PGA Tour Confidential: Farmers Insurance Open

PGA Tour Confidential: Farmers Insurance Open

The Farmers Insurance Open was Ben Crane's third PGA Tour victory.
Robert Beck/SI

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.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It was a weird and wonderful tournament, and I found myself not missing ETW at all. I know cranes that are faster than Ben Crane, but he’s not as slow as he was and he comes off like a good guy. I don’t know him. Anybody who does, tell us something interesting about him. Anybody who doesn’t, tell us your favorite whacky moment this week. Feherty’s explanation about how two fingers means a 2-iron except when it means a 7-iron? I liked that. (I thought it was 2 fingers upside down for a 7-iron.)

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Rookie mistake by either Feherty or Sim’s caddie. Sounded like the CBS guys were having a good time — they must have been happy to be back at work.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: The whole field was slow Sunday. The final group got around in 5 1/2 hours, and Crane joked in his press conference, “Did anyone notice that I was in a group waiting?” Cracked everyone up. Then he launched into a spot-on impression of his good-old-boy agent, complete with Southern accent. It was comedy hour at the Chuckle Shack.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Is Crane golf’s most underrated player? He’s on a very short list. It wasn’t a pretty win, but I think he’ll build on it. He’d be a great Ryder Cupper, driving the Euros crazy with his slow play and spirit-crushing par saves.

(Alan Shipnuck answers readers’ questions every Friday in his weekly mailbag. Ask a question here.)

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Best line I heard was Feherty’s saying that Sim, with a chance to tie, laid up three times on 18. Speaking of which, what’s up with these guys laying up on par-5s? Last week it was Bubba Watson at the 14th. This week it’s Sim. I wouldn’t be so pissed if both of those guys weren’t on my rotisserie team.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: What does Sim have to lose there? He’s a rookie, can’t do worse than top 5, hits it a mile. Just go for it, dude.

Morfit: I was out there and I thought Sim could have gone for it for sure. I didn’t like the conservative play. “I had 224 meters to the front, and for me that’s really stretching a 3-wood,” he said. But then later, he admitted, “I think I could have got there, but it had to be all of it.” So hit all of it, then.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: These guys want to win, but they also want to ensure that they make a good check. Chip-Becking is not unpopular or unwise when hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line every week for a top-5 finish.

Godich: It’s too early in the year to be worrying about that. The kid can hit it in the water and still make par. Plus, the way Crane was struggling, Sim might very well have won it outright with a birdie there.

Herre: Whatever happened to, You play to win the game?

Evans: A man’s got bills to pay.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: All these kids with these perfect swings … give me Ray Floyd and Lee Buck Trevino and I’ll take my chances.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: These new guys are playing to establish themselves on Tour. It’s not about the money; it’s about the ranking that comes with the money. Fowler, for instance, made a key birdie on 18 to clinch a top 10, which guarantees him a spot this week and gets him up the money list before the crucial reshuffle. If I’m Sim and I’m exempt for a couple of years, I definitely go for it. But there’s a lot at stake, more than just one win. It’s about staying on the big tour with the big money and the big perks.

Godich: Don’t buy it. The guy was shooting at pins all day. Then he gets to the 18th with a chance to at least force a playoff and he backs off?

Van Sickle: I agree with you, despite what I said. It was a curious choice. Maybe he was having swing issues at the finish and lost confidence that he could pull off the shot. Would love to ask him what he was thinking.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Coming off the 2009 season that Sim had on the Nationwide Tour, I’ll give him a pass for NOT going for it on 18. He clearly knows how to win. Would anyone be surprised if he won this season?

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Winning on Tour is so different, even if it’s all a head game. It’s shocking that a long-hitting pro in the middle of the fairway on a cinch par five would lay up when he needed birdie to tie.

Shipnuck: Laying up on a par 5 in crunch time is an okay play — it won Zach Johnson a green jacket — but you damn well better make birdie. Take an untidy par and it hurts more than just your chances of winning; your manhood also gets called into question.

