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.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What do you think? The new Tiger: drives it in play, celebrates calmly, waits for others to make mistakes. Quite a double to win Arnold’s tournament and Jack’s tournament in a single year. Is he really back, like to the golfer he was in 2000? Is Woods on the verge of again becoming the single great overwhelming force in golf?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: If he’s really gonna start bringing the accuracy off the tee, it’ll get ugly.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: This is the worst possible scenario! Here we were, prepared to spend the next 10 days profitably speculating about why Tiger’s troubles had really opened up the Open to all manner of rivals. Now? Uh, who’s gonna finish second?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: This was a vintage Tiger Sunday — no one is better at converting opportunities — but I was more interested in his Friday round. That 74 was pretty ragged. Tiger can’t afford a bad day like that at Bethpage … or Turnberry … or Hazeltine.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Interesting that he says he can now practice after rounds. That’s probably what he did on Friday, Alan, and fixed whatever the problem was that day.
Damon Hack, senior reporter, Sports Illustrated: The guy goes from not being able to find a fairway to not missing any. Be afraid, fellow Tour pros. Be very afraid.
Shipnuck: I hate to be Mr. Neg, but Memorial is not exactly a tight, claustrophobic driving course. Tiger hit it nicely for three out of four days, but I’ll believe it when I see it at the Open. Don’t forget, we were all aflutter after Bay Hill, and Tiger didn’t exactly bring his A-game to Augusta. I don’t think they should cancel the Open yet.
Bamberger: You can’t compare this win to the Bay Hill win. At Bay Hill, the other guy collapsed. Tiger stepped on everybody’s neck today, as in the old days, with his characteristic ruthlessness and with every club in the bag.
Shipnuck: Uh, it seemed like every other guy on the leaderboard shot 75 today.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I’m not convinced that he’s the same player that he was before the knee troubles. I hope that he’s back, but the Memorial is not a major championship.
Herre: Muirfield Village is a tough golf course. The fairways may be wide, but you have to hit it to the correct side to get a good angle at the pin. Plus, the greens are really tough. I wouldn’t dismiss the winner of the Memorial.
Shipnuck: To Michael’s earlier question about Tiger overwhelming the competition, I think that the top 10 to 20 guys are much, much more complete and battle-tested than the yahoos Tiger was drilling at the turn of the century. He may continue to win at the same rate, but I don’t think there will be any double-digit blowouts. Not that Tiger really cares. A win is a win is a win.
Hack: I don’t think Tiger is losing sleep about his lack of 10-shot wins. He hit 14 fairways. He beat a great field on a difficult track with Nicklaus watching from a hillside. Considering where his game was at Quail Hollow and the Players — and all the tinkering he’s been doing with equipment — it’s a pretty remarkable win. I agree with Herre. The Memorial isn’t some 25-under, resort-course pushover. Lot of meat on Muirfield Village.
Shipnuck: I’m not downplaying Tiger’s accomplishments — I’ve written as many glowing pieces about the guy as anyone — it’s just that this year he’s shown a distressing ability to completely lose his swing from day to day. He obviously played beautifully this weekend, but it’s 11 days to the Open and I’ll be curious to see if he can hold onto his form. And yes, those 280-yard 3-woods down the middle make him way more dangerous than 330-yard drives into the rough. Tiger from the short-grass is unbeatable. There’s just not that much short-grass at Bethpage.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: He doesn’t have to hit 14 drivers at Bethpage in order to be successful. Some holes will be driver holes, others will be 3-woods. If he hits fairways, with his short game and putting, he’ll probably win. And FYI, Tiger put an older set of irons in his bag this week in addition to going with a 10-degree driver.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: As good as Tiger’s driving stats were, I was more impressed with his swing. That Charley Barkley-like head bob is gone, and the lurch has left. He’s swinging with his old, smooth, unforced tempo.
Herre: Tiger’s head still drops, but maybe not as much. I can see everyone dissecting the head drop for the next 10 years. Bet Johnny is all over it during the Open.
Friedman: Good SwingVision by Kostis showing how steady the bill of the cap was.
Herre: But did you notice how Kostis glossed over the head-drop business?
Bamberger: Johnny Miller told me in a telephone interview this week that all power hitters drop their heads to some degree, and that most of the LPGA players do, in an effort to find more umph. The question is how much, and I’m guessing what we saw on Sunday, as Kostis illustrated well, was close to ideal.
