PGA Tour Confidential: Luke Donald reclaims No. 1 ranking at Transitions Championship

March 19, 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.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Forget college basketball, the PGA Tour has madness almost every week. Luke Donald won the Transitions Championship on Sunday, beating Robert Garrigus, Sang-Moon Bae and Jim Furyk in a four-way playoff. After a slow start to the year, Donald has now taken back the No. 1 ranking from an idle Rory McIlroy after just two weeks. Who is going to spend more time at No. 1 this year, Donald or McIlroy, and why?

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: McIlroy, because he plays better in the biggest events.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory. He's a better player who will play better in the hardest events.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory, because if they have the same year, Luke loses more points from all of last year's wins and top 10s.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, I'll be the contrarian who says Luke. I think he's less likely to win a major, but he's crazy consistent.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Donald. I think he's got some serious drive, much more than might appear, and the talent to channel that drive into victories.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Rory, because he's going to win two majors, and Luke is only going to win one.

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: Rory. When he's not winning, he's sure to be in the top 10.

Bamberger: Don't agree. He's not yet a bad-weather player. It ain't all sunshine out there, though it seems otherwise so far this year.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Rory, because he's more talented, and he'll win the Masters and at least one other major, and he won't finish out of the top 10.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'll go with Luke. I think he still has a significant edge with his putting. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the year Rory made a quantum leap with his stroke and proved me wrong. But with Luke's consistency, he's a tough guy to stay ahead of.

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Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I'll take Rory. He has shown Luke-like consistency over the past few months, and he has more talent. Plus, he didn't even flinch when Tiger was breathing down his neck at the Honda, which will give him a ton of confidence. Like he needed more of that.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Who will spend more time at No. 1 this year: Donald or McIlroy?

Walker: Maybe Ponce De Leon should have looked north of Tampa for the Fountain of Youth. The 40-and-over crowd played well at the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook. Ernie Els and Jim Furyk were in contention Sunday, and Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington posted some good rounds earlier in the week. Of these four major winners, who's most likely to have a late-career revival, and why?

Shipnuck: How about none of the above? They all look like they're out of gas.

Lipsey: None. Sadly, they all seem to be fading, and fast. Watching Els yip that putt at 18 was awful.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Out of the four, I'd pick Furyk. It seems like he still has something to prove.

Bamberger: Paddy. He's the most golf-nerdy.

Wei: Maybe TOO golf-nerdy, though. He gets in his own way.

Hack: Tough to forecast a revival for any of the four, but maybe they'll have a flourish here or there. Paddy's 61 opened my eyes. Of the four, in order, I'd go Paddy, Furyk, Els and Goose.

Dusek: None of them. Not to be a total downer, but Ernie has some serious putting issues to deal with, as evidenced by that miss on 18 Sunday. Retief hasn't put together four solid rounds in a long time, and neither has Padraig, who is a great guy but hasn't shown a lick of consistency in years. As for Furyk, I've always thought of him as the consummate grinder, but I wonder how long you can play that way. I just don't see him winning on a regular basis again.

Godich: Agree on Furyk. He eagled the first hole today and played the last 17 in even par on a day when a lot of guys were going low.

Van Sickle: Harrington told a Scottish writer before the tournament that he was ready to win again. He looked like it for a day. Furyk, however, is back from a U-turn with his equipment last year, and he looks as tough as ever. Furyk said he feels great about his game, and he's got some tourneys coming up, like Hilton Head, that he loves to play.

Rouse: If I had to pick one, probably Furyk, but I'm not convinced any of them can be in contention week after week with all the young talent out there.

Wei: I think Ernie. He's getting close. When he finds his putting stroke, he'll be in the winner's circle. But it was painful to watch him miss those putts in the last few holes.

Gorant: Unfortunately that comment could have been lifted from 2006.

Shipnuck: Ernie is never going to find his putting stroke. It's long gone.

Godich: Ernie's not finding that stroke. The misses at 16 and 18 said it all. This was his week to break through. He will be the first to tell you that he blew it.

Van Sickle: And the last time somebody found his putting stroke in his early 40s after losing it five years earlier was… ?