Gorant: By the way, seven Americans 30 or younger finished in the top 15 at Torrey. Eleven in the top 30.

Van Sickle: A bunch of young players off to good starts — Leishman, Prugh, Fowler, Imada and others. Good to see.

Godich: Looks like Snedeker is healthy again too.

Morfit: Alex Prugh is probably the best player almost no one is talking about, but after his near-miss at the Hope and 66 today (T5) maybe that’ll change. Troy Merritt had another good tournament, just missed a top 10 by a stroke. Fowler beat him by two. And somehow Nick Watney snuck in there with a top 10. Didn’t see the guy all week.

Lipsey: All the top foreign players, at least the Euros, were in the Middle East, which had another super strong field on the Euro tour.

Gorant: John Garrity’s favorite Swede, Robert Karlsson, was a winner.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: He’s not my favorite Swede, I just keep picking him to win a major. My favorite Swede is Nina Persson of the Cardigans.

Bamberger: Now let’s turn to this week’s edition of How the Wedge Turns, Torrey Pines edition. Phil Mickelson used a Ping Eye2 lob wedge with the old square grooves. The wedge was grandfathered in. How do you all feel about that? Does this make you think differently about Phil in any way?

Hack: My view of Phil remains unchanged. He’s still fun and nutty Phil to me. Two drivers. No drivers. Ping Eye2 wedges. Can’t blame him for experimenting. The club is approved for play.

Morfit: I think he’s trying to highlight the absurdity of it all, which he’s certainly done. He’s such a thinker/overthinker, and a gear-head, making the move totally predictable.

Garrity: Yesterday’s statement by the PGA Tour just confused me. They seemed to be saying that those old Ping wedges are okay because they conform to the new standard, not because of a loophole owing to the Ping lawsuit. If that’s the case, if there’s no advantage to using these clubs, then there is, indeed, no cloud over Phil. But I still think it’s lousy P.R. on his part.

Evans: Phil understands the rule and he has a right to benefit from the loophole, but it does seem an odd irony that one of the best wedge players in the history of the game would be clinging to old grooves.

Dusek: McCarron was way out of line saying the Phil was cheating by using the Eye2 wedge. The club is legal for play, period. If you think it goes against the intention of the USGA’s rules, fine, but criticizing someone else for playing a technology you chose not to play is wrong. You’d think one of the first adopters of the long putter would know that.

Shipnuck: All the nastiness wasn’t just about the Eye2s, it was also about Phil. Other players used those clubs at Sony and the Hope but there was muted criticism, and it wasn’t so personal. Phil has always rubbed a lot of guys the wrong way — hence the sardonic nicknames “Genius” and “FIGJAM” he’s been tagged with — and this week’s bickering was a manifestation of that.

Gorant: As Damon points out, Phil has gone his own way in the past — two drivers, four wedges, under-the-branch and over-the-pond with sidespin for nothing-but-net. The idea of him making an against-the-grain stand in his own self interest isn’t that shocking to me.

Dusek: I was there when Phil laid into Dick Rugge at Liberty National for about 45 minutes, letting him know exactly what he thought of the USGA’s changes to the groove rule. Callaway had a new groove that conformed to the updated standard, yet it spun the ball more than the USGA wanted. In the eyes of the USGA, the conforming groove didn’t meet the spirit of the new rules. I think Phil is absolutely rubbing the USGA’s nose in it.

Van Sickle: Tiger is known for his long memory about perceived slights. Phil also has a photographic memory in this area.

Gorant: This wedge thing is interesting and worth a discussion, but Golf Channel was the sound of one hand clapping on this issue. One person would badger players for juicy quotes, then run back to the other guy and relay what was said, egging on a reaction. Once they got one they’d throw it back to the studio where it would be breathlessly reported as news. Then they’d throw it to the analysts who would examine it from every possible angle while reshowing the clips. It didn’t take long for it to start feeling like the whole thing was more about the Golf Channel talking to itself than anything else.

Herre: Kind of like the Daly retiring story, eh Jim?

Gorant: That’s exhibit B.

