PGA Tour Confidential: The Game’s Best Rivalries, Olympic Golf Formats and the Stenson/Poulter Radio Specials

Woods' 14 major championships leaves him four behind The Golden Bear … for now.
Fred Vuich / Sports Illustrated

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning faced off in New England on Sunday night in one of football's great rivalries. What is the best rivalry in golf today? Do you see any budding rivalries on the horizon?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The best rivalry in golf today is Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. The best one on deck is Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): I can't name one actual rivalry in golf today. When most top players win only eight or 10 times in a career, it's pretty tough to build a rivalry. Jack and Arnie won more than 60 times each. It's no wonder they bumped heads. Other than Phil and Tiger, who have seldom gone head to head, there's not much else.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, (@Jeff_Ritter): Easy: it's Tiger vs. Jack's record. But if we're picking two pros who have met on the course, it's Tiger vs. Phil. They are golf's biggest stars and most compelling characters. They seem to get along better these days, but if we ever had those two in the final group on a major championship Sunday, I'd expect a TV ratings records. For the future, I think McIlroy bounces back, hits his prime as Phil fades and becomes Tiger's most consistent challenger. But until Woods retires, his pursuit of Jack's record will continue to be the biggest story in golf.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): I have to go with Tiger and Phil. One of the keys to any rivalry is a dislike for each other, and I don't think it's any secret what these two think of one another.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): From a field of very weak candidates, I think you have to go with Woods/Mickelson. Both are among the world's best with enough history and antipathy to qualify. As for the future, I could see Dustin Johnson having a heated relationship with whatever divorce attorney Paulina hires.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): At present, there are two golf rivalries I care about: the U.S. Ryder Cup team versus Europe and Tiger Woods versus Phil Mickelson. The 2013 Open Championship was that much more compelling for me because Tiger and Phil were right in the mix when the final round started. I'm not seeing any budding rivalries coming anytime soon, though I sure hope I'm wrong. Most of the current top players seem to be too nice, too rich and too inconsistent from year-to-year to develop and sustain any rivalries.

Mike Walker, senior editor, (@michaelwalkerjr): Europe versus the United States in the Ryder Cup is the game’s only true rivalry today. Tiger vs. Phil is a distant second because it’s so rare that they both play their best golf at the same event. Earl Woods said years ago that when Tiger and Phil go head-to-head, someone else usually wins the tournament. That’s still the case today.

2. At the World Cup, Jason Day overcame personal tragedy and finally broke through to win an event, rather than finishing runner-up. Is there anyone more talented in golf with fewer overall wins?

PASSOV: Jason Day reminds me of Tom Lehman in his PGA Tour prime. You can count Lehman's regular Tour wins on one hand, yet he was seemingly a lock in every office pool to contend in all four majors. I'm mystified that Day can be so good and usually so clutch on the game's biggest stages, yet hoist trophies so infrequently.

SENS: No. He’s been knocking at the door for so long now, you forget that he's only 26.

VAN SICKLE: Jason Day looks terrific when he's hitting on all cylinders, but that doesn't happen very often. He's got a lot of potential, but he's got a ways to go to fulfill it. Rickie Fowler, with one win, seems like he's got more talent than he's showed.

GODICH: He's certainly a good candidate, but before we go beating him up, let's remember that he just turned 26.

BAMBERGER: I don't know how to measure talent in golf, except by scores made, tournaments won, money won, how often a player contends. But this is wonderful win. Jason Day, like Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco, took an amazing path to get to where he is, and it's gratifying to see him win, most especially under these horrible circumstances.

WALKER: Day’s win in Australia after losing eight relatives — including his grandmother — in Typhoon Haiyan is one of the most affecting sports stories of the year. His win total will start matching his talent in the coming years.

RITTER: Congrats to Jason for winning under such tough personal circumstances. It seems like he could have about 10 wins and three majors, but he's only 26 years old. Now he's learning how to win. More titles are coming.

3. As a preview of the 2016 Olympics format, this week's World Cup at Royal Melbourne emphasized individual results over a team format, like a Ryder Cup-style two-man better ball. Is it better to reward individuals with Gold, Silver and Bronze over 72 holes of stroke play, or would you prefer a team format in the Olympics with countrymen paired together?

