Every week of the 2009 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.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Welcome to the Masters edition of our weekly roundtable. Whew! What a week and what a finish. It was like two tournaments in one — a great Tiger-Phil grudge match, then the Cabrera-Perry-Campbell final nine and playoff. Plus, the roars were back. Where does this Masters rank on the all-time list?
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’d probably rank it in the Top 10, somewhere around the Tiger-DiMarco tilt in 2005. What a day. The crowds were positively electric. We saw today just how much Billy Payne and the Augusta National officials do listen to public sentiment, and we also saw today how much Tiger and Phil mean to the vibrancy of the game. In the end, though, I will remember Kenny Perry’s post-round interview. It took a strong chin for him not to break down. He’s 48 and has now lost two majors in a playoff. He wanted this one for his ailing parents. You have to feel for him. But I am also pumped for Cabrera, who has a U.S. Open at Oakmont and a green jacket. How do you say Hall of Famer in Spanish?
Herre: We’re often criticized for overdoing it on Tiger (not so much Phil, interestingly), but you’re right, Damon — they’re the two players who make pro golf terrific entertainment.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: As pure golf drama, this has to be the greatest Masters ever. You had Tiger’s historic win in ’97, Sarazen’s double eagle in ’35, Norman’s debacle in ’96, Nicklaus in ’86, but nothing with the multiple storylines of this year.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I have to say this is the best one I’ve seen in person since 1998. To have Tiger and Phil both rising up the leaderboard, and roars reverberating across the golf course — this is exactly what we’ve all been waiting for, the result notwithstanding. Like Damon, I feel bad for Perry. He seems like a genuine guy, and I kind of wanted him to win one for his ailing mom and folksy, overalls-wearing dad.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It was a great Masters, but you have to give a big nod to Fred Ridley, the former USGA president and Augusta National member who sets up the course. A course like Augusta National is an artwork, and if you’re just a little heavy with blue — the wrong tee positions, the wrong hole locations, the wrong Thursday-Friday pairings — the whole thing can sink. They got everything right this year, and the weather helped, but it was not anything like the greatest Masters. To rise to that level you have to have players doing triumphant things down the stretch, not missing fairways and greens and flubbing chips.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: This was like a heavyweight title fight where the undercard turned out to be Ali-Frazier.
Morfit: Thanks, Nick Faldo! But true. You can’t go too over the top in describing the excitement. It’s amazing to think that all Phil had to do was shoot two under on the back and he would have been in the playoff, but why quibble over the details? It’s like finding fault with a rainbow.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: I kept thinking CBS would get Monday Morning Quarterbacked about focussing so much on the dynamic duo, but I thought they got it right. That’s what I wanted to see.
Friedman: The CBS folk said the Tiger-Phil bout seemed to monopolize all the energy, leaving none for the rest of the course, which they described as “quiet.” Did you guys down there feel that?
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: I felt that way as a TV viewer. It was super exciting to watch Tiger and Phil make that charge, but somewhat of a letdown when it became clear they were out of it.
Morfit: I have to agree. Nothing against Angel Cabrera, Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry, but they felt like the undercard.
Hack: It was like Tiger and Phil were playing their own separate match play event. Kenny and Angel could have morphed into Jack and Arnie, and nobody would have stayed to watch. The level of shotmaking between Tiger and Phil was otherworldly. They were on their own little plane for awhile, and everybody on the grounds recognized that. Can’t wait to see those two titans get it on at Bethpage.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Trying to move around a Tiger or Phil group is always a challenge, but today was insane. As they walked off the first green to the second tee, the patrons had to pass by the ninth tee, where Sergio and Stuart Appleby were hitting. No one even bothered to glance over or stop walking. It was as if the rest of the tournament didn’t exist.
Evans: Tiger and Phil didn’t make the playoff. What does it matter who had the biggest number of patrons? Perry and Angel were the main act in the end. That’s what will go in the record books.
Hack: What Tiger and Phil did today can only help golf’s Q-rating. When you’re a sport competing against the likes of Peyton Manning, Lebron James and Manny Ramirez, you need your stars to entertain. What Tiger and Phil did today won’t soon be forgotten. What Angel and Kenny did might.
Friedman: To Damon’s point, I will be curious to see the Nielsens broken down by half-hour. How many viewers left the building when Tiger and Phil were done?