Shipnuck: The whole grooves thing has been half-baked from the beginning, but I, for one, am loving all the fallout. Look at how many storylines and talking points are being generated! It is pretty inside baseball, but in the absence of Tiger it gives golf obsessives like us many things to stew about.

Van Sickle: This whole thing was just about Phil making a point for his guys at Callaway, who submitted those wedges with conforming grooves that were not approved by the USGA. Phil knew exactly what kind of attention he’d get with the move. It was very calculated, and I expect him to go back to Callaway wedges shortly, having made his statement to the USGA.

Bamberger: I see it differently. We watch these golfers more than we listen to them, to see how they reveal themselves. And Phil is saying, really for the first time, “I don’t care what anyone says.” I don’t see it as Gary does, as a ploy for Callaway. Phil’s using an old Ping club is not good for Callaway.

Van Sickle: On the contrary, Michael, Phil is flying the flag of defiant retaliation for Callaway’s perceived mistreatment at the hands of the USGA. You stiff us, I mock your loophole and put your ill-conceived rule in a bad light.

Bamberger: Well, that’s interesting Gary, and you may well be right. Phil is political and cagey. But wouldn’t his first priority be to put in the 14 clubs that will give him the best chance of winning?

Dusek: For what it’s worth, Stewart Cink (who plays Nike) just Tweeted: “Packing up for my trip to Northern Trust Open tomorrow. Should I give my ‘new’ lob wedge a try?” The link goes to an image of a Ping Eye2 L wedge.

Van Sickle: The debate shouldn’t be about which player is using what. It should be about an ill-advised, contradictory legal solution to the grooves issue that the game now has to live with. Criticism should be directed at the organizing bodies for ever agreeing to this settlement instead of affirming their authority to make the rules for the game.

Dusek: Exactly, and Mickelson seemed to hint at that in one of his statements, saying that McCarron was really expressing frustration about the rules, not the players who are using the rules (legally) to their personal advantage. What’s interesting to me is that a lot fewer players are switching to a softer, spinnier ball than many people prophesized. Instead, players are trying to hit different shots that don’t require as much spin and check. When you look at the first three events of last season and this season, scrambling stats and driving accuracy stats are almost identical.

Van Sickle: Hard to judge from Torrey Pines, which was soaked by rains before the tournament and played fairly soft. Might have been a good week to stick with the regular ball, given the soft conditions.

Evans: There is no way that the players, en masse, are going to give up distance for more spin. It’s unrealistic in today’s game.

Herre: This week’s players’ meeting in L.A. ought to be interesting. Phil was trying to make a point by playing the Eye2, and he succeeded.

Van Sickle: Right. Will the players clamor for the Tour to consider taking steps toward disallowing the use of the Eye2s?

Gorant: Sounds like they’re going to at least consider a local rule, although Ping has made noise that they won’t sit idly by for that.

Bamberger: A local rule would be smart, and it would say to the rules makers and to the manufacturers that if you can’t solve this, we’ll do it ourselves.

Dusek: The PGA Tour shouldn’t be sending any messages to the manufacturers. PGA Tour events are to equipment companies what the race track is to automakers. It’s where they test new ideas and designs, see if the most discerning players like the products and then bring them to the masses. If the tour doesn’t want equipment playing such a large roll in the game, create two sets of rules for the sport, but you can’t blame equipment companies for the state we’re in now.

Van Sickle: As Dusek said, the answer is so obvious. One set of equipment rules for professional golf, another (and much looser) set for amateurs, which would allow the companies to do what they’ve done so well over the last decade — innovate the hell out of golf equipment and help us play better.

Godich: Hey, the NFL may have an uncapped year coming up soon. How about a one-year moratorium on limits? Let the manufacturers legislate, build what they want. That might be fun.

Dusek: And we’ll have peace in the Middle East, my kids will behave at the dinner table and Augusta National will go public.

