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.
WHO’S REALLY NO. 1?
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: What started as a ho-hum week in the golf world sure got interesting in a hurry. First, Lee Westwood won the Indonesian Masters. Then, needing a victory at the Heritage to jump Westwood for the No. 1 world ranking, Luke Donald lost to Brandt Snedeker on the third hole of a thrilling sudden-death playoff. It’s no secret that the SI Golf Ranking is the most authoritative poll in the business. Last week we had Donald No. 1 and Westwood No. 3. So tell me: Who are you voting No. 1 this week, and why?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I’m sticking with Donald (had him No. 1 last week, too) but moved Westwood up to No. 2. After that I have Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell before finally getting to an American, Matt Kuchar at No. 7.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Donald as No. 1. He’s simply more consistently good-to-great than Westwood or anyone else right now.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The No. 1 spot in the world rankings should be left vacant until somebody actually goes out and earns it.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Donald is No. 1. Won a WGC, close at the Masters, now this. He’s more deserving than anybody else right now.
Herre: I would have loved to put Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey on my ballot this week. Next time someone says all the swings on the PGA Tour look alike, I’m gonna refer ’em to Two Gloves.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Donald is my new No. 1. Many of the players Westwood beat in Indonesia are unfamiliar names, and I’m not sure it was a stronger field than your average Nationwide event. Can’t ignore it, though. I have Westwood No. 2, Schwartzel No. 3.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Donald won the Match Play and is playing the most consistently (five top 10s in six starts). Westwood won and I’m sure it was a fantastic event, but the only name I recognized was Thongchai Jaidee. What would you even rank it? C-list?
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Luke’s the hottest player in the world right now. Going to keep him at No. 1, bump Lee up to No. 2. Oh, and the state of European golf is strong.
Van Sickle: Damon, the hottest player in the world couldn’t hit the 18th green in regulation, the 17th green in the playoff or the 18th green a second time in the playoff. If he wasn’t the best bunker player on Tour, he would’ve lost a lot sooner.
Hack: I hear you, Gary, but he’s also the best bunker player in the world and one of the best putters. He lost in a great playoff on the PGA Tour. It’s not like he imploded.
Van Sickle: What do you call missing two of three greens in the playoff? Great shot-making? Stellar iron play? Come on. You’re all making excuses for him. This was a perfect example of why Donald doesn’t win as often as he could or should. I love that he’s a maximum achiever, but that wasn’t the finish of the No. 1 player in the world.
Lipsey: Westwood became No. 1 with a LOT of seconds.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I say Luke as well. He’s been playing at an incredibly high level all year, while Westy was M.I.A. until this week. Winning a B-list tourney in Indonesia is a nice step, and I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes from here, but Luke is still my No. 1.
Morfit: All things considered, I’d say Sneds won it more than Donald lost it.
Van Sickle: On the last four holes they played, Donald hit one green and three bunkers. Snedeker hit three greens and a fringe. But it’s never how, it’s how many.
Godich: Does Donald lose any points for failing to close the deal at Hilton Head? He was the 36-hole leader, yet shot only 70-70 on the weekend. Shouldn’t we expect more from the world No. 1?
Shipnuck: Yeah, it would have helped Donald’s cause if he had won. But he clearly didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday and still battled hard for 21 holes. (As opposed to his playing partner, Jim Furyk, who shot about a million.) I think Donald is going to win two or three more times this year, which will strengthen his case.
Herre: The rap on Donald has always been that he can’t close. He played well during the playoff but caught a bad break with that fried egg on the final hole.
Shipnuck: Donald was clearly ragged today with his ball-striking, and it was a big missed opportunity. But nobody is playing at his level right now. The Match Play was the second best performance of the year behind Charl’s heroics. Luke knows he needs more wins. If he keeps coming up short he’ll slide in our poll. But right now, in this vacuum atop the polls, he’s the only guy who seems to bring it every week.
Hack: How about Donald’s approach shot and birdie on the first playoff hole? Don’t those count for anything? Or the fact that Donald held it together despite Jim Furyk’s struggles and strange rulings in that final group. I think we’re learning how special Tiger Woods’s reign at No.1 was, and how hard it is to close.