Herre: Had to be a home run for CBS. Tiger-Phil kept viewers in for most of the afternoon, then they hung around for the conclusion.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Just in case there was any doubt about which major championship is the big daddy of them all, television-wise and viewer interest-wise, this Masters should end that argument.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Investigate those Nielsen numbers and you’ll discover that some of those viewers actually left Augusta National to watch the finish at home. I’ll never understand it, but hundreds, maybe thousands, of spectators were hoofing it to the parking lots while Phil and Tiger were putting on that great show. What were they thinking?
Hack: Easy to say when you are 6-foot-7, John!
Morfit: I wonder what Woods is going to do about his swing. He said he had the worst practice session of his life before the final round, and now he has a both-way miss going with his driver. Anybody else think he might blow it up and start over? Or has he just not had enough time to get used to playing on a healthy left knee?
Herre: Tiger looked a little awkward, almost off-balance, on some of his full swings. He can’t be happy.
Van Sickle: Tiger really seems like he’s swimming upstream against his swing. It was amazing that he could will in that eagle at No. 8, one of the more amazing second shots I’ve seen, and get himself back into the tournament. The state of his game is measured by the last two holes. When he needed to close the deal, as he’s always done, he couldn’t count on his swing. I think he’ll straighten it out and come back to Bethpage better than ever.
Bamberger: Tiger looked so disgusted with his swing that I wonder if he’ll rethink this new flatter swing altogether. You can’t step up on the first hole and hit it 100 yards offline. At that moment, he must have been lost. He’ll go back to the drawing board, but who would guess that he could even hit a shot like that with a wide fairway, no real wind and his ball on a peg?
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: T.J. Tomasi, one of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers, says Tiger’s swing looks way off and wonders if he’ll ever be like the pre-surgery Tiger. Tomasi says Tiger now misses right and left and often leaves the clubface way open coming down. He says there’s a real chance Tiger won’t get his killer ballstriking back. A few of the other Top 100 pros have echoed similar sentiments in recent weeks.
Dusek: Remember that he made double bogey at Torrey Pines, twice, on the first hole. He’s been able to cover up loose drives and irons because of his sharp short game. When he won at Bay Hill a few weeks ago, all those chip-ins sure helped, but they were all made after poor approach shots and missed greens.
Evans: Cabrera is an excellent winner, but this Masters will be remembered as the one that Perry gave away on 17 and 18. He choked.
Morfit: Harsh, but basically true. I’d imagine Perry would agree. He had a rep as one of the Tour’s iciest closers, and said earlier this year that as far as he could recall he’d never lost a tournament he’d led going into Sunday. Not sure where he was through 54 at the ’96 PGA, but in any case, now he has.
Herre: Don’t know if I’ve ever heard a player say “I lost the tournament” moments after stepping off the final green, like Perry did. I, too, felt bad for him.
Gorant: Out of all the guys in contention, it seemed like Cabrera hit the most bad shots. Still not sure how he won.
Dusek: It wasn’t especially high-level stuff from Cabrera down the stretch. He just made the fewest miscues.
Hack: It was interesting how Perry described how his right hand takes over sometimes when the heat is turned up in tournaments, causing him to miss those iron shots left. It was a brutally honest assessment. I don’t know too many other golfers who would break down the weaknesses in their game two minutes after blowing the Masters.
Morfit: You could also look at his putting, which for the first 11 holes didn’t look all that sharp. You had to know he was out of synch when he failed to birdie the par 5s on the front.
Gorant: Almost had the sense he was a little like John Cusack in “Say Anything,” just filling up the space by talking to keep himself from crying.
Van Sickle: Absolutely agree with the Cusack analogy. Keep talking long enough, something will make sense. Kenny had the honesty and guts to say he lost it, Cabrera won it. I admire him for that, and other things. Luckiest break of the Masters might have been Cabrera on the first playoff hole. He played what I have to believe was a stupid shot to the right through the trees. He drilled a tree and it bounced back into the 18th fairway. He could’ve wound up anywhere and made a 7. Give him credit for saving an amazing and lucky par, but without that break, Perry wins the playoff with his scrambling par.
Herre: Good point, Gary. I thought Cabrera was dead meat after that shot. And how about his shank at 8? You don’t see that too often by a contender in a major.
Van Sickle: Who was the last Masters champion who shanked a long iron shot in the final round and won? I’d guess the answer is none.
Morfit: Cabrera is in the press room, smiling broadly. But I’m always leery of trusting the translator. I heard a story about Angel saying to his translator-sidekick in Spanish, “I’ve answered this one a million times. You answer it.” Reminds me of doing a story on Bob Hope, and realizing his publicist wrote Hope’s quotes independent of Hope himself.
