Yeah, like you could’ve kept him away. In the 12-step program, it looks like Daly has never gotten past the denial stage about anything.
Wei: Daly is being a jerk. He got a sponsor’s exemption for two of the first three tournaments and he’s still complaining? I’m sure he’s contributed tons to the Hope and Phoenix in the past, but that was about 15 years ago. He acts like golf owes him something, but where would he be without golf? I’d like to see Daly play Q-school and/or a Monday qualifier.
Hack: Seems like JD is on a scorched-earth policy. I say shoot the scores, write some letters and have some respect.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: The guy leads the Tour* in WDs over the last 10 years or so, and he’s griping about not getting invites? How does anyone know he’s going to stay for the week if they invite him? (*Among those who’ve not had a major medical problem.)
Evans: Big John is a two-time major winner. Give the guy some respect! He’s always been a show and a crowd favorite.
Dusek: I stopped respecting John Daly when he started making excuses and stopped respecting his own talent.
Wei: Lee Janzen is a two-time major winner and grinded it out all six days at Q-school. I respect that.
Dusek: Sponsors exemptions are for up-and-coming players, local guys, previous champs and folks who put asses in seats. These days, Mr. Daly isn’t any of those people. Wanna play a schedule of your own choosing, John? Play better and earn a PGA Tour card instead of relying on the generosity of tournament directors.
Herre: I think Daly’s smart enough to know he’d never make it through Q school. He hasn’t put together four good rounds in forever, much less six.
Bamberger: That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about JD.
Godich: He should go the Monday-qualify route. That would create some buzz for some of the smaller events, and a sponsor might not forget that.
Van Sickle: I wouldn’t give Daly a sponsor’s exemption, but if I absolutely had to, I’d give it to him with a caveat: Play the Monday qualifier and try your hardest. Then if you qualify, I get a sponsor’s exemption back to give to someone else. Show me a little effort.
IS 54 POSSIBLE?
Herre: Another topic that we touch upon in this week’s SIGolf+. I predict a 58 on the PGA Tour this year. Maybe more than one.
Dusek: No. On that one the Swedes are wrong. Now, when it comes to the concept of the smorgasbord …
Wei: Watney is streaky. When he gets hot, he’s unstoppable. I think a 54 is a little much, but with all the equipment and technology advances, who knows? It seems like anything is possible. The magic number (59) is popping up much more than it has in the past. How many will we see this year? I’m guessing at least two.
Reiterman: I think golf’s governing bodies and the superintendants will do everything they can to make sure that a 54 never happens.
Herre: Why? Low scores = more interest.
Evans: You can’t say that it will never happen, but it’s highly unlikely that someone will go that low in a regular tour event.
Shipnuck: Geiberger’s 59 came on a 7,250-yard course. The other four have been on shorter tracks. Guys are 30, 40, 50 yards longer than they were in 1977, but the Tour courses remain the same yardage. I think 58 is definitely in play, and maybe lower if it’s soft.
Van Sickle: Remember, somebody shot 56 last year in the pro-am at the Nationwide Tour’s stop on Ohio State’s Gray Course. OK, it was a pro-am, it was an easy course and it didn’t count for anything. But he shot 56.
Hack: Someday is a long time, JG. I’m going to say yes, 54 will happen.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Fifty-nine had a mental barrier around it. If that’s gone, no reason players can’t go lower, especially with the 350-yard drives we saw from Bubba Watson and others this week.
Lipsey: Fifty-nine still has a big mental barrier. Heck, golf has huge mental barriers at every level around the nines — a high handicapper gunning for 89 feels the same nerves as a Tour player gunning for 59.
LPGA’S MANDATORY CHARITY
Garrity: In LPGA news, Suzann Pettersen announced that she will skip the $1.3 million R.R. Donnelley Founders Cup, a new tournament that diverts its prize money to the LPGA Foundation. Pettersen came off as callous and ungrateful, until you learned that only a half million of that nominal purse is actually going to the Foundation — giving Donnelley, in effect, a massive discount on its sponsorship. Who should we boo? The LPGA stars who refuse to play the event pro bono, or Commissioner Mike Whan for Wal-Marting his product?
Evans: I’ve interviewed Suzann Pettersen, and I think she resents a little that as a world-class golfer she can’t have the same future and entitlements as her male counterparts, who are never asked to do these kinds of thing. I think we should boo a culture that doesn’t support women’s athletics. Ultimately, Whan and Pettersen want something they can’t get — a strong women’s tour.
Van Sickle: All professional athletics are entertainment. The audience doesn’t find women’s golf as entertaining as men’s, just as it doesn’t find men’s golf as entertaining as the NBA, MLB or NFL. It’s not the public’s job to support any sport. It’s that sport’s job to sell itself to the public. If the U.S. can’t support the LPGA and its schedule, that’s the marketplace at work. It’s called capitalism.