Wei: Well, Phil really struggled with his putting last year and seems to have found it again. What can I say? I've got a soft spot for Ernie. I can't help but believe.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Who's most likely to regain his form: Els, Goosen, Furyk or Harrington?

Walker: The Tour visits Orlando this week for the Arnold Palmer Invitation at Bay Hill. Now 82, Palmer has lived a legendary American life: he's been a golf champion, a style icon and an aviation pioneer. He also built a hospital, and along with IMG founder Mark McCormack, he arguably created the modern celebrity athlete. What will be Palmer's most enduring legacy?

Lipsey: Being Arnie.

Gorant: The best thing to happen to tea since the ice cube?

Shipnuck: He's the most important popularizing figure golf has ever had. He pretty much created the modern PGA Tour and played a huge part in turning the Masters and British Open into tournaments of worldwide significance.

Bamberger: Not as a celebrity. Mantle was a celebrity. Palmer's legacy is the athlete connecting with his fans.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Palmer ignited a middle-class golf boom in the 1960s that changed the demographic of the game. He took golf mainstream.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Bringing golf to the masses through his playing career and then with the Golf Channel.

Godich: You never hear anybody say they don't (or didn't) like Arnie. That pretty much says it all.

Wei: The last two weeks, I collected anecdotes from the 15-20 players on the first time they shook Arnold Palmer's hand, and I was most struck by the impact he has had on anyone who has met him or been around him. I haven't had the pleasure yet, but I've been to several of his press conferences, and he's got this magnetic personality that makes you stop everything just to listen and watch.

Hack: Arnold is forever a golfer. He's you and me. He's the player looking for a money game, a putter that works and more distance off the tee.

Dusek: Arnold is the guy who made golf cool, who smacked the ball, hitched up his pants, smiled, and smacked it again. He's also the athlete who, more than almost any other, understood that professional sports are also entertainment.

Van Sickle: As Dan Jenkins once wrote, Arnie basically invented golf on TV. He also made golf less of a country club game and more of a man's-man game. Arnie's Army, Arnie's charges. He got the masses interested in PGA Tour golf. And, oh yeah, he was a great player for eight or 10 years.

Herre: Arnie was like Tiger in that every time he got into contention, even late in his PGA Tour career when that was rare, that was all anyone talked about and what all the stories were written about.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What is Arnold Palmer's enduring legacy?

Walker: I was surprised at the skepticism expressed about Tiger's WD at Doral, but he does appear to have recovered pretty quickly. This week, he'll be playing the Tavistock Cup for luxury-development bragging rights on Monday and Tuesday, followed by the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. If he plays the Wednesday pro-am at Bay Hill, that could mean seven straight days of golf. Based on his injury history, is this a mistake?

Hack: It does seem like a heavy load for a guy with a bad wheel. Of course, Tiger is nothing if not hard-headed.

Shipnuck: Of course not. We all know Jack's record is defined by the Tavistock Cup.

Hanger: I like that he packed it in last week. He should be erring on the side of caution with his injury history. This week I don't get. I guess the Tavistock bragging rights mean a lot more to these guys than we realize. That, or he just has a lot of fun and enjoys the side wagering.

Wei: Tiger is one of the developers of Albany, which opened in 2010 in the Bahamas. Maybe he's playing to give it PR?

Godich: This all just tells me that his pride was hurting a lot more than that Achilles tendon. I don't think you take on a schedule like that two weeks before the Masters if you aren't 100 percent.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Well said, Mark. Strange decision to play so much right before the Masters if he was really hurt.

Herre: No one but Woods knows the state of his Achilles, but his histrionics at Doral seemed to indicate he had a serious problem. Maybe he's a quick healer.

Bamberger: We know Tiger is a gifted actor, but he looked to me on 12 at Doral like he was in serious pain.

Wei: Ditto. Tiger is a lot of things, but he's not a quitter. He wouldn't have withdrawn had he not been in real pain.

Gorant: Seven days of golf is nothing after you've done all that SEAL training.

Dusek: Assuming his doctor said it's okay to play, I think he'd be practicing every day to get ready for the Masters anyway. What's the difference if he's playing practice rounds, hitting bucket after bucket on the driving range, or playing a tournament? And it's not as if the Tavistock Cup is as heated as the U.S. Open.