VAN SICKLE: With only 60 players in the field, and probably half of them ranked outside the top 100 in the world, an individual stroke-play format seems fairly silly. There should be more than 60 players and they should be 60 of the top players. If that's not possible, I'd rather see three- or four-person teams from 20 competitive countries play for a team title.

BAMBERGER: Well, it will never happen, but a team competition, for sure. Ideally, an amateur one. (A man can dream.) Otherwise, Olympic golf is just another tournament.

WALKER: With the wonderful exception of the Ryder Cup, golf is an individual sport, so I’m fine with stroke play at the Olympics. Team play would be too complicated with all the countries involved; it would be like turning the marathon into a relay race.

SENS: Team. We get enough me-me golf in the course of a regular Tour season. It's nice to see them playing for something bigger than themselves. Or at least acting like they are.

RITTER: My preferred format would be 36 holes of stroke play that narrows the field to 64 (or even 32), followed by head-to-head match play for the medals.

GODICH: If you want to attract the best players, you'd be best served making it an individual event.

PASSOV: I get that 72 holes of stroke play is the fairest way to reward a champion — but it's not the most fun. I'd love to see the strategies embraced in a better-ball format (whether stroke or match play), and I'd definitely like to see the guys paired with each other, offering patriotic consult and support. Or how cool would it be to play it in a draw format, the way the NCAA men's golf now works? Maybe five guys on each team, with players paired off in match-play singles? It would be awesome to see Tiger and Jordan Spieth take on the Molinari brothers from Italy in the quarters, Sweden's Stenson and Karlsson in the semis and Aussies Day and Scott in the finals — for instance — for the Gold medal.

4. Caddie Steve Williams announced he'd be hanging up his bag and working a reduced schedule after the 2014 season. How has Williams helped Adam Scott since taking his bag in 2011? What impact does a caddie have at the highest levels of the game?

VAN SICKLE: It seems as if Stevie's arrival coincided with Adam playing a little tougher and finishing stronger. Coincidence? I don't think so. Obviously, Stevie made the key read on the playoff putt at Augusta. Outsiders can't fairly judge what impact caddies have at this level. It's knowing when to keep the player loose or focused or club down due to adrenaline, things we're not privy to.

PASSOV: Williams' combination of excellence and arrogance was likely the final piece in the puzzle that was Adam Scott. Williams' belief in Scott's abilities had to help Scott in a small but hugely significant way. He's been a different golfer — maybe the most consistent in golf on big occasions — and having a guy along as your partner who helped guide the era's greatest star to his biggest wins has to be reassuring. Caddies used to be very disposable and yes, I've heard the argument against any caddie ever being a Hall of Fame member ("he didn't hit a single shot"), but if a caddie can make a one-shot contribution, whether via a great read or as a calming presence, his contributions can't be overlooked at the game's highest levels.

RITTER: Hard to say exactly what Williams has done, but you can't deny that Scott's playing the best golf of his career. Maybe Stevie shared some tips on Tiger's work ethic or practice routine. Or maybe Williams has a way of making Scott more at ease on the course. At the highest level, I think the biggest contribution caddies make is providing that comfort level, but I'll defer to Bamberger for the final say.

BAMBERGER: Beyond the considerable mechanics of doing the job properly, the caddie helps the player combat loneliness and anxiety and other psycho-sporting disorders. If the player thinks the caddie is helping, the caddie is helping. Steve Williams has surely helped Adam Scott, Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Raymond Floyd, but that doesn't mean he'd necessarily improve Zach Johnson or Jean Van de Velde or Jack Nicklaus.

WALKER: Scott plays with more of an edge since he started working with Williams and the wins have followed. How much a caddie helps depends on the player, but guys like Scott and Mickelson are more confident players because of their trust in their caddies.

SENS: Whether it's the Williams effect or not, Scott seems to walk the course with more swagger than he used to. Then again, a Masters win will do that for you. I don't doubt that Williams has had an impact. At that level, it's about intangibles. Having a guy who can keep you relaxed, in a good frame of mind, who understands your moods, when you want to talk, when you don't. Or so they tell me. Personally, I like a caddie who moves fast and tells good dirty jokes.

GODICH: No doubt Williams has had an impact on Scott. We rarely hear about those days when a caddie keeps his man in a positive frame of mind when all appears lost. But in the end the player has to hit quality shots — and, of course, hole the putts.

