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.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Now that we’re emotionally exhausted after a Masters week like no other, what’s your take on Phil Mickelson’s big win? It is obviously a feel-good moment for golf after all the distractions and attention the Tiger Woods scandal brought. I’d argue that, in some ways, Phil saved this Masters. At the very least, he made it special and memorable.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Hard to argue with that. And it’s not just that he won — it’s how he won.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I was behind 18 when the Augusta National officials walked Amy Mickelson in front of the scorer’s trailer. Pretty emotional moment. There were a few low “Amy” shouts from the fans that spotted her. What a week and what a Masters. Felt like one long morality tale.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Almost unimaginable. Phil’s story wasn’t widely known outside golf coming in, but it’s going blow up this week. For all the negative publicity attached to golf over the last five months, this swings it just as far in the other direction. I see a TV movie.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Phil certainly made this Masters memorable. Some the shots he hit today and on Saturday are among the best in tournament history. He played brilliantly, and made golf look easy today.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: That shot on 13 was insane. I think even Phil was surprised to be looking at that length of an eagle putt; hence the yank. In a way, though, making the comeback putt for birdie calmed him down for the remaining five holes more than an eagle might have.
Van Sickle: It’s the total package, one of the best stories since Jack in ’86. Phil hit the amazing shots — the eagle-eagle-birdie blitz on Saturday, the incredible shot on 13 Sunday. (That was a classic Phil gamble, maybe even ill-advised, but he pulled it off to make it a Masters highlight for the ages.) Plus, he’s got the whole family drama. If you don’t like this win and this winner, you don’t like anything. Go back to your dungeon.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: The week started out being all about Tiger, but starting Thursday morning, as Arnie and Jack hit a couple of blocks to the right off the first tee, it became all about the golf. It was incredible. And on the weekend, to see Mickelson go 67-67 and hit some highlight-reel shots, I honestly can’t think of how the Masters could have been more compelling.
Morfit: Phil’s play on 13 alone could fill a short highlight reel.
Van Sickle: They may have to rename No. 13 after Phil.
Morfit: Seemed like the biggest difference between him and Westwood was short game. Lee missed the five- and six-footers you absolutely must make, and with the exception of that yanked eagle putt on 13, Phil made them. Both were pretty darn wild off the tee.
Godich: That was the difference. Westwood botched the chip at four, three-putted nine and couldn’t get up and down from just off the 15th green. Phil worked his magic at five, nine and 10 when he was staring bogey in the face.
Gorant: Great that he finished it with a birdie, too.
Morfit: Phil’s pars on nine and 10 were the key to everything. He had no business getting out of those two holes without a bogey.
Gorant: Great point, Cam. Especially when Westwood missed the short one on nine. That was a big swing that set up the whole back nine.
Van Sickle: Those were game-savers, for sure. The ninth hole was a Rollie Fingers, the tenth was a Mariano Rivera. Without those two pars to balance the ship, it might’ve morphed into a Choi-Westwood showdown. You’re welcome, CBS.
Godich: Don’t forget the save at five, where he hit the flop shot from behind the green. Westwood made birdie there. Could’ve been a two-shot swing.
Hack: Phil’s scramble for par on 9 and 10 and the birdie on 13? That was legend-making stuff. I’ll watch that guy hit out of pine needles any time. And another thing. If his win doesn’t inspire these young-gun, hot-shot pros (and everybody else) to work harder on their wedge and short games, nothing will. He was awe-inspiring.
Godich: Seems like it was eons ago when all of those young guns were laying up on par-5s during the West Coast swing.
AUGUSTA NATIONAL SETUP
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I think the green jackets are the real winners this week by making this a golf course that would yield a lot of birdies, ensuring that the best players would be on top of the leader board.
Van Sickle: It was a great plan that was perfectly executed and proved that when this course is reasonable, the cream rises to the top. A lesson that will hopefully be followed in the future.
Dusek: I am BEGGING the USGA to take notes on how the Masters runs this event. Mickelson won with a score of 16 under and 25 players finished at par or better. Yet no one is going to say that Augusta National was not a good test of golf. Almost every year this is the best event on the schedule because the folks here recognize that birdies, eagles, and yes, bogeys, make it exciting.
Hack: Well, don’t forget that the Masters was slipsliding toward boredom before Billy Payne softened the edges a bit. By the same token, I think Mike Davis has done a great job with U.S. Open course setups, starting with Winged Foot. I don’t want my Masters to look like the U.S. Open, and vice versa.
Gorant: Mike Davis has the USGA in a good place. I think Augusta learned from him a little.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: The Masters is back to being the Masters, for now, but the U.S. Open is fun as it is. If 16 under won the U.S. Open, it wouldn’t be the same, nor would it “identify the best golfer” in the eyes of the USGA.
Morfit: It does seem different here under the Billy Payne regime. I think the better course setup is just another positive change, starting, most importantly, with the media food.
Dusek: After this, watching another celebration of Par & Bogey Golf is going to be like going from the Kentucky Derby to the third race at your local dog track. CBS is going to have monstrous ratings, and the event generated amazing buzz.
