PGA Tour Confidential: Mercedes Championship

PGA Tour Confidential: Mercedes Championship

Geoff Ogilvy won the limited-field season opener in Hawaii, but is he on his way to more major victories in 2009?
Robert Beck/SI

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.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The suspense of starting a new tradition, a weekly Tour Confidential roundtable, is killing me. So let’s kick this thing off. One thing I noticed from Saturday’s Golf Channel telecast: While I love the chance to watch live golf in the evening, that doesn’t mean I want to watch it the entire evening. What is this, the U.S. Open? I like watching golf as much as the next sentient being, but four hours of it from the third round of a 32-man event? It’s too much, and it leads to bad TV.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Is a four-hour telecast too much? Obviously, yes … every other week of the year. But I love watching the Mercedes because the course makes for thrilling golf, the surfers and spouting whales are a fun diversion, and I’m usually ready to plug back in after months without a meaningful golf tournament. But the mood quickly passes, and then I prefer a shorter telecast to assist my DVR’ing.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: My strategy for the TV marathon was to zap between football and golf. What I saw of the Golf Channel, I kind of liked. They have a new production team — Brandt Packer and Jack Graham, formerly of ABC — and it seemed to me they have raised their game visually and in terms of pacing.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Images from Hawaii are nice when it’s 30 degrees here in New York, but this event — which is supposed to be a reward to 2008’s winners — would be a lot more fun if it were played during the silly season. Who knows, maybe even Tiger and Phil would make an appearance.

Would no golf in Hawaii during the first weeks of January be such a bad thing? One of the main goals of the FedEx Cup was to make the season end in the fall and avoid going head-to-head with the NFL on TV. Why not finish in Hawaii in September or have silly season events there in December? The average sports fan is not thinking about golf now, not with these odd broadcast times and the NFL playoffs. Why not start the season two or three weeks from now in California or Arizona?

Van Sickle: According to one of the Honolulu papers, and now the Associated Press, the tournament may leave Hawaii. It seems the Mercedes guys are annoyed that Tiger and Phil and Sergio and Padraig aren’t playing. I heard they’ve never been that thrilled with the move years ago from La Costa to Hawaii because of less media exposure and limited attendance. (Hey, they are playing on an island, and a pretty small island at that.)

The Honolulu story said the tourney officials want to move the tournament to a site that might get Tiger or Phil to show up. It’s like the Jack Vickers story all over again. Sorry, guys, but it’s all about the date. If you have a bad date, Tiger isn’t coming even if you play in his backyard (and there’s almost room for a course on his swank Jupiter estate). Playing the first week of January means Tiger (and Phil and the rest) have to interrupt their off-seasons.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Hawaii has no tour events in three years. If Mercedes pulls the plug, it’ll hurt the Sony Open. When the Hawaiian Open was the only Hawaiian event, it didn’t draw very good fields. If that happens again, Sony will probably pull the plug, too. But it doesn’t stop there. With all the struggling automakers and financial institutions, the number of PGA Tour tournaments at risk of losing their sponsorship could be in double figures. A tour that once boasted 46 or 48 events (including unofficial ones) might wind up with only 30 or so. That’s layoffs for golfers, something we haven’t seen in golf in our lifetimes.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Here’s a thought: Why not start the season in Dubai? They’ve got everything the PGA Tour and the players want: pristine weather, sand, strong courses and big money. Something to think about as the European PGA Tour gets ready for its Middle Eastern swing through Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai.

James Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: I was impressed by Davis Love’s fine play this week. Seems like he picked up right where he left off at the Fall Series. Would be cool to see him play like this in the big events.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Don’t count on Love doing anything in the majors. He’ll win the B-list events and make a lot of money, but he doesn’t work hard enough to play with the young guns under pressure.

Van Sickle: I wouldn’t count out Love. Because of that ankle injury, he’s had to work harder than he has in a long time, maybe ever, to get back. That win at Disney to end the ’08 season was a small payoff, and now he’s set up to have a big year. He’s in that last-hurrah, heading-into-the-home-stretch mindset. I expect him to win multiple times in ’09 and contend in at least one major. If Tiger was still on the disabled list, I’d give Love a 50-50 shot to finally win a second major.