THE HERITAGE MAY BE HISTORY
Godich: The Heritage is one of the most recognizable stops on Tour. I think it’s special because it’s a shot-makers’ course. You don’t have to be a bomber to win there. But without a title sponsor for 2012, the event is in jeopardy. How big a blow would it be if the Tour didn’t return to Harbour Town next year?
Lipsey: After the chatter died down, nobody would notice, except the folks in South Carolina. The Tour will be fine. Things change.
Shipnuck: It’s one of the best courses on Tour, in one of the nicest places. If Finchem can’t make this work, he should give back his zillion-dollar salary.
Van Sickle: It would be a shame to lose Harbour Town. Just like it’s been a shame to lose the countless other Tour stops that are no more. The Tour goes on. That’s the way of the world. Vacationers will still go to Hilton Head.
Herre: In the big scheme of things, Rick and Gary are probably right. Everyone moves on. But losing Harbour Town would diminish the Tour in my eyes. The course is one of the coolest the pros play, and the tournament is almost as much a rite of spring as the Masters.
Lipsey: Agreed, but in the end it’s a business. A hugely successful business that seems to thrive no matter where they play, as we’ve seen with the proliferation of wildly blah new tracks (many of them TPCs) in recent years.
Van Sickle: The players loved Tucson National. And Oak Hills in San Antonio. A lot of them enjoyed Castle Pines and the International. And Pleasant Valley. Inverrary. Butler National. CBS would really miss the scenic shots if Harbour Town was lost. Other than Pebble Beach or Torrey Pines, there may not be prettier pictures. But that’s business.
Hack: I’d notice. I already miss Westchester, for starters. I love seeing the shotmaking, Donald hitting shots below the trees or Furyk going high over them. It’s already a dying art.
Van Sickle: Great point. Best thing about that course is the mandatory shotmaking and the kind of winners that produces.
Lipsey: I used to joke that one day the Tour might play all TPCs. That’s not likely, but old gems like Hilton Head are a dying breed.
Morfit: It would be a big blow to lose it. The Tour needs more funky, regionally distinct tourneys, not fewer.
Wei: I think it’d be a blow. I’d heard rave reviews from everyone when I told them I was coming here. It’s just a great atmosphere, too, with lots of history. Even a group of the caddies (which includes Snedeker’s) have formed a tradition over the years. Friday night is “Southern Boys Night,” where they dress up in their finest pastels and go all out. Funny part is they blend into the crowd at the Quarter Deck, where everyone boozes all week. Also, there was a PAC meeting on Wednesday, and one of the players said they were told things were looking good. I have a hard time believing a sponsor won’t step up.
TIME FOR TWO GLOVES TO CLOSE
Godich: Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey finished a shot out of the playoff. Unorthodox swing and all, it was his third top 10 of the season, and he’s projected to be 30th when the FedEx Cup rankings are rolled out on Monday. Gainey, who turns 36 in August, is no spring chicken. Look into your crystal ball. Will Two Gloves get a PGA Tour win, or will he be left to lament the close calls at Phoenix and Hilton Head?
Shipnuck: I’d love to see him win. He could be as big a cult hero as Boo Weekley or Bubba Watson. But his swing is so funky and his manner so jittery, it’s hard to imagine him closing the deal.
Van Sickle: No reason Two Gloves can’t win. His biggest problem is that he has a lot less experience contending in big tournaments than the other guys his age. He always seems a little edgy, nervous. That could be a liability. But he can also get so hot that he might do a Mickelson and build a six-shot lead, then coast home on the final nine. Cinderella-story guys like him are always good copy and good for the Tour.
Lipsey: He’ll be a winner, if not this year then soon. But he seems to have the game to make consistent money.
Herre: He’d be a sensation should he win. I can envision multiple swing sequences and critiques, feature stories, a book — the works. He better do it soon, though. The clock is ticking.
Hack: Tommy needs to corral his nerves and tighten up his short game on Sundays. Just needs to get more comfortable in the heat.
Wei: There’s no reason he can’t win, right? He’s put himself in contention several times now, and if he keeps it up, he’ll eventually get the right breaks and bounces that sometimes separate the winner from the runner-up.
Godich: Tell that to Harrison Frazar.
LEGENDS, OR JUST PLAIN OLD?
