PGA Tour Confidential: The Humana Challenge

January 23, 2012

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in our all-new live Readers' Confidential or in the comments section below.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are teeing it up in Abu Dhabi this week while Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley and Ryo Ishikawa are heading to Torrey Pines. Which will get more of your attention?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Is this a serious question?

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Until further notice, Tiger gets all of the attention.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Abu Dhabi bought the stars and the spotlight. I'll be interested in both, but only Abu Dhabi is going to get on the front page of the sports section.

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Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: San Diego, for sure. Gene Littler, Tiger's playoff, the cliffs, our years with it. Abu Dhabi just feels like the ultimate money grab.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Honestly, you wouldn't turn your tube to Torrey over Abu Dhabi if they were on at the same time?

Bamberger: Absolutely. Torrey is part of my life. Abu Dhabi means nothing to me.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I will do my best to give both tournaments equal attention (I'm very interested in the players' meeting in San Diego on Tuesday) while I'm schmoozing in Orlando at the club pros' Super Bowl.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, I get to watch Tiger while having my morning coffee? Ball game.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Everyone will want to know how Tiger's doing in Abu Dhabi, but they'll watch Torrey.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Torrey will get more of my attention, because I'll be there and because this isn't 2000. Tiger is intriguing but not everything.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What are you watching this week: Abu Dhabi or Torrey?

Gorant: Mark Wilson now has five PGA Tour wins. More than Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas and even Webb Simpson, but he gets about 1/100th of the attention and accolades. What gives?

Bamberger: Body type. Length off the tee. Pleasantness of personality. The events he wins. It's a shame because he's a true gent.

Lipsey: He's like his teacher, Jim Suttie: Work, work, work. Who cares about what people say?

Shipnuck: Wilson hits it short and has all the charisma of a librarian. But I don't think he cares about the attention — just winning.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, I could be wrong, but didn't Wilson sport a cheese head in Phoenix last year just hours before the Packers played in the Super Bowl? Most librarians would frown on such behavior.

Wei: Yes, he did. And it was awesome.

Morfit: He seems like a cool guy, approachable and human, which is very rare on Tour.

Godich: One of my favorite Wilson memories was when he finally broke through at the 2007 Honda. When asked what was going through his mind, he said without hesitation that he was relieved that he would not have to go back to Q-school.

Lipsey: For the most part, unlike other pro sports, winning golfers are Wilson types: quiet, thoughtful, plodding. Think Vijay, Kaymer, Donald, et al.

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: Cut at the Masters. Cut at the U.S. Open. T63 at the British. T26 at the PGA. Enough said.

Van Sickle: It's like Larry Nelson once told me about getting no attention for winning three majors: You only get the headlines for winning a major if you're one of those guys "who's supposed to win majors." If you're one of those guys who "isn't supposed to win majors," it doesn't matter how many you win. See Andy North, Shaun Micheel, Scott Simpson. But he's a good guy, a good story and a good quote without the tag-along ego. One of my favorites on tour.

Wei: Wilson's just an all-around good guy. Unassuming, not to mention pretty clutch under pressure. I don't think he's ever going to be a world beater at majors and WGCs, though.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Why doesn't Mark Wilson get more respect?

Phil Mickelson, 2012 Humana Challenge

Charles Baus / Icon SMI
Phil Mickelson shot a 69 in the final round to finish tied for 49th at the Humana Challenge.

Gorant: Phil made his season debut this week and rallied after a shaky start to make the cut, eventually finishing tied for 49th at 10 under. He used the short putter and needed 33 putts in the first round, 31 in the second, 23 in the third and 28 in the fourth. So, how do we think Phil's game looks, and will he stick with the short stick?

Lipsey: Erratic as always, and the bright spots are becoming fewer and farther between.

Godich: Phil will always be Phil, so that means we can expect the tinkering to continue. I think he has to be pleased that he made the cut after an inauspicious start, and that he goes into Torrey Pines having played some pretty good golf.