Dusek: Something tells me this could be a big year for Ernie Els, too. Talking openly last year about his son’s autism seems to have helped him get a measure of peace back into his life. He looks heavy, but the swing changes he is working on with Butch Harmon are slowly leading to steadier results. As his confidence continues to build, I think he can once again become a factor in every tournament he enters.

He didn’t putt well this week, but the greens on the Plantation Course are nuts, so I don’t put a lot of stock in that. Let’s see what Els does at Riviera, Torrey Pines and Dove Mountain in the WGC-Accenture Match Play. He flew halfway around the world last year on a lark and lost in the first round as a No. 1 seed. That’s not going to happen again.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Tales of Ernie’s rededication/refocus/new swing/etc. are like a rite of January by now. He always starts out with grand plans, but they haven’t added up to much.

Dusek: There is no denying his “Three Year Plan” has been a dud so far. But there is just so much talent in him, and he has so much experience (both good and bad), that it is hard to imagine that he wouldn’t get his strut back by winning at Bay Hill, Wachovia or The Players.

Van Sickle: Ernie showed last year that those eight-footers that used to be automatic aren’t anymore. One extra miss a day is the difference between contending and finishing 25th. He may have reached the age where he’s
just not going to putt as well as he once did. Too many frayed nerves. And let’s not get too excited about having a T6 finish in a field with only 33 players that doesn’t include Tiger, Phil, Sergio and Padraig. It’s an outing, not a real tournament.

Still, Geoff Ogilvy’s victory was a good way to start the season. He’s a good guy, one of the smartest and best quotes in golf. Maybe this will end his post-U.S. Open underachievement era. At Winged Foot and again last year at Doral, he looked way better than a one-win-a-year guy.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: When Ogilvy won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006, I got to ride around with him and his wife, Juli, in a limo the next day. He was brutally honest about his sometimes-erratic game off the tee. He was composed, confident, funny and completely sure of who he was. Even though the talk of Winged Foot was Phil Mickelson’s meltdown, Ogilvy clearly was not an accidental tourist. The trophy looked good in his hands, and he knew it. Adam Scott may get more babes, but Ogilvy will finish his career with more majors.

Shipnuck: Forget Scott — Ogilvy will finish with more majors than the Shark.

Lipsey: Which ain’t sayin’ much. John Daly has the same number of majors as the Shark. Can we shoot higher for Ogilvy?

Shipnuck: In the post-Faldo world only Els, Singh, Paddy and Tiger have won three or more majors. Don’t pooh-pooh that number.

Evans: Every year we get excited about some guy “with the game to contend with Tiger.” Ogilvy might win three or four majors, but will he ever contend in a serious way with Tiger Woods?

Van Sickle: A better question is: Why aren’t we talking more about Ogilvy? He knocked off Tiger at Doral last year and has already won a major. All the focus seems to be on young guns Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas, but they haven’t seriously contended in a major yet. Ogilvy has the talent to be No. 2 in the world.

What does Ogilvy’s victory mean for this year, and what else have we learned from this week’s lid-lifter in Hawaii? (Besides the fact that Ernie and Davis aren’t dead yet, and that Adam Scott may have accomplished a move even Sergio could admire — dating a hot actress.)

Shipnuck: Ogilvy is now my favorite to win the Masters.

Evans: Anybody but Ogilvy is my choice to win the Masters.

Van Sickle: That includes my choice, I guess — Paul Goydos.

Dusek: Is it just me, or when Ogilvy is playing well does he make the game look really, really easy? Power off the tee, solid irons and better-than-expected short game touch. All that, and a really good head on his shoulders.

Herre: Too soon for a Masters fave, but Dave’s take on Ogilvy is spot on, and it’s not like he’s some graybeard. The guy’s only 31.

Van Sickle: I think our work here is done. If there are no objections, and no more pithy remarks, I move that we adjourn. Thanks for reading, and remember to tune in again next Monday. All hail Geoff Ogilvy.