Friedman: Head drop or not, the magic was back, in the form of that chip-in at 11.
Herre: Calling that shot a “chip-in” is not doing it justice. More like a do-or-die flop from, he said, a terrible lie. He had the blade wide open. I think Tiger would admit he got lucky on that one.
Shipnuck: Exactly. If that ball doesn’t go in, it rolls off the green and Tiger probably doesn’t win. And then we’re all writing about what’s wrong with him.
Bamberger: Sure it’s luck that the ball goes in instead of out, but how about the way he literally backed off the shot in the follow-through, to take something off it, as if making a fade-away jumper? A great shot that few could play. Like maybe five guys in the world.
Shipnuck: Not even five. Maybe only one. He does get lucky a lot because he’s so damn good.
Herre: Maybe it was simply the camera angle, but it looked as if Tiger almost hit the ball twice. Lucky or not, it was a great shot.
Bamberger: Did other guys wilt to Tiger today, to Sunday pressure, to Jack watching? Why did everyone have miscues except Tiger?
Gorant: Steve Williams intimidation factor.
Herre: The greens seemed to take a toll on everyone but Tiger and DL3, who really played well.
Friedman: Well, he had that triple at the last, so maybe the greens took their toll that way.
Shipnuck: I love that Furyk finally made a putt on 18, when it didn’t matter. The tournament was his for the taking the whole back nine and he couldn’t get it done, but he’ll still score a monster payday and gobs of points (World Ranking, FedEx, Prez Cup). It’s not that Tiger is so much better than Furyk, he is just way more effective at seizing opportunities when they present themselves.
Evans: Are you kidding? Furyk is not in the same league as Tiger.
Herre: Furyk used to be, at least on the greens. He’s not the putter he once was.
Bamberger: I’m with Alan: Tiger’s the greatest grinder the game’s ever seen, and Furyk might be No. 2. He’s a huge over-achiever and I suspect that’s why Tiger likes him and respects him. Maybe you’d put Langer, winner on the Champions tour this week, ahead of Furyk for an all-time grinder, but not many others.
Shipnuck: Obviously Tiger has more game, but Furyk has been a top-5 player for a decade. He probably has just as many career top-10s at Tiger. My point is that the difference between Tiger and everybody else is not the ability to hit shots. It’s the ability to hit shots when it really, really matters.
Gorant: In Gary Van Sickle’s story about Memorial coming up this week, Furyk says that his putting is coming back. Says he feels like his old self on the green for the first time in awhile.
Shipnuck: He does have a weird inability to put together four solid rounds in a row. When he does, he usually wins, but it’s not often enough. I’m officially renouncing him as my Masters pick.
Gorant: Don’t know about Ogilvy, but Byrd definitely coughed it up. Two up after 12 and then goes bogey, double bogey, from the fairway both times.
Shipnuck: Not to mention those poor schmucks in the final group. Jack looked a little perturbed having to loiter behind 18 while they mopped up those sorry rounds.
Bamberger: Poor Davis Love: he always seems to be playing for two things, the win and the trip to the Masters; the win and the trip to the U.S. Open; the high finish and the trip to the Ryder Cup. Tiger comes to win, period. Phil comes to win, or to prepare for the next major. Davis has so much going on in his head.
Evans: Davis should be in the U.S. Open field. He’s a Hall of Famer, but he has to play 36 holes tomorrow to get into Bethpage.
Shipnuck: That’s what I love about the Open — you gotta earn it. I don’t care what Davis did X years ago. He has the same shot tomorrow as some starry-eyed college kid or moonlighting plumber.
Bamberger: Davis would tell you he should earn his way in, I believe. A poll question: who thinks Davis can win another major before he’s through? I say yes. But then he is my close personal friend, Davis M. Love III. (At one point I had his cell number.)
Shipnuck: No chance. He blew a million chances back when he was a real force, not a middle-aged course designer with a suspect back and a lifetime of scar tissue.
Hack: That swing is so sweet, I want to say yes. But, man, he’s left some putts short in the heat. I’m going to say no.
Dusek: I think the 2005 PGA at Baltusrol may have been his last real shot. He was paired with Mickelson in the last group on Sunday/Monday and couldn’t get it done on a course that set up well for his high-spin, high-ball style.