Bamberger: He's smart to play so much. He must think he needs it.

Van Sickle: I think he knows he still needs reps to be ready for Augusta.

Wei: I don't understand why he'd risk re-injuring himself. If it were just Bay Hill, that would be fine, I guess, but this ostentatious exhibition match? That's a lot of golf right before the Masters.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, With apologies to the Players Championship, the Accenture Match Play and every other event that's tried to jump up and grab the title, the Tavistock Cup has proven once and for all that it's the true fifth major.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Is Tiger taking a risk by playing this week?

Walker: The New York Times got its hands on Hank Haney's Tiger book, "The Big Miss." Among the revelations, via the Times: Tiger tore his ACL in Navy SEALs workouts, not running, as the official story went; Tiger is not best friends with Phil Mickelson; Tiger's interactions with his wife were "awkward" after his international sex scandal; and he's stingy with his sugar-free popsicles. Haney's book comes out March 27, a week before the Masters. How much of a distraction will it be for Woods at Augusta?

Van Sickle: No distraction. All it'll take is one question and a barky answer or an icy stare, and that'll be the end of that line of questioning. Tiger isn't going to talk about the book, period. I think we know that.

Herre: He'll get more questions about the book, for sure, and it will be fun to watch him bat them back at Bay Hill. He's also sure to get a grilling from our international friends at Augusta. I'm afraid that baiting Tiger will turn into a sport.

Shipnuck: If these are the big reveals, I don't think Tiger has much to be worried about.

Hanger: I don't think it'll be a distraction at all. The details of this thing will have been beaten to death before it hits the shelves.

Lipsey: The fact that the book is in Woods's head, as he's shown with his snide remarks about it, is not a good sign. Everything seems to nag at the guy nowadays.

Bamberger: He will use his anger to his advantage.

Shipnuck: It sounds like you're talking about late-period Anakin Skywalker.

Rouse: If that's the best Haney has for us, then it probably won't be a distraction at all. I'm sure he'll be badgered with questions about the ACL, but I suspect he'll just answer in the same way he has since the first book excerpt was published.

Lipsey: It's not about WHAT Haney says in the book, it's the fact that somebody from the inner circle — somebody close enough to share popsicles in chez Tiger — has gone public. That must make Tiger burn.

Bamberger: Lipsey nails it. The SEAL story is nothing, except in Tiger's mind it's his story. Not Hank's.

Van Sickle: Hank wrote the book to cement his legacy in print and to preserve history, or his view of it, for the rest of us. He took a lot of criticism while he was coaching Tiger — and still does take some — and this is his way to get the last word. For that reason, I'm not expecting scandalous stuff. I'm expecting a close look at the best golfer of his era from an insider.

Godich: It won't be a distraction at all. The question will be asked at his presser, and we all know what he'll say, and everybody will move on.

Hack: Not a distraction at all. The guy went T4 at Augusta with TMZ chasing him, Billy Payne dressing him down and planes taunting him from the sky.

Dusek: There are going to be questions asked at Bay Hill, obviously, and maybe we'll get another awkward moment or two, but Tiger is going to be better-prepared this time. At Augusta, he'll be safely cocooned inside the friendly gates and focused on winning a fifth green jacket.

Godich: Once the tournament starts, it will be business as usual.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Will Haney's book be a distraction for Woods in Augusta?

Walker: The LPGA returned to American soil this week at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix with some momentum, including an additional four events (for a total of 28 this season), the full-time tour debut of phenom Lexi Thompson, and yet another win for top-ranked Yani Tseng. If you were LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan, and you were granted one wish to help your tour succeed this year, what would it be?

Shipnuck: Lexi wins the Grand Slam.

Godich: A Lexi-Yani Tseng rivalry.

Hack: A Lexi-Michelle Wie rivalry.

Herre: A 10-win season by Michelle Wie.

Dusek: Michelle Wie wins the Grand Slam.

Van Sickle: ESPN says, "Hey, we'd like to televise all of your tournaments on the weekend."

Bamberger: Lexi and Yani duking it out.

Wei: Michelle Wie and Lexi split the majors.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What one thing does the LPGA need most to succeed this season?