Evans: Product development is the key to the growth of the golf industry and the viability of media franchises that are supported by these manufacturers. Amateurs want to play better golf, and they enjoy the game more when they play what the pros play. Rolling back the equipment on Tour is a marketer’s nightmare and a sure way to stagnate growth in the business.

Bamberger: Well said, Farrell, but 8,000-yard courses will kill the game, too. I’d take my chances on going small for the elite players. The time has come.

Enough about the wedge, though. Phil was looking to pick up where he left off at the end of 2008. How do you all assess what he did this week?

Evans: Phil is rusty, but his swing at times looked real wide and tight like Butch likes his players. But I have a hard time believing he’s going to be able to get up for a possible Tiger-less 2010. This wedge thing is a diversion for him — his mistress for a boring time in the game.

Morfit: Rusty, rusty, rusty, even if he said he did start preparing a week earlier than usual for this season. He sprayed it off the tee, and he even yipped a few with the putter. That said, I saw enough bright spots to expect him to three-peat at Riviera next week.

Gorant: He struggled. Even the days he put up good numbers he seemed to be fighting it. He flew in Butch for an emergency range session and it got worse. He didn’t come roaring out in his bid to be No. 1, but he certainly gave us our money’s worth in headlines this week.

Van Sickle: Phil played his usual golf, a combination of sensational and mistake-prone. He makes a lot of birdies and eagles, and he makes a lot of bogeys. Always has, always will. He struggles to be consistent, and the idea that he is going to run the tables at age 40 just because Tiger is out is wishful thinking. Phil will be Phil. He’ll win three or four times, not six or eight like Tiger does. That said, it’s still too early to judge the state of Phil’s game. As you saw on TV, Torrey’s greens can be maddening.

Dusek: We saw flashes of his brilliance — like a 280-yard 3-wood to six feet and converting the eagle putt at 13 Saturday — but too much inconsistency. You can’t be the man if you’re losing balls, going O.B. and making multiple double bogies.

Lipsey: Phil is like a hyper-erratic but ultimately very well run company — dramatic swings in share price, but after 20 years the net result will be terrific.

Shipnuck: I talked to many of Phil’s intimates this week, and they all said in the weeks leading up to Torrey his swing was the best it’s ever looked. His problem was he got in his own way, trying too hard and swinging too hard. That can happen in a heavily hyped season debut in your hometown, when you not only are expected to win but also to save the Tour. Expect Phil to be more mellow this week in LA, and a three-peat at Hogan’s Alley is a definite possibility.

Bamberger: What did you all think of Tom Watson’s critical comments about Tiger Woods in a Kansas City TV interview? He basically said that Tiger has to get his house in order, for his sake and for golf’s sake. Tom’s been down this road before, about McCord and about Tiger and his club-tossing and use of profanity. But were his comments inbounds or out-of-bounds? Do they reveal more about Watson than they do Woods?

Van Sickle: Watson simply told it like it is. Tiger has been surprisingly consistent and surprisingly effective in blowing off the minor criticism he’s taken about his club-flipping and profanity. He doesn’t take it seriously, apparently. Watson, and many, many others, do. And they should.

Evans: Tom Watson was out of bounds. That’s a hell of a burden to put on any man, to be responsible for an entire industry? Tiger has to live with this mess for the rest of his life. His wife and kids have to carry this hurt and shame with them for the rest of their lives. Golf will go on. Watson should butt out and keep his moral platitudes to himself.

Herre: I don’t think Watson was out of bounds. His comments on Tiger’s personal issues were routine and basically supportive, plus we already know there are two schools of thought on Woods’s swearing and club-throwing: Some feel it’s unprofessional, others say it shows he cares.

Evans: Personally, I don’t like a lot of things about Tiger, but I respect his right to be the way he wants to be. We get in a weird place when we start telling a grown man how to talk, how to live, how to respond to someone getting into his personal affairs. Unprofessional is not showing up and not doing your job when you’re called to perform a specific task. Tiger is not guilty of this.

Hack: I didn’t mind Watson’s sentiment as much as the timing. Tiger has a lot more to worry about right now than F-bombs on the tee box.