MICKELSON’S CAREER AND 2010
Van Sickle: What does this mean for Phil’s career? Is he headed toward a run of major championships in his early 40s? Can he pass Tiger for No. 1 in the rankings? He plays Pebble Beach pretty well, don’t forget, and just missed a playoff at Whistling Straits. Maybe he can pile up a few more majors this year. I’ll say right now that Phil wins at least one more major title in 2010. What say you?
Evans: If Phil hits the ball like he did today in the U.S. Open, he could miss the cut. The Masters is made for wild and lucky shots like the one he had on 13 from the trees. I’m not being critical; I just think it’s important to remember that at Augusta there is no premium on hitting fairways.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: True, Farrell. But he could hit it like this and win at St. Andrews.
Gorant: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I gotta think the Old Course represents what might be his best chance at a claret jug.
Van Sickle: It would have to be the least windy week in Old Course history. Phil had one semi-brush the year Todd Hamilton beat Ernie Els in the playoff. But you’re right, he might be able to overpower the Old Course with his length. Playing in the wind is not his strength, however.
Gorant: He’s at 39 wins and four majors. Could easily see him finishing with 50 and six or seven.
Bamberger: He’s going Hogan, but in his own way. He’s showing up at these regular Tour events, but with only half an eye on winning. What’s he’s really doing, we now know, is preparing for majors, this one most particularly.
Evans: That mindset can’t set well with the PGA Tour.
Morfit: I’m not convinced this means anything for the rest of the year, just as I said Phil’s lackluster results didn’t mean anything coming into this Masters. He totally transforms himself at Augusta National.
Van Sickle: Maybe Tiger Woods didn’t turn around his on-course deportment overnight, but I have to call this week a success for him. Of course, he said his only measure is winning, and he didn’t get it done. But the guy took five months off, hit incredibly lousy shots on the weekend, still managed four eagles and still was in contention until the last eight holes. He won back a lot of the public. He won back some of the media. He proved he can still play golf and contend despite all he’s been through. I’d give him an A-minus for his performance for the week, a B-plus at the worst. He can definitely move forward from here.
Bamberger: Tiger picked up right where he left off, in every regard. Same man. Or same golfing man, anyhow.
Gorant: I agree with Gary. A little better deportment in the aftermath would have pushed him higher, though. Everyone who watches highlights will see those angry interviews, and they will undo a little of the good he did earlier in the week. Then again, that’s Tiger, and he wouldn’t have accomplished half as much if he had a different attitude.
Van Sickle: I don’t see where his on-course deportment is among his top five issues. He stopped dropping f-bombs as far as I know. He dropped a couple of clubs in disgust, as opposed to throwing them. But he successfully got the conversation about him back to golf for now, and that was no small feat. I think he’d call it a good week.
Evans: Tiger was Tiger. He was spectacular at times. But that golf swing is not the golf swing that made him impossibly great in 2000 and 2001. Forget about the wife and kids and humiliation of the affairs: Tiger has a lousy golf swing.
Van Sickle: I don’t think a guy who took five months off from competitive golf can expect his swing to hold together for 72 holes on a course that demands this kind of precision.
Evans: As I watched Tiger on Sunday I kept wanting him to take a lesson from K.J. Choi’s wonderful tempo.
Hack: I’m surprised Tiger played as well as he did, considering the rust and the scandal. It’s a testament to his talent that he finished fourth. His lack of reps (and that finicky driver) showed up on the weekend.
Van Sickle: Exactly. It’s all about the reps, baby. For everyone but Bruce Lietzke and Fred Couples.
Morfit: You hear Tour-caliber golfers say all the time that you can only play your best golf if the rest of your life is in balance. Tiger’s is nowhere near in balance. He’s got a lot of stuff to sort out, as he said in his post-round interview with Kostis.
Evans: Cam, that’s a weird thing to say since Tiger has played great golf for years with a lot going on in his marriage. What makes him human is that he has to keep working as he sorts out all of his stuff. If he is serious about Buddhism, then he may never play golf at that same level as 2000 and 2001, because he may have different priorities that lead him somewhere else.
Van Sickle: I don’t buy Buddhism as an excuse. Plenty of players of faith, like Bernhard Langer, competed at a high level and were able to follow their strongly held religious beliefs.
Evans: I don’t buy the rust talk. The man said himself that he doesn’t play unless he thinks that he can win. Tiger was rusty in dealing with the press, and it showed in his one-on-one, unscripted interview with Peter Kostis.
Lipsey: Tiger could’ve congratulated Phil, patrons, Masters, thanked somebody. But zippo, as usual.
Dusek: But what is Tiger supposed to say? “I hit the ball left of the Earth on one … Hurray!” The media is going to crush the guy for showing ANY emotion on the course — excessive fist pumps, rough language, hitting the ground. Does he need to respect the game more and work to control that stuff? Of course. Is it fair to expect him to flip a switch and be a robot? No.
Gorant: See Westwood’s post-round interview.
Lipsey: Indeed. Tiger is supposed to show some class and gratitude.