Herre: The Butler Cabin interview with Cabrera had to set a record for brevity.
Evans: Perry should be an early favorite at Bethpage.
Herre: Farrell, you want to make a bet?
Evans: Perry is long and straight, and he proved this week that he could putt on very fast greens under extreme pressure. It’s a solid bet. Perry rebounds because he knows that he’s a relatively weak chipper of the ball. He’ll improve in that area and continue to hit fairways and greens.
Bamberger: I don’t think New York and Bethpage will get Perry going anything like Augusta National. There’s courses for horses — and towns for horses, too.
Van Sickle: It would be a real shame if this turned out to be Perry’s last gasp in majors. I hope this isn’t a career-killer for him, the way some thought Arnie’s loss to Casper in the ’66 Open closed the door (for the most part) on Arnie as a major contender. I like watching him swing — I love unique swings — and he’s the kind of tell-it-like-it-is guy that we need more of. We could use him in contention at Bethpage and the other two majors this year. I hope he rebounds.
Hack: It was set up so perfectly for Kenny: The wife and kids sitting by the 18th green, the Ryder Cup in his rearview, and a future of champions dinners on the second floor of the Augusta clubhouse. I don’t know if he got ahead of himself, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did. The Masters does funny things to people — Scott Hoch, Ed Sneed, uh, Greg Norman.
Friedman: Ray Floyd lost the playoff in ’90 to Faldo. Floyd was 47 (almost 48). After that age, chances don’t come again easily.
Hack: Kenny Perry is Jay Haas. A unique swing and a great guy who won a bunch of tournaments and contended in several majors. Like Jay, Kenny will be killing ’em on the senior circuit if he wants to.
Dusek: If Cabrera can win at Oakmont, and now at Augusta, why shouldn’t we consider him a favorite to win at Bethpage? I think that because we don’t see him week in and week out, we may not appreciate just how good Cabrera is.
Van Sickle: I agree that Cabrera is an amazing player. He is underrated here because of the language barrier. Who thinks he’s done winning majors after two so far? Probably not me.
Lipsey: Golf is thought of as a rich man’s game, but it seems that more often than not it’s the hoi polloi who are the best players. I love that a guy who grew up dirt poor, dropped out of school in sixth grade and caddied to put food on his family’s table won the green jacket. Rudy Duran, Tiger’s childhood coach, believes growing up the hard way is as good a training ground as any to build a champion. Just look at some recent Masters champs to support my theory: Vijay (grew up very poor), Tiger (son of a marine), Phil (son of a pilot), Cabrera.
Van Sickle: Even cooler, most of the guys at the top of the leaderboard Sunday were players with home-made swings, not Leadbetter Academy clones.
Friedman: This has been true for quite a while, no? Sarazen, Nelson, Hogan, Snead, Trevino …
Lipsey: Yes, but it’s just interesting how wide the gap is between the image of golf and the reality of where the best players come from.
Hanger: Speaking of rich man’s game, let’s hear from the two lucky scribes who are cleaning their grooves for their rounds at Augusta National tomorrow. (Dusek and Hack won the media lottery and will tee it up Monday.)
Hack: You know, I’m just going to go out there and take what the course gives me. I’m going to play my own game and not worry about anybody else out
there. I can only control what I can control.
Morfit: Very good. Also, don’t forget to thank the sponsor, and on 18, try to avoid hitting a tree so hard you end up on 10.
Friedman: One shot a time, Damon. And have your interpreter handle all questions post round.
Dusek: What a load. I’m going to beat Damon like a rented mule. But seriously, I won’t sleep a wink tonight and couldn’t care less about what I shoot. Seeing the angles the players face and getting a better appreciation for the greens is going to be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I can tell you about every shot I hit the first time I played Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. I’m sure tomorrow’s round will be no different.
Hanger: Which of the rest of you insiders have made it around the National, and what did you shoot?
Morfit: I birdied 8 and 9, and that’s all I’m saying until I talk to my lawyer.
Bamberger: I shot 110 and was low man in my group by 30 shots.
Van Sickle: The over-under on Hack is set at 103. Good luck, all.
Hack: Thanks. I shot 112 in 2002, with pars on 5, 12 and 16. No birds, a bunch of others, and I fired my caddie afterwards.
Friedman: Back tees?
Hack: Kids tees.