Shipnuck: He looked like the Phil of the last few years: inconsistent. He's committed to the short stick, but a bad month of putting could change that.

Ritter: Phil was rusty, but that was expected in his season debut. Because he's Phil, I expect we'll see him give the long wand another test run at some point in 2012. Maybe he'll be the first player to drop a long and a short putter into his bag at the same time, like his "draw" and "fade" drivers from a few years back.

Morfit: I was pretty surprised by the opening-round 74. At the Hope that's like shooting 80.

Wei: At least the 74 was at La Quinta, which is pretty tight off the tee and the "hardest" of the three courses.

Bamberger: I think Phil's going to have a huge year. I'm not sure what was going on with him last year, but by his own admission his head wasn't there at times, and I think he's learned a lot from it.

Van Sickle: Phil's plan always seems to be to play his way into shape. He was evidently rusty at the Desert Marlin, a two-day pro-am he played with his brother instead of going to Kapalua, and he still looks rusty. (It's funny that he decided to play the first year Clinton hosted, given that one year at the Hope, Phil asked out of the celebrity section of the pairings.) One thing Phil has done consistently during his career is play wildly inconsistently. No reason to think that's going to change in his 40s.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I expected a better week from Phil — a win, really. I always expect big things from him in the desert.

Wei: Phil looked like Phil. Definitely a little rusty, and hitting his driver everywhere, as usual. He said he switched to a new driver in the off-season but didn't want to start the year with any changes. After the two out-of-bounds shots at La Quinta, he changed his mind. As for the flatstick, I think he's done with the belly putter for the time being. Let's call that a phase.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What did you think of Phil's performance? Will he stay with the short putter?

Gorant: The former Hope had its best field in years, and by all accounts Bill Clinton charmed the masses, sponsors, media and players. Do you think he can give the Humana hope, and do you think more players will make an appearance next year?

Bamberger: Clinton and his people are taking a long-term view. They have Tiger in their sights, more and better celebrities, better everything. This event will be better than the AT&T before too long, except for the ocean views.

Van Sickle: The ocean views mean it will never truly top the AT&T, but you're right. Alice Cooper is among the celebrities who always play the Hope and never play Pebble anymore because of how the tourneys treat them.

Bamberger: I think it really can pass the AT&T. That event has almost no glamour to it. It's just the rich and the super rich showing off for one another. Clinton can do more than he even knows, I think.

Van Sickle: I don't know about the players because it's all about the date first and the courses second. But Clinton did bring the feel-good buzz and marquee power the tournament needs. Humana definitely has hope. How long before we simply start calling it The Bubba?

Bamberger: I love it. Yo, you playing The Bubba this year? Oh, yeah: gotta play The Bub.

Shipnuck: His impact has already been monumental. Give him another year to recruit, and I definitely expect more top players to show in '13.

Reiterman: If the Hope is always the week before Abu Dhabi, it will be hard to beat this year's field. But no doubt the changes made (four rounds instead of five, fewer amateurs, President Clinton) certainly helped.

Morfit: Nice to see the players respond to some sort of pressure, even if it took a push from a  former president.

Godich: Clinton has been a breath of fresh air, but at some point he will start to feel stale. Give him five years and then get Obama out there.

Van Sickle: Let's not forget, it took a former president to keep this tournament alive. That in itself is a reason to celebrate. The rest is gravy as The Bubba starts to grow on pro golf fans.

Herre: Positive start to rebooting the Hope. Something to build on after years of slippage.

Wei: I was here last year, and the difference is uncanny. So much more buzz and incredible atmosphere. I definitely think more players will show up next year. On Saturday during Clinton's round, fans in between every hole were thanking him for his support.

Rouse: I think more players will be inclined to play next year, and I could see it growing more and more in the future. They laid down a great foundation this year.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Will Clinton be able to make the Humana a prominent PGA Tour stop?