5. According to a USGA and R&A rule change effective Jan. 1, 2014, a golfer who unwittingly moves his ball during competition may not be penalized if that movement could not reasonably have been detected without the use of “enhanced technology.” Do you agree with the change? What, if any, other issues would you like the USGA/R&A to address on video technology?

BAMBERGER: It's a good rule. If the player truly cannot see a ball's movement, he shouldn't be held responsible for it. As a practical matter, I cannot imagine this coming into play more than a couple times a year, if that. Most of the time, the player is watching his ball like a hawk. That golf ball is your meal ticket. You want to know what it’s doing at all times.

VAN SICKLE: Let's go ahead and call this The Tiger Rule. How many other instances, ever, would this rule even come into play? It's a rarity, and we may never see it invoked. If that's the case, the rule seems unnecessary.

RITTER: I'm fine with the rule change. Never made sense to penalize players for violations they can't even see. Next up: eliminate penalties from TV viewer call-ins.

GODICH: Shouldn't the objective be to get it right? This is going to open a can of worms, because viewers are still going to be treated to the enhanced technology, so they can decide for themselves if a penalty should have been called.

WALKER: Yes, I like the change, especially since the qualifier “enhanced” means that the USGA/R&A are not likely to ban viewers from calling in rules violations. In other words, yes, you can call in violations that are clearly visible on television, but not violations that are only apparent in close-up, slow-motion replays (like Tiger at the BMW). Makes sense to me.

PASSOV: It may open up a bigger can of worms than intended, but I agree with the change. In my view, the USGA should have taken things another step or two further — and banned ever allowing video technology to impact the final result of a golf tournament via a penalty. That said, they didn't go that far … and now we'll likely witness more awkward judgment calls where the player is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. If this rule would have exonerated Tiger, it still wouldn't have altered the outcry. Should Tiger have done the gentlemanly thing and just admitted that if there were a speck of doubt, a penalty is warranted, or do the competitive thing and simply quote Sergeant Schultz ("I know nothing, I see nothing!")? Tiger should have never been confronted with this. If we're going to trust golfers to be honest and police themselves, seemingly a fundamental tenet of competitive golf, then let them do it and forget about video technology playing any role in determining the outcome of a tournament.

SENS: Given the painstaking scrutiny that video allows, it makes sense to cut the players that amount of slack. Next up: the precise location of where you drop, line of entry into a hazard, etc.

6. Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter are slated to begin their own radio shows on SiriusXM next year. Which of these two will you tune in for? What other player or figure in golf would you like to see for this gig?

BAMBERGER: They're both droll, insightful, fun, but Stenson seems almost odd, in the best sense of the word, and I think he'll do especially well. I like his press conferences, and I imagine I'll like his show. I talked the other day to Scott Greenstein, the Sirius president. He was rattling off names from yesteryear — Al Besselink, Don Cherry, Miller Barber — and he clearly loves the lore of the game. I imagine over time Sirius will become a place where you can get your Bruce fix AND your golf fix in a meaningful way on your drive into work.

SENS: Stenson. He seems smarter and more idiosyncratic. The Poulter check-out-my-bling persona would tire pretty quickly, I think.

RITTER: I'm equally excited for both, and if I'm creating a new show and need a host, my first phone call is going to Peter Aliss. Second is Johnny Miller.

WALKER: Best of luck to both guys, who each bring a much-needed spark of life to pro golf, but I fear they will do as well at talk radio as Howard Stern would do on the PGA Tour. David Feherty is the only guy in golf who could pull something like this off.

PASSOV: I'll go with Poults. He's got the Charles Barkley thing going: he can border on the outrageous/ridiculous, but he's always entertaining and because he's played the game exceptionally well at the highest level, is worthy of respect, no matter how much you roll your eyes. For an extra listen, I'll take a daily hour of Miguel Angel Jimenez, talking fast cars, stretching drills, fine wines and cigars, cured hams and perhaps some golf.

VAN SICKLE: Since I'm not keen on paying to listen to the radio, I won't be tuning in for either one of them. Poulter seems more prolific, talking-wise, based on his Twitter feed, but I like Stenson's off-kilter sense of humor. I hope they're both entertaining. Let me know, will you?

The PGA Tour Confidential debate continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.