Shipnuck: If I’m Monty, I’m seriously considering Langer for a captain’s pick.
Herre: That’s rich, Alan.
Bamberger: Yep, Langer would be a rock-solid playing partner.
Evans: Monty would be crazy to pick Langer. He needs to pick one of those kids from the European Tour.
Shipnuck: Are you mocking my Langer suggestion? I actually watched some of the Legends, and he was hitting it pure and draining everything. He’s got more guts than practically any other Euro I can think of, save Paddy.
Hack: I like the sentiment with Langer. Still, I keep seeing that long putter.
Shipnuck: Well, Sergio will probably be using one by the time the Cup rolls around.
Herre: Langer looks like a world-beater on a 6,400-yard senior course. He can’t compete at 7,500 yards.
Hack: Champions Tour. Ryder Cup. “One of these things, doesn’t belong …”
Shipnuck: Wales will be windy and cold and firm and fast. Langer can definitely compete there.
Evans: Does anybody think that Daly will play well next week in Memphis?
Hack: Top 20 for Big John.
Bamberger: If Daly plays 72 holes without any major blowups, it’ll be a success.
Friedman: Define “play well.” I think he’ll make the cut.
Shipnuck: Daly: 75-75 to miss the cut, but he’ll lead the league in autograph signing.
Bamberger: How about Phil in Memphis? What do you think he’ll do? In a way, Tiger’s win is stealing his light again, and unless Phil somehow wins at Memphis, the Memorial win gives Tiger a big edge over Phil going to Bethpage. Others agree or disagree?
Friedman: I think Phil is playing with house money in both places. If he fares poorly, it’s highly pardonable. Of course, he may not see it that way.
Shipnuck: It’s going to be an exhausting week for Phil. All the well-wishers on the range, the emotional press-conference, etc. I actually think he’ll duck out as early as possible every day just to conserve energy. He’s smart to get all of this out of the way ahead of the Open so he can just turn up there and play golf.
Friedman: True, except that the patrons at Bethpage will be all over him, too.
Herre: Phil will be fine once he gets inside the ropes, and I think he’ll love the love at Bethpage.
Shipnuck: I agree with Dick. Mickelson should be feeling less pressure than at just about any point in his career. Freewheeling Phil should be fun to watch.
Bamberger: Did anybody watch the ladies on NBC? I saw shots here and there, and heard two South Korean players give excellent interviews in English. (The winner, In-Kyung Kim, and Se Ri Pak, who still swings the club beautifully.) This week, the second major of the year, the LPGA Championship.
Herre: Will probably be a career-best.
Friedman: OK, so it’s a short epoch! But a glorious one!
Shipnuck: For the first round Christina Kim has agreed to wear a microphone for ESPN. It has a chance to be the most entertaining day of golf for all of 2009, if not ever.
Herre: I will definitely tune in for that. We’ve talked about this before, but miking the players adds a lot IMO.
Hack: Great tourney in Springfield. Lots of names on the leaderboard. In-Kyung Kim won her second, Se Ri was hitting it pure, Creamer played beautifully, as did Kerr, Pettersen, Shin and others. They had 49 of top 50 money winners. Only Ochoa missed. Bulle Rock should be a blast.
Bamberger: Damon, I stand in awe. You get the prize for watching the most LPGA golf on Sunday.
Evans: It was his job to watch it!
Shipnuck: I know plenty of reporters whose job is to watch golf, and yet they rarely do! The LPGA Championship comes at exactly the right time. This season has lacked any kind of definition so far. A win by Creamer or Ochoa or another headliner would clarify things a little.
Bamberger: Alan, give us an insider’s assessment of who can win the LPGA Championship, if you would.
Shipnuck: The course has pretty wide fairways for a major championship venue, so the bombers have a big advantage. I like Pettersen, Ochoa or even Wie.
Hack: The LPGA needs something magical and fantastic to happen (like Michelle Wie shooting 61 on Sunday) to really break through to the mainstream. Sad thing is, the golf was really high caliber this weekend. Tough winds, good sized rough. Alfredsson shot 63 Friday. Creamer shot 30 on the front today. Se Ri carved a 66. But I fear for what ESPN and NBC’s ratings will show.