Rickie Fowler

Sam Greenwood / Getty Images
Rickie Fowler will make his season debut this week at Torrey Pines.

Gorant: Next week Rickie Fowler and Ernie Els make their PGA Tour season debuts, and J.B. Holmes returns after brain surgery. Who are you most interested in seeing at Torrey Pines?

Van Sickle: I'll settle for the cliffs and the ocean views. Beats looking out the window at snow here in Pittsburgh.

Shipnuck: Fowler. Can he keep the momentum after his overseas win at the end of '11? But I'm more interested in Tiger on the Euro tour.

Bamberger: Ernie. He's playing for a cause, and that brings in the world.

Godich: I'll be watching Ernie as well. He almost broke through at the Volvo Masters. Would be nice to see Ernie make a little comeback, and it would be great for the game.

Rouse: I want this to be the year that Rickie breaks through, so I'm interested to see how he looks. Everyone keeps saying it's only a matter of time before he wins on the PGA Tour, but you have to think that the more time passes, the harder it will be to have that breakthrough.

Morfit: I'm keeping an eye on Fowler and Els. Strong recent finishes by both make them intriguing for 2012, Fowler especially so. The Tour could really use a boffo 2012 for Rickie.

Wei: I'm always interested in what Ryo's doing. He is incredibly impressive. He's the only guy who knows what it's like to be Tiger and live in a fish bowl (maybe even more so), and he's a good dude! He'll sit in his chair for 20-30 minutes after every round (even if he misses the cut) and, from what I understand, he gives incredibly thoughtful and detailed answers.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Rickie, Ernie or J.B.: Who will you follow at Torrey?

Gorant: Dustin Johnson made his first start since knee surgery last November. He shot 72 in the first round and withdrew with soreness in his lower back after shooting 40 on his opening nine in the second round. He says he will play at Torrey, but is this a cause for concern?

Reiterman: Don't these guys learn anything from Tiger? Johnson said he hadn't walked 18 holes before playing this week. Stupid. Come back when you're ready.

Godich: I think the back is cause for concern. You would have thought he might have learned something from Tiger. Make sure you are fully healthy before you come back.

Bamberger: Tall guys are prone to back problems, and his move puts a lot of strain on the back.

Van Sickle: Vijay Singh came back too soon after his knee got scoped. So did D.J. What's the rush? There are 30-some tournaments to go. Hopefully, this decision won't have any lingering effects.

Shipnuck: Of course it's worrisome. His entire game (and persona) is built on fast-twitch athleticism. Nagging injuries will slow him down more than most other guys.

Rouse: He tweeted that he was feeling a lot better the next day. I don't think it's going to be anything major.

Herre: Knee, back — he really is the second coming of Fred Couples. But seriously, I hope Johnson gets well soon. It would be the best thing for pro golf.

Van Sickle: Great putters, not great hitters, shoot great scores. Not sure D.J. is in that first category yet, which would put a limit on how far he can go. But it's fun watching this guy try to figure out just how good he can be.

Bamberger: There is something about the guy. Without ever saying anything remotely insightful, he's somehow charismatic.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Are you concerned about Dustin Johnson's injury?

Hank Haney, Tiger Woods

Hans Deryk / Reuters
Hank Haney will release a book about working with Woods later this spring.

Gorant: Hank Haney's book made news again this week when Tiger said that he would not read it and called it "unprofessional." Tiger seemed to insinuate that Haney had broken one of the game's codes. Do you agree?

Van Sickle: That's right, Haney broke the code Tiger believes in: Don't make money off my image without giving me a cut.

Hack: I'm surprised Tiger said anything about it. He probably just sold Hank an extra 100,000 copies.

Shipnuck: Haney's basically retired as a teacher, which helps his cause. It would be tough to do this book and still be trying to gain players' confidence out on Tour.

Reiterman: Tiger should just worry about winning another major. Anyone who's spent more than five minutes with him will likely write a book. He'd better get used to it.