Godich: Not to date myself, but I remember when the Legends of Golf used to be can’t-miss TV. This year, David Eger and Mark McNulty won when Scott Hoch and Kenny Perry both missed a short par putt on the second playoff hole. With all due respect to Eger and McNulty, is a finish like this just what the Champions tour didn’t need?
Herre: You are dating yourself, Mark. As we age, the legends only seem to be getting younger. I got a kick out of watching Levi-Fergus grinding like it was 1988. (Fergus was really into it.) And Hoch and Perry both having senior moments and yipping out short ones to lose the playoff.
Shipnuck: Oh, it was great! I love seeing the frayed nerves on those old-timers. The tour should have a recurring feature: “Yip of the Week.” There’d be tons of possibilities every week.
Van Sickle: It’s like the T-shirt says: Are You Tough Enough to Get Old?
Herre: The Savannah Harbour course may be a fine one, but I don’t think it shows well on TV, especially the long, par-4 finishing hole. It’s straight and featureless, yet no one could make a birdie. It’s better when the old guys play where they can make a lot of birdies, or yip out a lot of birdie chances.
Van Sickle: I don’t know that it really matters who won that event because so few viewers knew it was on or caught any of the telecast. If it had been CBS’s only tournament of the week, it probably would have been a pretty fun show. They’re almost all names we’re familiar with.
Hack: I tuned in to CBS a little after 3, just in time for Bill Macatee to announce that the Legends finish was moving to Golf Channel to make way for the kids at the Heritage. I didn’t learn much from the few minutes I watched, except that Scott Hoch is now wearing a goatee.
Van Sickle: The Champions tour needs a bigger stage. I have no idea how to accomplish that, what with the PGA Tour on the air every weekend. But that’s the main thing that ails that tour.
HOW (AND IF) TO CUT THE MASTERS FIELD
Godich: Finally, there are rumblings that the folks at Augusta, concerned that the Masters field has gotten too big, are considering taking away the exemption for PGA Tour winners. I think that would be a mistake. At least those guys have proven they can win on the deepest tour in golf in the last calendar year. If they want to cut back, they should start with the multiple-year exemptions given to major champions. And aging Masters champions should at least be competitive. What do you think?
Shipnuck: Win-and-you’re-in is one of the best qualifications. I’d eliminate the exemption for the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings; no one follows those points anyway.
Wei: Exactly. Yet CBS kept talking about the FedEx Cup standings during the telecast.
Hack: On the list, “if Donald wins,” the first item was that he would take the lead in the FedEx Cup standings. The second item was that he would become the No. 1 player in the world. I’m thinking those two factoids should have been flip-flopped, but maybe that’s just me.
Van Sickle: Most notable factoid of the year: It’s almost May and Mark Wilson is still No. 1 on the FedEx Cup points list. Mark Wilson!
Lipsey: That’s the PGA Tour with Phil and Tiger both lost in space.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Danger, Tim Finchem!
Lipsey: It matters not what anybody thinks. The Lords of Augusta will do what they please. That said, one of the coolest things in pro golf is watching how excited players get when they win and punch their ticket to the Masters.
Morfit: If they ever want to get serious about having the best possible field, then it’s obvious they’ll need to eliminate the past-champion exemption.
Van Sickle: It used to be the top 30 on the previous year’s money list were in. Now it’s the top 50 in the world rankings. You could cut that to the top 40, even the top 30, and still exempt the Tour winners. (By the way, the winners of fall events should be included on that list.) There are plenty of options other than cutting the winners.
Herre: I’d bet the Masters doesn’t change win-and-you’re-in. It was just reinstated, and I don’t think ANGC wants to be seen as indecisive or flip-flopping. Plus, ANGC knows the play-in is popular with fans and players alike. As Gary pointed out, there are many other, more practical ways to cut the field.
Van Sickle: I also like Alan’s point. FedEx Cup points shouldn’t be used to determine the field for any tournament, least of all the Masters.
Walker: Best option would be to leave things alone. Does anybody think the Masters field is too big? Just a reflection of how deep the talent pool is right now.
Van Sickle: The Masters could lose the Public Links champion. That’s kind of a messy rules area. Michelle Wie, for instance, had access to certain private clubs in Hawaii yet qualified as a public links player. She could have played her way into the Masters, theoretically. It’s a gray area and, sorry about the tradition, the Masters could lose that one amateur player without losing any sleep.