Morfit: We’re all expecting Tiger to change in the course of days or weeks or months. It’s taken him 30 years to get to this point. It’ll take years for him to change. One giant cluster-cuss of a scandal isn’t going to suddenly turn him into a different person overnight.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR TIGER?
Van Sickle: Where does Tiger play next and why? I’m going with the Players Championship in May at Sawgrass. Too many houses along the course at Wachovia, not security-friendly. I don’t expect him to play a big number of events this year. In that regard, he may become more like Hogan and limit his play in the U.S.
Godich: I assume it will be a Quail Hollow, and he could have scored some points on the p.r. front by saying as much during his post-round interview. The sooner the better. He needs to get the rust off. Those first six holes were especially brutal.
Gorant: It’s sure sounding like the Players, although I could even see him going to the Memorial (as a warm-up) and then the U.S. Open.
Lipsey: This week confirms that he can’t come out cold and be sharp enough to win. If he really wants to win majors, he’ll play more than we think.
Herre: I’m with Gary. Tiger’s next start is at the Players. He’s owes it to the Tour.
Evans: Right. Tiger has to play the Players out of respect to the PGA Tour. It’s the tour’s major. He can go back to Wachovia next year after the dust has settled completely.
Lipsey: Especially after The Tour gave him the TPC to use for his speech/statement in February.
Hack: I think he’ll play Quail Hollow because he’s back on the job now. He loves that course. And what better way to prepare for the PGA Tour’s fifth major than playing the PGA Tour’s sixth major?
WHERE DOES THIS MASTERS RANK?
Van Sickle: How does this tournament rank with the great Masters of the past? I’d put it ahead of Phil’s first Masters win. This one means more because of his family situation and the way he pulled his game together seemingly out of thin air, not to mention the array of sensational shots.
I’d also rank it ahead of Tiger’s 2005 win because, after his famous chip-in at 16, Woods went bogey-bogey and had an anticlimactic playoff with Chris DiMarco. Tiger’s first Masters win in ’97 was more historic and important, as was his later win to wrap up the Tiger Slam. I’d also rank the ’96 Norman-Faldo debacle ahead of this, not to mention Jack in 1986 and Larry Mize ’87 chip-in.
But I wouldn’t put too many more ahead of this week. It’s probably fifth or sixth best in the last 30 years. A hell of a week.
Lipsey: Jack in ’86 is still No.1 in my lifetime. Tiger by 12 in ’97 is 2. This is 3.
Herre: I’d rank them in this order: 1997, 1986, 1960, 2010.
Evans: This Masters ranks a distant third behind Jack’s surprise ’86 win and Tiger’s ’97 triumph. There are probably better golf tournaments — especially whenever Seve was in his prime — but these three definitely transcended the sport more than any others I can remember.
Hack: In my lifetime, Jack in ’86 is No. 1; Woods in ’97 is No. 2; Faldo-Norman in ’96 is No. 3; Phil in ’10 is No. 4.
Van Sickle: For the sake of argument, we should probably just stick to the Masters we remember because we watched them, not the ones we’ve read about. I’d go 1986, 1997, 1987, 1996 and 2010. (If I recall, the pimento cheese sandwiches were of a particularly good vintage in ’87.)
Morfit: As far as the ones I’ve seen, I’d rank this Masters behind Jack’s in ’86, Tiger’s in ’97 and Phil’s in ’04. But it was a darn good one.
Van Sickle: Your thoughts on Fred Couples and his amazing week? His ballstriking is as good as anyone on tour when he’s healthy. It just seems like he can’t make quite enough putts to win another Masters. He can’t complain about getting a bad break on No. 12 Sunday — his ball staying up there in ’92 was the break of a lifetime. As Fred said, he thinned shots to the right on three straight holes. But Corey Pavin would be crazy not to consider this guy for the Ryder Cup team this year.
Evans: Freddie is on the rise but not up to winning another major. But he could win the Players if he competes.
Herre: You just knew that Fred’s putter would go south under pressure. I see him having a monster year — on the Champions tour.
Van Sickle: Fred could definitely do the senior tour Grand Slam, all five of them, if he enters them all.
Lipsey: Fred did prove that spikes of any sort are not needed to play great golf.
Van Sickle: Not to mention socks.
Van Sickle: Lee Westwood has to be the new official Best Player Without a Major. He’s pretty solid, but one common thread in all his close major calls is a so-so finish. Padraig Harrington showed the model on winning a major: shoot 32 on the back nine. Westwood just doesn’t seem to make the big putt or the big par save on the final nine. Will he ever win a major? I think he will. If Phil doesn’t hole out on 14 Saturday and go on that eagle blitz, maybe Westwood would’ve run away from the field.
Evans: He played about as good as he could have under the pressure. I think he will look back on the short miss on 15 as sealing the deal for Phil.
Godich: Westwood lost by three shots to a guy who shot a bogey-free 67 in the final round, made par from ridiculous spots at five, nine and 10 and pulled off a shot for the ages at the 13th. Save for the three-putt at nine and the hiccup at 15, he handled the pressure quite well.