Morfit: That used to be one of the game's codes back when players cared about the game's codes. Now they only mention them when it's convenient.

Bamberger: Haney's exercising his right to free speech. Tiger should try doing the same sometime.

Rouse: The more Tiger talks about it, the more copies he's selling for Hank.

Godich: And don't tell me Tiger won't at least give it a gander.

Wei: It's Tiger's own fault that he didn't ask Haney to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Did Hank Haney break an unwritten rule by publishing a book on his time with Tiger?

Gorant: Branden Grace took down countrymen and local legends Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a playoff to win the Volvo and claim back-to-back victories on the Euro tour. Is this kid (23) a true comer, or is he just very hot right now?

Shipnuck: He's just South African. The passport alone grants you two victories on the tour of your choice.

Lipsey: He's definitely hot, but I'd never heard of him, and I don't suppose many others outside of South Africa and the Euro tour had either.

Bamberger: What I know about him is what you have said in your question, but you must love his surname.

Ritter: I couldn't I.D. him if he were putting in my living room, but I think I might move him into my top 10 in the SI Golf Ranking this week.

Godich: I'm not sure what it is, but I like the kid's moxie. After missing the short putt to win at the last, he stared down a couple of multiple-major winners in the playoff. You have to be impressed by that.

Wei: I would have to watch him play to give an honest assessment, but two wins in a row on any major tour is impressive. Let's see how he does if he comes over to the States or even Abu Dhabi.

Herre: I loved Grace's pace of play. He eyeballed the shot, stepped up and pulled the trigger. It looked as if he surprised the TV crew a few times with his fast play.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Is Grace a star-in-the-making, or just a good player on a hot streak?

Gorant: At the other end of the spectrum, while guys were shooting in the low 60s all around him, David Duval never broke 75 and finished last among those who completed three rounds. Is it over for him?

Godich: It was over several years ago.

Herre: Geesh. It was over almost a generation ago.

Morfit: No. It's probably just a whole lot of rust from living in Denver and not beating balls down in Florida like he used to.

Wei: Maybe he should talk to Steve Stricker about how to shake that rust off.

Bamberger: Duval, out of nowhere, nearly won a U.S. Open in 2009. Who knows?

Morfit: I agree. He was top 10 at Riviera last year. He can still play.

Van Sickle: Saying it's over is just the kind of spark Duval might need to go out and get it done. As Michael pointed out, he's capable of surprising us. I don't believe in writing players off. Too much can change in this game, as I said earlier.

Godich: I think Duval would be perfectly happy if he never contended again. There has to be some motivation, and I just don't see it.

Bamberger: I don't think so, Mark. He wouldn't be playing at all if that were the case.

Godich: He's a happy camper. The golf is gravy.

Wei: He didn't look very happy when he was playing badly at Q-school.

Gorant: We can now also confirm that Chris DiMarco is currently alive and still playing golf. After a precipitous drop from the top of the game, DiMarco spent most of the week in the top 20 before finishing T30 this week. Can he become a factor again, or was it simply a good week?

Van Sickle: You never say never. Golf is a rare sport where your playing ability can change dramatically, for better or worse. In baseball, if you're a .280 hitter, you're a .280 hitter, end of story.

Godich: Sorry, but it's hard to get excited about a T30. I'm more impressed with what Jeff Maggert has done the last two weeks.

Bamberger: What DiMarco is trying to do is very, very difficult, because he's had a taste of the drug — being in the game at majors — and everything else looks like slow motion after that.

Shipnuck: It was just a good week. He's getting old, his body is brittle and even in his prime he was giving away 40 yards off the tee.

Godich: Great point, Alan. Hard to believe he almost won the Masters — twice! — considering all of the length he was giving up.

Shipnuck: I saw an item about Duval selling two big houses for millions less than he paid at the height of the bubble. He may be playing simply to support his very large family. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I don't feel like doing Tour Confidential, but we all have to punch the clock.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Will Duval or DiMarco be a factor in an event this season?