Evans: Vans, you’re probably right on this, in terms of what the marketplace calls for, but it’s vitally important to the growth of the game for young girls to have dreams of playing professional golf.
Van Sickle: I agree with you completely. But if the market doesn’t want it, the market doesn’t want it. See Arena Football, the USFL, and the NFL’s league in Europe (whatever it was called) for details. Even the WNBA might not be in business if the NBA wasn’t propping it up.
Wei: I just spoke with Paige Mackenzie, who finished 93rd on the money list last year. She’s in favor of the Founders Cup: “I think what the LPGA is trying to do is unprecedented in modern day professional golf, and it’s a shame that people are taking a charitable event and making it a negative for business strategy instead of a positive of what a group of women are willing to do by donating their time to raise money that will leave this game better than it is today.”
When I mentioned that pro golfers do a lot of charity in their personal time, she replied, “Yes, and we all get appearance fees to do it, and it’s usually only one day. It’s pretty amazing to see 144 golfers getting together to donate a week of time; it should be sending a really positive message.”
Lipsey: It’s just really, really sad that the LPGA has come to this — a tournament with no purse. No real purse, anyway.
Wei: I know the LPGA needs more playing opportunities, but I think it’s kind of minor league to put an event on the official schedule that asks the ladies to play for free.
Godich: Shame on these ladies, who have all kinds of opportunities to play for pay on U.S. soil. Oh, wait …
Herre: Morgan Pressel says she isn’t going to play, either, for the same reasons stated by Pettersen. My guess is that a mini-revolt is underway. Could be that Whan didn’t think this one through. If any of you saw the memo he wrote to the players about the Founders Cup, you can tell he’s getting a lot of negative blowback. He was backtracking like crazy.
Van Sickle: It’s not as if the LPGA creates 70 or 80 millionaires a year like the PGA Tour does. If you don’t finish top 50 on the money list on the LPGA, you’re not exactly in a high tax bracket.
Wei: Pressel raised $502,000 for cancer research in her personal charity event a few weeks ago. That’s more than the $500,000 RR Donnelley has proposed to donate.
Shipnuck: The tourney is going to happen, warts and all. It looks petty to skip it. It looks pathetic to issue a press release, like Pressel, to air your grievances.
Hanger: It’s a noble concept but so far poorly executed and a tough sell for the LPGA, where many do struggle to make a living. They should transfer this idea to the PGA Tour, where the guys could easily afford a charity week.
Lipsey: The LPGA is just in a real tough spot and has been for a while. Every commissioner seems to get hammered for trying novel things to improve business.
Walker: In-Kyung Kim’s donation of her entire winner’s check at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational was the nicest story in pro sports last year, but coerced charity isn’t charity. It was a bad idea that shouldn’t have left the brainstorm stage.
Dusek: If the LPGA Tour itself doesn’t place a high value on its “product,” then how are fans and sponsors supposed to value it?
Bamberger: Pettersen is well within her rights, but she’s not helping the cause.
Hack: Whan’s been pretty savvy for the most part. Looks like he whiffed on this one. Hard to ask the women to play for free when they’ve already shed so many tournaments. The fellas, on the other hand…
Wei: I’d love to see the response if Finchem asked the guys to play a tournament pro bono! Would anyone show up?
Hack: Great question. We can’t even get players to go to Maui anymore!
Herre: Only if they promised extra FedEx Cup points.
Dusek: What if the PGA Tour made Kapalua a pro bono week, with each player’s “prize money” going to the charity of his choice? If a winner from the previous year skipped the event, his charity misses out on the chance to earn some nice coin. It’ll never happen, but it could be a way to get more stars back at Kapalua.
Gorant: Two things. First, the player who donated her purse last year got a ton of good press, and I think Whan was looking to get a little of that action for the LPGA. For them, any buzz is good buzz. Second, I don’t think golf in general gets enough credit for a business model that includes charitable donations for every event. The regular sports fan has no idea that every pro golf event (or most) are attached to a charity, and that those charities make a ton of money off the events in exchange for volunteer services. Anything that helps spread that word, which the Founders would have, is also a net positive.
Walker: Without question, the PGA Tour has made charitable giving a central part of its mission, and it deserves a lot of credit for that. But unless we are willing to give a week’s salary to charity, we should refrain from telling other people what to give.
Lipsey: Everybody believes charity is a good idea. The problem here is that the LPGA, already on shaky financial ground, is offering a tour event with literally no prize money. That’s what irks people about this deal. Not the charity aspect.